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Bridge Tolls

Time-Polluting Daily News Honcho Goes Public

traffic_jam.jpgCar commuters waste more than emissions. Photo: Kevin Coles/Flickr.

In Utah, they flip off forest rangers and wheel their ATV’s onto delicate wilderness trails. In the Virginia exurbs they lounge in air-conditioned trophy homes and write checks to stop carbon taxes. Here in NYC, they find their “Network” moment in a 25-cent bump in MTA bridge tolls, then ferret out toll-free routes into Manhattan and crow about them in the Daily News.

ed_fay.jpgEd Fay: time-polluter and proud of it. Photo: Daily News.

Meet Ed Fay, the smug-faced Daily News exec who took such umbrage last month when the MTA nudged the Henry Hudson Bridge toll to $3.00 from $2.75 that he now opts to drive through the untolled streets of Kingsbridge and Inwood. Fay boasted yesterday:

I decided that I'm not going to give the transicrats another cent to get to and from work. The MTA has stuck it to all of us countless times over the years and now it was time for me to pay them back. I will personally screw them out of $1,000 over the next year.

The ironies are many. For one thing, Fay could offset that toll hike three times over by signing up with E-ZPass, but he swears by cash. For another, since straphangers are a big part of the dwindling market for the daily paper, you could say that Fay’s rebellion undermines his employer by shrinking NYC Transit's take from the toll revenues. There’s also the fact that in stiffing the MTA Fay is paying a stiff price in lost time; by his own estimate, detouring around the tolls adds 15 minutes each way to his commute. As one Streetsblog commenter pointed out, Fay implicitly values his own commuting time at not much more than the minimum wage.

But Fay’s biggest grotesquerie is his obliviousness to the consequences of his commute for other drivers. By my estimation, an average 11-mile rush-hour car trip into the Manhattan Central Business District and back out again creates three to four hours of aggregate delays to all the other people trying to get around in cars, trucks and buses on the same roads at the same time. (With the recessionary drop in traffic, that figure is currently somewhat lower, but it’s also higher in Fay’s case if most of his return trips take place in the p.m. peak.)

By choosing to car-commute daily into the CBD, Mr. Screw-the-MTA is mostly screwing his fellow drivers.

And this is true whether Fay drives on local streets or ponies up the $3 bridge toll ($2.09 with E-ZPass). To be sure, those three to four hours of delay are spread among thousands of drivers, no one of which loses more than 10 or 20 seconds queued behind Fay’s automobile at each stoplight or highway ramp. And his contribution to traffic delays is no greater than that of anyone else who drives in the same places at the same time.

What’s different is Fay’s glee. He’s spewing pollution, not so much from his tailpipe (autos rank relatively low in emissions these days), but "time pollution," by stealing precious minutes and seconds from his fellow New Yorkers. And he’s proud of it:

Each night I add $6 to the pile. And when the pile gets to $1,000 -- about eight months from now -- I'll take my family out for a spectacular dinner and raise a glass toasting the bloated bums at the MTA and the toll increase that sent me over the edge.

Fay's bluster notwithstanding, I’ll wager that after the big blowout he'll tire of rat-running and revert to the toll bridge. After all, even if he makes “just” $100,000 a year at the News and values his commute time at only half his imputed hourly pay, he’s still trading $12.50 worth of time each day to save a measly $6.00. But that return to sanity won’t solve the systemic dysfunction by which anyone choosing to make a single car-trip to and from the CBD can impose $100 in societal delay costs but pay just $5 or $10 in tolls themselves.

What Fay confronts us with is nothing less than the moral imperative of congestion pricing. Decisions that impose large delay costs on others demand commensurate charges. These need not begin at full-price. Congestion fees on the order of one-tenth of the full cost, as Ted Kheel and I propose (with revenues allocated to benefit transit), would be an excellent start. Let Ed Fay, time-polluter, pay.

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