Kheel to Push Free Transit Pricing Plan in ’09 Mayoral Race

As former deputy mayor and Traffic Congestion Mitigation Commission Chair Marc Shaw predicts that congestion pricing may re-emerge soon in the form a proposal to toll 60th Street and the East River bridges, the Daily Politics reports that Ted Kheel is planning to put up $1 million to promote his free transit plan heading into the 2009 mayoral election.

"If I was half my age, I would run for mayor in 2009 on the issue,"
said the 93-year-old Kheel, who has already met with what a spokesman
described as "one serious mayoral contender who showed interest in the
free transit idea," although he declined to reveal which would-be
candidate that was.

Kheel plans a multifaceted campaign to keep congestion pricing in the
news that will include advertising and coalition building. No further
details were immediately available.

"I now see free mass transit as the key to the resolution of traffic
congestion, a problem cities throughout the world face, I am now
prepared to spend an additional million dollars to save the city I was
born in from choking on automobiles."

The Kheel plan would double the proposed congestion charge for private autos to $16 ($32 for trucks) and eliminate transit fares.

  • In general, I love Kheel’s proposal. In particular, I think there’d be a lot of advantages to making on-street buses free:

    (1) A *lot* of time is lost when riders are restricted to one entrance so they can pay at the farebox. If riders could board at all entrances and not have to queue up to pay, it would mean far less delays at stops (the cross-town buses are the worst in this regard). Of course, a non-free alternative is the honor system I’ve seen in several European cities, where riders can punch a ticket at several boxes on board (or carry a pass) and may be asked to show their ticket if an inspector boards.

    (2) The buses in particular are heavily used by the elderly and disabled (given the subway’s general lack of accessibility)–two audiences that are likely to have limited incomes.

    I am somewhat concerned that free subways may result in increased car vandalism, crime, and use as a homeless shelter (whereas buses have more built-in monitoring–one car where the driver can see the passengers), although some out-of-the-box thinking may mitigate these risks (for example, more housing alternatives for the homeless). Also, shouldn’t mass transit cost a little bit more than walking and cycling, which are the greenest methods of transport? But if there were a fare, I’d keep it very, very low.

  • Car Free Nation

    Perhaps the token clerks could get out of their bulletproof boxes and start helping people find their way and otherwise use the subways. Some customer service, perhaps…

  • Dave

    I don’t understand why transit needs to be free to encourage higher use. Create more use by discouraging driving: introduce the $16 congestion fee, make parking much more difficult (and expensive) throughout the city, put tolls on all bridges at all times. These will all achieve greater transit use.

    Make something free and people come to expect it and it is very difficult to reinstate: look at the removal of tolls on the East River bridges, the removal of two-fare zones, and the elimination of the commuter tax. The city would be in a far better financial position if we still had these income streams.

    More driving fees? Yes. Transit increases? No. Free transit? No way.

  • Ignorant

    Were the east river bridges really once tolled? Which ones? What happened to the toll plazas? When did it end?

  • hi

    Kheel wrote a pretty nice editorial in the New York Times last year, on the history of his fight for tolling.

  • Dave

    I am sure someone will know more but the tolls were abolished in 1911 by Mayor Gaynor. Talk about putting tolls back has been around since 1966 but the issue of toll plazas was always brought up.

    The current version would have EZ-Pass readers at the bridges; if you don’t want to have EZ-Pass use the Midtown tunnel, Brooklyn Battery tunnel or Triboro.

    I would also include the Harlem River bridges; the city is paying hundreds of millions of dollars to rebuild them so charge the motorists who use them.

    I just came back from Staten Island where you pay a toll to get onto the island. Manhattan should be the same. The only difference is that tolls should be two-way to discourage toll-shopping (as is currently the situation with the MTA crossings into Manhattan).

    I was also pleased to see that the toll booths at the VNB were still in place to allow the reintroduction of two-way tolling there. The Bayonne, Goethals and Outerbridge can also be retrofitted for two-way tolls.

  • gecko

    We don’t pay directly for sanitation, education, police, and fire fighters so the savings in the reduction of hundreds of millions of dollars for fare handling is a great start along with the increased congestion pricing revenue.

    Of course, if people deside to stop driving into the city most likely the sales tax from increased tourism income and the enhanced mobility and spending power of New Yorkers will provide a large offsets among others including traffic mitigation.

    Politically, Congestion Pricing ceases to be perceived as an elitist issue many working class New Yorkers save about $1,000 annually.

  • Dave

    I doubt it is “hundreds of millions” for fare handling and we will still need to pay for attendants in the stations as the subways will be overrun by the homeless, criminals and other undesirables. You’ll send a lot of people above ground into taxis if you don’t charge a fare. Furthermore how much revenue does the city get from fare-beaters? That’ll be gone.

    In light of the budget crisis the city is just starting to face don’t give the fare away; you will never get it back and frankly people will be happy with no fare increase.

  • gecko

    Dave, Bizarre. We have public spaces all over the city which are not overrun by the homeless, criminals, and other desirables. Not clear why this would be different.

  • gecko

    Dave, I remember seeing the numbers for fare handling and it was in the hundreds of millions, though I could be wrong. If you figure the if the average cost is a million dollars a day to collect fares, which seems reasonable, that makes $365 million per year.

  • Larry Littlefield

    The amount of money used for fare handling is now very low.

    The station agents, by contract, have a right to sit in the booth, even though most Metrocards are now bought at the machines. A seperate organization within NYCT maintains the machines and fare readers.

    The TWU wouldn’t even agree to have them walk around the station and clean up if there is some litter on the platform. Anything in the contract favorable to labor stays there in perpetuity unless the union agrees to remove it, by state law.

    Personally, I’d like to see the “station agents” replaced by “station guards,” perhaps at higher pay, especially overnight. But counting the whole station department as unnecessary assumes unmanned stations. I’d rather eliminate the conductors, which NYCT can’t do either because of the contract.

  • gecko

    Dave, Larry, From the horse’s mouth: “$170 million savings from eliminating fare collection” (with a link on this blog at

    FullKheelReportforweb_23Jan2008.pdf Section 1 Page 2:

    More than recoup revenues now generated by fares. The one-two-three punch of $16 automobile toll ($3 billion annually), taxi fare surcharge ($340 million annually) and higher curbside parking fees ($700 million annually), along with an estimated $170 million savings from eliminating fare collection, will generate $4.2 billion annually — enough to replace the $3.5 billion in current tolls and transit fare box revenues and pay for both cordon fee administration and increased transit service while still leaving an annual revenue stream of almost $500 million to further improve transit.


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