Details of Sam Schwartz’s “Fair Plan” and Other Orcutt+Komanoff Highlights

NYU students got a sweeping overview of NYC transpo and traffic issues from two of the city’s top thinkers this afternoon, as DOT Policy Director Jon Orcutt and independent analyst/congestion pricing advocate Charles Komanoff took turns on the mic at a forum moderated by NYU Law School professor Roderick Hills. I got so caught up in the moment that I completely forgot to snap a photo of Orcutt and Komanoff sharing the stage.

The tolls are higher now than they were when Gridlock Sam started ## this slide in 2007##, and the dysfunction remains.

With the MTA budget all over the headlines and “Gridlock” Sam Schwartz’s plan to rationalize NYC bridge tolls nabbing a full-throated endorsement from former Times editor-in-chief Bill Keller, the juiciest info to come out of the forum were the road pricing plans that Komanoff outlined. He went over the basics of the current Sam Schwartz plan and his own “Move NY” package, both of which now mix fees on driving into the Manhattan CBD with toll discounts on crossings in the other boroughs.

Each plan promises to fund the region’s transit system while curbing traffic on city streets that see the heaviest pounding from motor vehicles. First up, the basics of Gridlock Sam’s “Fair Plan,” as presented by Komanoff:

  • $5 E-ZPass or $7.50 cash fee each way for motorists crossing the Manhattan CBD cordon (assessed at the East River crossings and 60th Street).
  • An average 39 percent toll reduction on the seven MTA bridges that don’t enter the CBD (i.e. the Verrazano, Whitestone, Throgs Neck, Triborough, Henry Hudson, Cross Bay, and Marine Parkway bridges).
  • Truck tolls would be 2.2 times higher than private car tolls.
  • A $1.00 “drop fee” assessed on each cab trip.
  • About one percent of vehicles would be exempt from tolls (not clear how the exemption would be determined).
  • In addition to funding transit with its projected $1.2 billion in net annual revenues, the Fair Plan would set aside funds for regional highway investments and three new bike-ped bridges into Manhattan — one over the Hudson, one from Long Island City, and one from the Brooklyn waterfront that would connect to the Battery via Governors Island.

You can see how Komanoff calculates the benefits of the Gridlock Sam plan in his Balanced Transportation Analyzer spreadsheet.

Komanoff’s Move NY Plan, which is being advanced by the campaign that grew out of Ted Kheel’s advocacy for road pricing combined with lower transit fares, has a time-variable tolling structure, like the 2008 congestion pricing plan. You can also look up the projected benefits and costs in Komanoff’s spreadsheet. It features:

  • Fees to drive into the Manhattan CBD that range between $3 during the least congested times of day and $9 during the most congested times. There is no outbound fee.
  • A 15 percent toll reduction on the seven non-CBD MTA bridges.
  • CBD fees are waived for the first trip a vehicle makes each month.
  • Surcharges on yellow taxi trips — 12 percent for miles, 20 percent for waiting, and a 25-cent drop fee.
  • Truck tolls averaging 1.6 times private auto tolls.
  • Express bus fares reduced by 10 percent.
  • Commuter rail trips that begin and end inside NYC would cost the same as a subway fare.

Last but not least, a few interesting nuggets came out of Orcutt’s presentation that Streetsblog readers may not have known. Among them: The DOT’s plaza projects, which so far have been built with low-cost materials, have all been added to the capital project pipeline. So the day will come when those plazas will look nicer and sturdier, like part of the permanent streetscape. DOT hopes to break ground on the permanent version of the Times Square plazas next year.

  • Biped

    I’d like to see a toll booth for bikes…where you PICK UP a dollar as you go through, and then wave thanks to the cars for the subsidy.

  • The one thing I’m really not clear on is why it’s so important for the congestion zone to be the southern half of the island, instead of simply applying the congestion charge to all of the river crossings. Wihtout the cordon on the 60th, you don’t need any technological solution to get this done. Is there really that much congestion from people driving from the Upper West Side down to Wall Street? 

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for the great coverage, Ben. I hope soon you can carve out time to write up Jon Orcutt’s presentation. It not only showed off City DOT’s makeover of the city’s streetscape over the past five years but brought genuine political insight into how the agency managed to get so many new “facts on the ground” in such a limited time. It was a tour de force, and quite inspiring.

  • Ben from Bed Stuy

    Looks like a great plan!

  • Sean

    I’m eager to see how exemptions will be handled. If this plan gains steam, the police union, firefighters union, unions for various government agencies, representatives for local state and city officials, the UN, every embassy and consulate, etc. will all line up saying that their members deserve exemptions and that having to pay these fees would ruin them beyond repair. I hope the plan’s implementers will be strong and say to these people “no, you need to pay like everyone else.”

  • Anonymous

    I don’t really understand how the LIRR, Metro North, Path, and NJT trains are all suppose to run on subway fare. Does that add up? I know Komanoff is a wonk, so just wondering.

  • Great plan, Charlie. Just let me propose one tweak: not only should commuter rail fare be the same as subway fare within the same zone, but also the transfers from one to the other, and from commuter rail to local buses, should be free. A mode-neutral fare system with combined tickets is a big draw for travelers.

  • Mandy

    I did not understand the part about the trains but otherwise thank you very much for sharing this! Estate Agents

  • Larry Littlefield

    This looks like more overpromising — a political strategy.  The $1.2 billion is not enough to hand out the goodies AND prevent deferred maintenance, given the debt and pension holes.

    Which 1 percent would be exempt?  Perhaps the plan is to allow the state legislators to hand out exemptions to their friends, relatives and political supporters.People have to accept that there are no added benefits to hand out, only costs, as a result of past debts.

  • The Orcutt show was a tour de force. It was very cool to see so many of the DOT initiatives we cover on Streetsblog presented within the framework of the agency’s strategic goals, by someone who shaped it all. 

  • Taxes no, tolls yes

    Either plan should have broad support among diverse constituencies: Transit riders (the majority in NYC), Staten Islanders (who would love to see the Verrazano toll reduced), outer borough and suburban motorists who use the Throgg’s Neck or Whitestone, and anyone who spends time walking, cycling or driving in Manhattan and is currently plagued by congestion.

    The only groups who should be against it are people who are averse to change, and the Federal Government.In this MTA video (starting at 12:47), MTA board members speak about the impact of tolling on the currently tolled tunnels into Manhattan (shouldn’t be a problem because they have excess capacity). Further, they go on to note that because the free bridges were maintained using Federal funds, the Feds would need to approve tolling plans – and would likely be hesitant/reluctant to do so.

    “Back in 2009 there was a proposal to transfer ownership of the Harlem and East River bridges to the MTA for tolling with the implementation through MTA Bridges and Tunnels. … Even if the Legislature were to have passed the bill, there are also issues with the fact that we believe that each and every one of those bridges had been built or rebuilt using federal funds, and there are restrictions on the use of tolls for bridges that have been built or rebuilt using Title 23 funds. — The free bridges, not our bridges. — One of the restrictions is they want you to use the tolls primarily for maintaining the facilities that are tolled. And there were preliminary discussions with the folks down in Washington about, given that it’s a unified transportation system and using the money to support transit would, in fact, make the drivers who use those bridges have less congestion, easier travel, better air quality, and the like. But, as one might expect, the Feds were fairly resistant to that issue.”

  • Gridlock Sam Schwartz

    Note: Linked presentation is Sam Schwartz’s “old plan” (Nov. 5 2007). To see his “new plan” (up-to-date) Fair Pricing: A more Equitable Transportation Plan go to: 


    This is a good plan.  I’ve always felt that a change in the toll structure for  the East River Bridges would require both a carrot and a stick element.  Encourage travel through the non-CBD bridges and reduce their rates substantially.  I am someone from MD who visits family in Queens and frequently uses the free routes through Manhattan.  I should be encouraged to use the VZ, but currently it’s much more expensive than driving through Manhattan, which is ridiculous.  So much traffic in Manhattan can be eliminated if all through traffic were successfully encouraged to bypass the congestion.

    I am concerned with a 60th Street cordon.  If someone comes crosses at the Queensboro Bridge, and then makes their way across to Lex or 5th Avenue on 63rd Street, would they be hit with a second toll once they cross 60th Street?  I would hope that that could be avoided.

    Would EZ Pass be required for crossing 60th Street?  There seems to be no way that someone from the Bronx can get into Midtown by paying cash only.  [This is not a problem for Brooklyn and Queens because those drivers can use the Midtown or Battery Tunnels and pay cash at the plaza.]

    Would there be any credit for making multiple crossings?  If someone coming from the Bronx crosses on the Triborough and then heads down 2nd Avenue into Midtown, would they be hit with two tolls or would the second toll be discounted so that the toll that that driver pays is equivalent to the toll of a Brooklyn driver coming over the Brooklyn Bridge?  [Bloomberg’s earlier congestion pricing plan had some type of toll rebate, but too many NYC pols screamed that it gave NJ drivers a subsidy.]

    My ideal system would feature one-way $10 inbound tolls on the 4 East River Bridges, the Midtown tunnel, and the Battery Tunnel; $5 one-way toll on the VZ, TN, Wh, and the Bronx-Queens portion of the Triborough in the direction leaving Bklyn/Qns.  $1 two-way tolls on the Rockaway crossings.  $10 toll EZ-PASS only toll when crossing 86th Street southbound on all streets (but not HHP or FDR).  $10 inbound toll on the Bx-Man and Qns-Man portions of the Triboro as well as the inbound Henry Hudson Bridge.  Every southbound on-ramp of the HHPkwy between the bridge and 86th and every southbound on-ramp on the FDR between 125th and 86th will have a $10 inbound EZ-PASS only toll.  This would use congestion pricing to get people quickly into the CBD.

  • Anonymous

    While I like the idea in theory, as someone who bikes to work, NEVER.

    I don’t want to generate any animosity against bikes in the people driving the 2 ton weapons on the same road I am riding my bike on.

  • Bronxite

    I agree, and how about the Harlem River bridges?

    Willis/Third Ave Bridges are heavily congested during rush hour too. The South West Bronx has a rapidly growing population yet the areas near Webster/Park/Third Avenue lack rapid transit access in Melrose, Morrisania, East Tremont, and Belmont.

    Let’s toll the entirety of of Manhattan island in order to better disperse traffic throughout the multiple crossings. Next let’s dedicate some bridge lanes to physically protected BRT and run them into areas that lack rapid transit access.


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