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.

NYC is leaving a lot of money on the table so that the East and Harlem River bridges can stay free and choked with traffic. Photo: ##http://www.streetsblog.org/2006/06/29/eyes-on-the-street-brooklyn-bridge-thurs-june-29-845-am/##Aaron Naparstek##

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).

  • wow.. impressive numbers. will any electeds even consider it though?

  • fdr

    Proposals for East River Bridge tolls plus reinstating the Staten Island Ferry fare add up to about 40 votes against already in the City Council.

  • mcsladek

    Keep the ferry alive! What, are those ferry-replacement buses going to trek all the way through Brooklyn first, or will they be arriving via Jersey bridges? The boat is the one free pass non-drivers have to and from SI. Or is every cent of that paltry 4.8 million going to improve public transit strictly on Staten?

  • joby

    Even if the tolls are dedicated to transit, wouldn’t the city still save money? Presumably this would be done by selling the bridge to the MTA or some such arrangement and thus the MTA would take over maintenance of both the bridges and the approaches.

  • spike

    No way the state or the city will vote for $10 tolls to L.I. or the Bronx, nor should the tolls be this high. Sheldon’s plan on tying tolls to the cost of a subway rides was good politics. Then if subway fares are going up- tolls should too. I suggest divide and conquer is the only way tolls will get put on the bridges- start with tolls to L.I. once the tolls are on to L.I. add the tolls to the Bronx and S.I. a year later. Its easy to justify tolls equal to a subway fare ($5.00 RT). I suspect adding tolls will reduce traffic quite a bit. Right now you can save money (particularly in the evening) by driving. City employees (who often have free parking) will have further encouragement to take the subway or at least car pool.

  • Mr Bad Example

    Why not both?
    Not to be bitter, but NYC’s relatively high-quality transit system (and the reciprocal agreements MTA has with the people at Port Authority and Metro North/LIRR) means I was competing for jobs with suburbanites. But there’s no way a city resident can get a train or bus out to a job in say, Rahway, NJ or Oceanside NY—the reverse commutes leave riders in places with no ground transportation and (frequently) no sidewalks or pedestrian accessible roads. I had a temp job out in the Green Acres Mall area, and there was NO mass transit from the rail station and NO safe pedestrian crossing on the major highway I had to cross.

    The city’s (relative) dedication to building commuter friendly infrastructure costs city taxpayers a lot of dough. We can’t make the residents of the bedroom communities outside the city make their towns more pedestrian-friendly—but we should ask them to pony up. You don’t like the commuter tax? See how your job-hunting goes in West Orange or Babylon.

  • Anonymous

    I don’t see why motorists shouldn’t pay the actual cost their driving (and the damage casued by their driving). In fact, considering a) how much space cars take up b) how much pollution they cause in a tight urban environment and c) how many people they kill every year, I don’t see why it shouldn’t be pushed as high as possible. War on cars! And the pollution, death and mayhem they cause!

  • Ty

    The one thing that I get nervous about is that ALL of the current tolls are the same, all the time. It makes you feel a bit of a prisoner on the islands. Currently a day trip to NJ or the Catskills costs something around $10-$20 in tolls.

    Add the East River bridges and folks like me in Brooklyn will feel even more trapped.

    As long as there are “off-peak” rates, I would support this WHOLEHEARTEDLY. I’m supportive regardless, but I don’t think I should be paying the same on Sunday morning as Tuesday morning.

  • If you feel like a prisoner, imagine what it feels like for those of us who don’t have cars! Aaaah! We can’t get off the island at all!

  • vnm

    Yes, I think they will. Looking at the recent legislative history, bridge tolls are quite popular. The City Council supported congestion pricing by a significant margin. That proposal amounted to part-time bridge tolls. A year later, the Assembly supported bridge tolls tied to the price of a subway fare. The only thing that prevented bridge tolls from taking effect in 2009 were four off-the-reservation Democrats, three of whom are now disgraced and all of whom are now out of power.

    What’s changed since then? A) The MTA now faces a $10 billion budget gap in its capital program caused mostly because the bailout of 2009 was only a partial one because it didn’t include bridge tolls. B) The Republicans in the Senate want to do away with the suburban portion of the payroll tax. C) The Republicans in the Senate have a steadfast mantra of not raising “taxes.” Between A, B, and C, and the Mayor’s support, I don’t see any endgame that doesn’t involve bridge tolls.

  • vnm

    Yes, I think they will. Looking at the recent legislative history, bridge tolls are quite popular. The City Council supported congestion pricing by a significant margin. That proposal amounted to part-time bridge tolls. A year later, the Assembly supported bridge tolls tied to the price of a subway fare. The only thing that prevented bridge tolls from taking effect in 2009 were four off-the-reservation Democrats, three of whom are now disgraced and all of whom are now out of power.

    What’s changed since then? A) The MTA now faces a $10 billion budget gap in its capital program caused mostly because the bailout of 2009 was only a partial one because it didn’t include bridge tolls. B) The Republicans in the Senate want to do away with the suburban portion of the payroll tax. C) The Governor and the Republicans in the Senate have a seemingly ironclad rule of not raising “taxes.” Between A, B, and C, and the Mayor’s support, I don’t see any endgame that doesn’t involve bridge tolls.

  • Alon Levy

    I encourage you to complain to the local politicians and transit honchos about the awful coordination between the various commuter agencies, such that you can’t get from Brooklyn to North Jersey without paying 2 separate fares and making 2-3 transfers involving a lot of walking and waiting.

  • J:Lai

    I like all these suggestions except for replacing late night ferries with buses.
    The late night ferry is an excellent cross-section of New York City, and also one of the only places where you can get a legal beer after 4am.

  • Dave

    Finally! To make bridge tolls work though you have to reinstate two-way tolls at all crossings to eliminate toll-shopping. With EZ-Pass this is easy and would be a boon to local streets around free crossings in Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx and Manhattan that all suffer from toll-shopping.

  • Anonymous

    I am surprised that more car drivers arent concerned about the increases. Seems everyone is green here or doesnt ming paying more money to travel (on top of fuel increases). Tolls target all income brackets equally disadvantaging the poor. Just a thought.

  • Anonymous

    I am surprised that more car drivers arent concerned about the increases. Seems everyone is green here or doesnt ming paying more money to travel (on top of fuel increases). Tolls target all income brackets equally disadvantaging the poor. Just a thought.

  • moocow

    My thoughts exactly, esp on the beer.

  • Dog walker guy, if it’s “just a thought,” maybe you should phrase it as a question instead of established fact. The established fact is that “the poor” don’t drive over the bridges, and the middle class don’t drive over them during rush hours. Business owners value their time, and the time savings from reduced congestion would be worth paying a toll.

    Plus, why wouldn’t people mind paying to maintain the bridges they use? Unless maybe they want a free ride at everyone else’s expense…

  • Ananguest

    Even better, visual license plate readers.

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