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Bridge Tolls

IBO: Ending the Free Ride Over NYC Bridges Could Raise $1B+ Each Year

The absence of any price on New York City's free bridges is costing the city dearly, according to the city's Independent Budget Office. In the IBO's annual report listing options for raising revenue or cutting costs [PDF], tolling the East River and Harlem River bridges ranks as the second largest revenue raiser, only after reinstituting the commuter tax with newly progressive brackets. Also included: expanding DOT's ParkSmart program and piloting a residential parking permit program.

Those transportation proposals would have merit purely for their effect on traffic congestion, bus speeds, and street safety. Now the IBO number crunchers have put some dollar figures on how much New York City is passing up with its biggest giveaways to motorists, and it's a lot.

By the IBO's estimate, ending the free ride over the un-tolled East and Harlem River bridges could raise $970 million each year. That's much higher than recent legislative proposals -- Sheldon Silver's 2009 bridge toll plan would have raised roughly $450 million, for example -- because rather than tie the tolls to the subway fare, the IBO considers setting prices to match the currently tolled MTA bridges and tunnels.

Under that scenario, the East River bridges would have a one-way price of $9.60, the same as taking the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel round trip, while the Harlem River bridges would cost the same as a round trip over the Henry Hudson Bridge, or $4.40. In fact, the total revenue from such a pricing set-up could easily top $1 billion. The IBO assumed that trucks would pay the same toll as automobiles, but on the current MTA bridges, they pay significantly more.

While a real-world bridge-tolling scenario would almost certainly involve Albany votes and an arrangement to dedicate the revenues toward transit, the report sticks with the premise that these measures could be used to fortify the city's budget. Throughout the report, the IBO discusses ideas and refrains from endorsing policies (in fact it offers arguments for and against each proposal).

The IBO raises the possibility of ending the city's on-street parking giveaway as well. A pilot residential permit parking system charging just $100 a year would raise $2 million for each 25,000 permits it put out. Given that there are millions of on-street spaces in New York City, and market prices in many neighborhoods are probably higher than $100 per year, the city could conceivably raise a huge sum if a large-scale parking permit program, which needs Albany approval to be enacted, were politically tenable.

At metered spaces, the city isn't giving away public space for free, but they are offering a steep discount, which leads to excessive cruising and double-parking. Expanding ParkSmart, which charges higher meter rates during the peak hours for parking, would reduce the discount, curb traffic and illegal parking, and raise a few dollars. The IBO calculates that a ParkSmart expansion that increases the meter rate by 75 cents for four hours a day, applied to 21,000 metered spaces in Manhattan below 86th Street, would raise $13.8 million a year. Another $12 million could be generated each year by making Manhattan residents pay the full tax on garage parking in their borough (they are currently exempt).

Other transportation-related suggestions in the report include making private school students pay for yellow bus service and MetroCards ($37 million), restoring the fare on the Staten Island Ferry ($4.8 million) and replacing late-night Staten Island Ferry service with buses ($3.7 million).

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