The Greater Good of Bike Tolls

Image: Sam Schwartz Engineering

Sam Schwartz’s proposal to collect a half-a-buck per bicycle entry on bridges to the Manhattan Central Business District is putting New York cyclists in a bind. Cyclists, like drivers, don’t relish paying for something they’ve been getting for free, particularly when they feel they’re being singled out. Yet Schwartz’s bike-toll idea is merely one part, and a minor one at that, of an audacious scheme to restructure bridge and road tolls across the city and revolutionize travel by car, bike, train and bus. If a bike toll can help sell the grand plan — and Schwartz insists it can — it might be a price worth paying.

Full disclosure first: I’m helping Sam with quantitative analysis of his plan; my BTA model runs its numbers. But my connections to Sam go back much further. In 2009, he hosted a briefing in which I showcased the BTA to other transportation wonks, and his rave for the model in Wired magazine was a big boost for me. I’ve been a Gridlock Sam admirer for decades, captivated by his ability — unique among policy types — to speak the language of the person he’s talking to: cab driver, planner, politician.

So when Sam tried out his bike-toll idea on me months ago, I listened. You can sell easier with honey than vinegar, the saying goes, and Sam’s plan slathers on the honey with a 50 percent drop in tolls on MTA bridges like the Verrazano and the Throgs Neck that connect one outer borough to another. But not even honey packs the zest of sticking it to someone you can’t stand. “You’re going to make the bikers pay to pedal into Manhattan?,” marveled one elected official, an opponent of Mayor Bloomberg’s congestion pricing plan, after seeing Sam’s plan in slideshow. “Wouldn’t it be funny if I introduced this plan?”

The plan Sam wants to sell would charge a uniform ten bucks for each auto round-trip into the CBD, whether via the Hudson, the East River, or 60th Street. After slashing outer-borough bridge tolls, paying for the tolling system and discounting bus fares in the city’s non-subway-served precincts, there would still be $1.2 billion a year left over to invest in infrastructure. Sam would apply most of that to expand transit routes and improve service without bonding that adds pressure to fares. Some would go to highways — Sam is convinced that widening the Belt Parkway to allow trucks will take dangerous commercial traffic off Brooklyn streets. And some will go to the bicycle bridges.

Ah, Sam’s bicycle bridges. One from Jersey City and Hoboken would land north of Chelsea Piers. Another from Long Island City and Hunter’s Point would touch down in East Midtown. The third would skip from Red Hook to the Finanical District via Govenor’s Island. In Sam’s drawings, they’re gossamer wings that set dreams alight. Othmar Ammann, the Swiss-American engineer who designed New York’s iconic spans — the George Washington, Bayonne, Throgs Neck, Bronx-Whitestone and Verrazano Bridges — would be garlanding the new bridges with roses.

I admit that Sam sold me on his 50-cent bike toll by tying it to these bridges. For one thing, digital debit cards to collect the tolls from moving cyclists might not even be viable before the bridges’ 2020 commissioning target date. And paying to cycle on a bridge built expressly for cycling (and walking) is both fair and strategic. Paying to bike on a long-since-built East River bridge is less of a slam dunk.

But Sam, a veteran of the 1970s-1980s era of infrastructure disinvestment, when three East River bridges lost their bike lanes and the fourth, the Brooklyn, nearly came apart as well, takes a longer view. “Bike infrastructure needs a dedicated revenue stream,” he says. “And if the goal is to legitimize bikes — I mean really legitimize them — what better way than to have cyclists pay into a bicycle fund?”

I’m Sam’s contemporary, and I too go for the longer view. I’ve been working my tail off for five years to enact a universal toll to drive into Manhattan, but it’s a campaign that’s been waged on and off for 40 years. Sam has as much skin in the game as anyone, and now he’s got a traffic-pricing plan that looks like it can do it all: co-opt the naysayers, improve every mode of travel in every part of the city, and create benefits — saved time, improved health and a better environment and quality of life — worth $4 billion a year.

Do we cyclists really feel we shouldn’t have to give up anything to grab this brass ring, especially when the benefits include a predicted 50 percent increase in cycling by virtue of the drop in car traffic making biking easier and safer? Is our tab of $10 million a year, vs. $300 million for taxi users and $1 billion for drivers, really too high a price to advance a plan that would do so much for our city while finally establishing traffic-pricing in the USA?

Remember what I said at the top, that no one wants to pay for what’s now free? That’s what motivated congestion pricing opponents when they outmuscled John Lindsay in 1973, Ed Koch in 1986, and Mike Bloomberg in 2007-08. Swallowing a modest bike toll so we cyclists can talk down outer-borough drivers who don’t want to pay for what’s now free could be a slam dunk after all.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Then put in the toll for bicycles now, with the motor vehicle crossings remaining free, but at 25 cents inbound only.  And start re-allocating space on those bridges accordingly.  Because those new bike bridges are a financial fantasy.

    People are going to have to get used to the idea that because of what older generations promised themselves but refused to pay for, younger generations will be paying more and giving things up.  And not just in transportation.  Continuing to make false promises isn’t going to get us anywhere, because the future has been too encumbered to deliver.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Let me explain further.  Does Gridlock Sam expect that the ongoing maintenance of the existing road and transit system will continue to be funded by ever-rising debts?  Or does he believe that maintenance will stop?

    If neither, then I think you will find that the ongoing normal repair and maintenance needs of the existing infrastructure, in cash over and above the interest on past ongoing normal repair and maintenance needs that were borrowed for, is enough to aborb all the money you can come up with.

  • Well, I disagree. I’m still formulating my counterpoint post, but the thrust of my objection, on strategic grounds, is that I find it difficult to believe bike tolls are what’s going to put this thing over the top.

    Say you get the one essential political force on your side — Cuomo — who I’m guessing doesn’t care about bike tolls one way or the other. Are the guys who represent Staten Island in Albany then going to tell their constituents, “Sorry, we could have cut the VZ toll in half but without tolling cyclists it didn’t seem worth the trouble.” ??? Sam has spent much more time with these guys than I have, but I’m just not seeing it.

  • AcuBill

    A persuasive argument for a truly creative plan. Fascinating that the first new
    bridges in decades might be built for bicycles! And perhaps it’s time for bicyclists
    to integrate into the main lanes, which includes paying user fees.

  • Clarence Eckerson jr.

    IF drivers finally started paying their fair share around here, I see nothing wrong with 50 cents.  If that is what it takes, so be it.

  • Tolls for bicycles is a bad idea.  While a car is a huge investment, a commuter can buy a bicycle for the price of a year’s tolls.  It would be worthwhile to have a beater in your borough and a beater in Manhattan and walk across to avoid the tolls.  That said, the majority of bicycle commuters in the world are low income people who have a hard time affording the MTA let alone added tolls for accessing their jobs. While many people can afford the dollar-a-day to commute across the bridges, these tolls will be pricing out many service workers who as of now cannot afford the Manhattan rents and depend upon “free” transportation to get to work.  Unless these tolls are coupled with living wages for all workers, this will be increasing unemployment in the region.

  • I question if cyclists would actually use the bridge. Having year round bridge give access to Governor’s Island doesn’t help if there’s no funding to pay for the staff needed to maintain the island year round rather than the few months its open now per year. Also, looking at the bridge location… is it sweeping from Atlantic Avenue to Lower Manhattan, or is the origin farther down in Red Hook? If its Atlantic avenue… it’s only a 5/10 ride from the BK or Manhattan bridges and if they too remained free for cyclists… at the cost of 200 bucks per year for commuters to use the new bridge, they might opt for the free ones still, much like drivers do.

    The one thing i enjoy more than any other in this plan though is the balancing of bridge tolls. People deep in the boroughs can understand the bridge has a toll because it needs to be maintained and that there’s now ay around it…  but saying one bridge is $13 and another is $6 or whatever is rather odd, and if the headlines to this proposal say there’s reductions for ALL outerborough bridges, then I think you have a very sellable idea.

    One other way to add icing to this transit cake… add a free bike/ped path on the Verrazano. That would give Staten Islanders not only a reduction in their Verrazano toll, but also a FREE walk/bike option into Brooklyn and give NY another tourist destination.

    looking forward to how this plays out….

  • Bolwerk

    I could see how the costs of discouraging biking actually might exceed the revenue such a plan would draw. The whole point of restricting cars is cars, by the very nature of their sheer numbers, are disruptive. Bikes are not by themselves disruptive. When we have enough bikes that bikes start being disruptive, we should by all means start charging them to use scarce space. Let’s hope we have that problem some day – but right now, we should be encouraging bike use the way we used to encourage car use back when we were working our way into this mess.

  • Driver

    To think of a bicycle toll as no big deal because it is $0.50 or $1.00 round trip is short sighted.  Once the precedent is set, it will be viewed as another revenue generator that can be increased over time.  Would anyone be ok with a $2.00 or $3.00 or greater toll?  If you accept a $0.50 toll you are accepting higher tolls in the future as well.

  • Guest

    One problem with seemingly dedicated funds is that the dedication can readily be changed by subsequent legislatures.  Example on point:  Money collected through auctions under the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, which was supposed to be dedicated to energy efficiency measures was later raided for other expenses.

  • This plan only plays up the mostly false divide that says people must be either a cyclist OR a driver, but never both.  Most people who bike in this city also have a driver’s license, many own a car, and pay taxes.  In fact, those of us who don’t use our cars every day (or don’t own one at all) have for a long time been subsidizing those who do.  No one gets to check a box that says, “Please distribute the portion of my taxes that go to cover road repair proportionately.”

    I’ll gladly pay a fifty-cent toll
    once I feel like I’ve taken enough free trips to make up for the more
    15 years that I’ve been subsidizing the excessive wear and tear the
    driving minority places on city streets and bridges.  I can assure you
    that divots, cracks, potholes, bumps, and hazards on the Chrystie St
    bike lane were not caused by thirty-pound bikes but by six-ton trucks.

    Put another way: in a world without bicycles, this city would still have to do something about the deleterious effects of too many cars clogging a tiny island.  God bless Sam Schwartz for his otherwise excellent plan, but if he thinks politicians like Marty Markowitz will be okay with charging drivers to enter Manhattan so long as cyclists also have to drop fifty cents into a box, then I have a free bridge over the East River I’d like to sell him.

  • My biggest concern here is that we’re still in a big upswing of increases in the number of cyclists on the road. How many bike commuters would decide to take the subway if some of the economic benefit of cycling is taken away? How many fewer daily cyclists would it take for cycling opponents to say, “let’s take away those miles of bike lanes now”? How many more serious bike crashes would result because of the “safety in numbers” effect that you have been so prominent in promulgating?

    I understand the political calculus involved, but I don’t see how we, as a city, can promote cycling by discouraging it.

  • LN

    looking forward to the bikes only; glass/pothole/pedestrian/metal grate/ice-free passages over the bridges, for which I will gladly pay – do I stick the bikeEZPass on my helmet?

  • Glenn

    The traffic rationalization side of this plan is the cake. Bike bridges/tolls might be a nice flavor of icing, but they are hardly essential to this plan. If anything, the MTA should be paying people to walk/bike into and out of the CBD during rush hour to ease overcrowding on the subways and buses.

  • JK

    Sam’s overall plan to reduce tolls on outer crossings and create them on inner ones is smart, but the bike toll is pure mischief and a terrible idea. It adds zero to the political appeal of the plan, while creating a distraction and false equivalence between motorists and cyclists — and obscures the fact that bicyclists subsidize driving with their income and sales taxes. The bike bridges are a total fantasy and will not, and cannot be built by a transit and highway system teetering on insolvency.

    The clever part of Sam’s plan is that it creates a specific benefit — lower tolls — for constituents of elected officials who have traditionally opposed tolls or road pricing to Manhattan. This specific benefit is posed against the new specific cost of new tolls/pricing. Constituent pressure for lower tolls might win some votes in the legislature. However, the toll on cyclists won’t — please name one elected official who would vote for new tolls because cyclists also have to pay them. You can find a dozen electeds who will smirk at the idea, but not a one who will change their vote.

    Lastly, Albany politics is “transactional.” That means you have to give something to get something. For instance, the State Senate got reduced MTA payroll taxes in the suburbs in return for raising income taxes on the wealthy. Gov Cuomo got a new civil service pension tier in return for not messing with legislative redistricting. Bridge tolls or pricing will pass because the Governor — and it has to be the governor championing them — has something to give to Skelos and Silver, and that’s not going to be bike tolls.

  • Commuter

    @twitter-9403902:disqus it also sets up the precedent that cyclists can only get “new” infrastructure if they pay for it.

  • Anonymous

    The most hated boss of my entire career did something good I will never forget.  On a whiteboard in his office was written ‘Develop a Sense of Urgency’.  Lots of good ideas in the Schwartz plan and many others that have surfaced in recent memory.  But the public will not get on board with any progressive change until there is a shared sense of urgency, such as when the transit system virtually collapsed in the early 1980s and spawned real action to turn it around in the following ten years.  I think the urgent task here is to somehow get people to see how shared sacrifice can lead to a better place for all.  

  • IsaacB

    I’d have no problem paying a fair toll or fee for certain crossings or entries, just as I don’t get worked up when the train fare goes up. I wonder, however, how the city or state would set up the infrastructure to collect tolls from cyclists and pedestrians that justify its costs.

    Consider, however, the drama that went on in the opposition to the recent congestion pricing proposal. It was framed as “sick old people will die because they will no be able to get to their doctors”. So, if the next-gen plans involve tolling motorists, expect the same opposition.

    Finally, when it comes to the “promise” of shiny new infrastructure, aren’t we fresh off a debacle where the bike/ped/transit community was co-opted into supporting a boondoggle, only to have the proverbial football yanked from us at the last instant?

  • IsaacB

    I’d have no problem paying a fair toll or fee for certain crossings or entries, just as I don’t get worked up when the train fare goes up. I wonder, however, how the city or state would set up the infrastructure to collect tolls from cyclists and pedestrians that justify its costs.

    Consider, however, the drama that went on in the opposition to the recent congestion pricing proposal. It was framed as “sick old people will die because they will no be able to get to their doctors”. So, if the next-gen plans involve tolling motorists, expect the same opposition.

    Finally, when it comes to the “promise” of shiny new infrastructure, aren’t we fresh off a debacle where the bike/ped/transit community was co-opted into supporting a boondoggle, only to have the proverbial football yanked from us at the last instant?

  • da

    I see no need for expensive, new bike-only bridges.

    We already have existing bridges that could easily be made much more bike-friendly by reallocating a lane from auto traffic.

  • Briefly, this is asinine.  When you want less of something, you tax it.  If you want fewer cars travelling into Manhattan, put a higher toll on the bridges.  If you want fewer cyclists on the bridges, put a toll/tax on it.  While it sounds “fair”, it does not promote the alternative to individual cars that should be public policy (at least as far as cycling advocacy groups are concerned).  To be consistent, Sam would have to advocate for MTA buses also paying the toll, or, perhaps, each bus rider paying an additional 50 cents if they want to go into or out of the city.  Same for subway riders.  Same for pedestrians crossing the Brooklyn Bridge.  And the huge cost for Sam’s bicycle bridges will never be funded by any foreseeable government; but the bike toll might – that’s the reality – so we’ll end up with a bait and switch and fewer cyclists. 

  • Anonymous

    Interesting read

  • Eric McClure

    Sam Schwartz’s plan, overall, is commendable — we need to get a significant, dedicated revenue stream for the MTA back on the table, especially one that will reduce the crippling environmental and economic effects of congestion.  

    But while I’m not 100% opposed to the idea of a bike toll, 50 cents for bikes compared to $5 for cars seems like a gross inequity.  The more people who bike, the better it’ll be for drivers and transit riders.  A nickel or dime for some fancy new bridges, maybe.  50 cents, no.

  • Marina

    I understand the thinking behind: let’s make bicyclists pay a little something in order to pass the bigger picture plan of tolling drivers entering Manhattan. Perhaps TPTB will consider the plan if it comes with the tolling of cyclists component. While I support tolling the bridges or congestion pricing 100%, I disagree with Sam Scwartz and my friend Charlie on having a bicycle toll for many reasons:

    1. While we’ve been fighting for rights afforded drivers, I think that ideally bicycles should be its own mode of transportation, somewhere between automobiles and pedestrians, with our own infrastructure, traffic signals and laws re-written to protect us (I did say “ideally”). For example, yesterday, I narrowly avoided getting a “moving violation” ticket on Caton Ave. near Ocean Ave. when I slowly rolled through an empty intersection in order to be in front of car traffic. For those not familiar with the area, Caton Ave. is too narrow for a bike and car to pass at the same time without the danger of a cyclist being doored. Moving ahead of traffic was the only way for me to ride safely in that area, but of course that’s against the law, as was pointed out to me by the cop who stopped me.

    2. Logistically, I think it would be practically impossible. What’s to stop a cyclist from dismounting and walking their bike through a toll? Alternatively, if someone has a flat and has to walk over the bridge with their bike, would they still be tolled?

    3. I love the image above of the curved pedestrian/bicyclist bridge connecting Red Hook, Government Island and Downtown, and two more human/powered bridges! But….does anyone here really believe that even one of these would materialize in this economy and while mass transit is in the shape it is?

    4. Looking at the bigger picture in a different way from Charlie, I’d hate to see a precedent for bicyclists (or pedestrians) paying for infrastructure (especially existing one, created for cars). While it’s possible it exists in some places, I did not see it in the Netherlands where I lived. However, I was very happy to pay for bicycle garages.

    In conclusion, for me it’s not 50 cents and not that I don’t want to pay for what I’ve been getting for free. I believe that tolling autos on bridges leading to Manhattan should be a separate issue, not connected to bicycles.

  • Joe R.

    I might be OK with a toll on a brand new bike-only bridge, but forget it on existing bridges. As some others here have said, the purpose of charging cars to enter Manhattan is because you now have too many cars. Last I checked, there weren’t too many bicycles entering Manhattan. In fact, I doubt Manhattan would suffer from a “bike congestion” problem even if every person currently driving in, or taking the subway, suddenly decided to bike instead.

    With regard to brand new infrastructure, I think any tolls for bicycles should realistically reflect the amount of wear and tear bikes cause. 50 cents per crossing is way too high. I might be OK with a $20 per year fee to use a system of brand new bike only bridges and highways. Once built, such a system could last hundreds of years with minimal maintenance. A user fee here, coupled with some type of gated entry, would also have the added benefit of keeping out vagrants who might otherwise use this bike infrastructure for shelter. Bottom line-the only way most cyclists would even consider paying tolls like drivers do would be if they in turn received equivalent facilities, such as completely grade-separated bikeways. Paying tolls to cross existing bridges, or use existing roads, is a nonstarter.

  • In addition to my comment below, a bike has 1/100th the weight (if that) of a car.  So 1/100th the effect (if that) on deterioration of bridges.  Even if a toll were proposed, it would need to be 1/100th (or more) of the fare for a car. 

  • David B

    I don’t like it. First, the idea of shared sacrifice is a reliable euphemism meaning for the poor and working class paying, and the rich benefitting. Nobody would be happy but the rich, who would, as usual, not have their taxes raised. 

    Cyclists are doing a good thing! Even transit riders aren’t doing as good a thing. And these are tough times. One of the attractions is how much money one can save by biking, even over mass transit. Now we’re going to have a charge cutting into that? And drivers and their politician defenders would scoff. “50 cents? Nuts! If drivers have to pay 10 or 12 bucks, cyclists should at least pay 3 or 4!”Dedicated bike bridges, especially from New Jersey, but also from Staten Island (or at least a bike and ped lane on the Verrazano) makes sense. But Sam’s bridge to lower Manhattan would take most Brooklyn cyclists far out of their way.

  • Joe R.

    @yahoo-HKNECM74O3K7SZN7VXIWSAAY7M:disqus Actually, wear and tear is roughly proportional to weight to the fourth power. A bike plus rider is about 1/20th of the weight of an average car. This in turn translates into about 1/160000th of the wear and tear. In other words, if cars are charged $5 per crossing, then bikes should be paying one cent per every 320 crossings.

  • KillMoto

    I’d be willing to pay a $0.50 toll on bike-only bridges, so long as I don’t have to pay one red cent in income, sales or property tax in support of roads available for motor transport.  Let the motorists pay for that.  

    Time to end Street Socialism!

  • KillMoto

    Also, I’d expect to pay $0.50 toll to ride my bike on the VZ.  Take a motorist lane on the lower deck in each direction, put up a concrete barrier, and open up a pedestrian and cycle lane in each direction. 

  • KillMoto

    …and on the bike/pedestrian bridges, there **must** be a barrier between the pedestrians and cyclists… else you’ll have the same chaos as exists today on the Brooklyn bridge. 

  • Larry Littlefield

    Well, I can say that things have evolved from “make the subways free” to make the bikes pay tolls.  But the proposed toll is too high.  And don’t think we will get new bridges out of it.  Remember Lew Fidler’s “nine stone plan?”  Well, we got the tax.  That’s about it.

    My first quote wasn’t sarcasm.  Put a box on the bridge, with a voluntary toll of (say) a dime per two way crossing for bikes.  Kind of like the “admission” at the “free” non-profit museums.

    But you don’t have to put in a dime every time; you can put in a dollar for a couple of weeks.  And you could put in extra for others who have less money.

    And then lets have a conversation about how cyclists are paying taxes for the streets and bridges like everyone else, and tolls on the bridges unlike everyone else.  So how about more of the space?

  • Matthew from Brooklyn

    The main issue I see with bike tolls is not the absolute amount of the toll, but the marginal cost, which might be hundreds of percent on top of the current cash cost of bike commuting.  Since fuel costs are minimal (assuming I already eat enough to fuel a 10-mile roundtrip – and I do rather enjoy eating), the fixed cost of buying a bike is the main thing contributing to the cost of biking.   That cost is reasonably speaking between $150 and $800, depreciated over however long it takes before the machine is stolen.   Someone riding a low-end bike who manages to keep it for three years is paying around $50 a year to bike.  Add a 50-cent toll, even one way, and the cost increases by maybe $125 a year: a 250% increase.   We’ve now nearly quadrupled the cost of biking.  
    Note that that’s not what drivers would experience.  Car insurance for a daily commuter is quite high in New York, so even drivers of low-end cars might pay a few thousand dollars a year in gas, insurance, and depreciation.   Adding $1250 in one-way tolls a year might be a 50% or 100% increase in the price of driving – but certainly nothing close a 250% increase.

  • fj

    should start designing and building a net zero transit system capable of moving millions of people per hour in new york city with completely distributed on-demand transportation.

    everything else is playing silly little games distracting from what really has to be done.

  • AlexB

    I love the overall plan Sam has developed, but the bike toll is neither fair nor helpful in raising revenue for so many reasons:
    – The $10 million or so the bike toll would get for infrastructure (less than a drop in the bucket) would most likely be completely offset by the cost of collecting the toll.
    – A person on a bike is a person not on an overcrowded 4 train, not contributing to traffic congestion or road wear and tear, and who is healthier and less of a burden on the health care system when they get older.  If anything, this activity should be more subsidized.
    – For the poorest among us, there should be some way to get around without having to pay for a metrocard or own a car.  The revenue from this toll would be negligible, but the extra $20/month for bike tolls is not negligible for a delivery person making minimum wage. 
    – If the point of changing all the tolls is to match congestion and
    transit availability with higher tolls, what’s the point of charging
    someone from Bed-Stuy $20/month to use the Manhattan Bridge while
    charging nothing for someone from Harlem to use the Hudson River
    Greenway or Central Park?
    – The logic behind this toll breaks down when you take it to its logical conclusions.  Will pedestrians also be charged?  If you toll the bridges, why not toll the greenways?  They are they not the expressways for bikers after all.  If you toll the greenways, why not charge people to use the park system?  What about sidewalks?  Will you charge someone who’s walking their bike?  What if it’s a folding bike in their bag?  What about someone on rollerblades or a skateboard?  How far should we take the concept of a user fee for government services?

  • I don’t agree with having to pay a toll to bike, no matter how small it is. When you are cycling you are already “paying” with physical exertion and sweat, and the risks associated with cycling on city streets with a lot of car traffic. That’s why it’s free, the same reason walking is free; you are transporting yourself. It’s like AlexB says in the comment below, how far can you extend the tolls? Hudson greenway? Bike lanes? Sidewalks? 

  • Rich2ndStreet

    One thought I haven’t seen yet. Will 50 cents even cover the cost of administering this toll?  Are those costs accounted for anywhere in the plan? 

  • guest

    > Othmar Ammann … would be garlanding the new bridges with roses.

    And Robert Moses, whose Brooklyn-Battery Bridge was never built, would get the last laugh.

  • Andrew

    As I said two weeks ago: This isn’t a fair plan at all. It’s a pandering plan.

    There’s nothing fair about charging tolls to cyclists.

    But I’m not a cyclist, so that’s not the issue that I focused on. I am a transit rider, and I know that the express buses are, by far, the least efficient segment of the city’s transit system, carrying few riders at high cost. Lowering the express bus fare and building exclusive busways along highways will attract additional express bus ridership – and the MTA will be stuck footing the bill to operate those express buses. Meanwhile, the vast majority of transit riders use the local bus system and the subway – and what do we get out of this? How long before the spiraling operating costs to run the express bus system force further service cuts or fare hikes on the local bus network?

    If the goal were truly to improve the transit system, the plan would include substantial (not “amount TBD”) capital and operating support, including improvements to local buses and to the subway system.

    If Schwartz were really interested in a fair plan, he’d ignore the status quo and start over again from scratch. Of course, it’s hard to gain political support that way, but if he wants to be fair, that’s what he has to do. Perhaps he should retitle this plan “The Politically Expedient Plan.”

  • Philip Orton

    I agree. As a matter of fact, I’m amazed nobody has called out the bridges– particularly the one across the Hudson– for the COCKAMAMIE idea they are. They would never be built for financial and environmental reasons, and I think he’s just seeking support from every group and bicyclists are perhaps the one group he least understands…

  • Thomas Sterner

    Very convincing. Many of us will feel a knee jerk reflex that bikes should be subsidised – like in the days of free (white) town bikes in Amsterdam in the 1970s. But the truth is ofcourse that bikes contribute to congestion. It is only in a World where cars don’t pay their way that bikes should be subsidised. If cars pay, then bikes should pay too – though of course very much less. And I think it might be a clever device to get greater unanimity for car-tolls which is of course the bigger goal, 

  • Here’s a video of our local bridge; 50 pence (say $75c) for a car, 0 for bike or pedestrian. Twenty years ago it was pay to walk or cycle, but the cost of collection outweighed the revenue. The only benefit of the pedestrian toll was they could see who the jumpers were as they didn’t care about getting the right change.

    By removing the bike toll they can put in a bypass of the cars -here the mercedes has stopped and the passenger got out to get the money; cars behind are unhappy, but it leads to a nice ride over.

    One of the weaknesses in a cycle toll model is that it can discourage cycling, which will have impact in the rest of the city. The reduced external costs of cycling vs driving on either side of the bridge (pollution, congestion, parking) mean that it should be encouraged, not penalised.

    In favour: once you start paying for facilities you can push back against the “subsidy by taxpayers” argument.

  • Next they are going want us to pay toll for breathing………..there is no end to greed and trying to take much of people’s hard earned money..

  • Ben from Bed Stuy

    I’m totally ready to pay a nominal fee to bike over bridges. Why? Because cyclists are citizens who benefit from the transit system. Yes, our vehicles weigh less than cars. But as long as we pretend that our choice of transport has ZERO cost to our city, and that we are a priveleged group, we don’t have a chance of truly expanding our bike network to where many of us want it. Remember, the amazing bike transport networks of Western Europe were not built over night – it was decades of building community consensus that biking was a net positive for all. Right now, the Livable Streets community is still struggling in a piecemeal fashion to convince the motorist community that we are not threatening to them. When we agree to a nominal fee it buys a big boost in legitamacy and a seat at the table for discussion and planning. I don’t want all of the great progress of the last few years to disappear with a changing administration….Plus, if cars pay 5 bucks and we pay 50 cents, it reinfoces a good message about biking – it is a “real” transport option, and it is one tenth the cost!

  • Glenn

    Leaving aside the bike issue, I think the place that this fails to capture the support of average commuter (who takes the subway) is that service is down and fares will continue to increase rapidly. Tolls for infrastructure sounds good, but the average person wants at least a stable transit fare and good service for the existing system, then we can talk about expanding the network.

  • Tallycyclist

    I’m not against paying a fee that will benefit the community or simply to pay a fair share of the bill.  So why do I have a problem with making cyclists pay tolls?  Because by choosing to bike people are already subsidizing other modal transport users, particularly cars.  

    To name the obvious benefits to everyone:  WAY less wear and tear on the road, no exhaust, no oil leaks, WAY less potential for traffic fatalities/injuries/property damage, reducing our dependency on gasoline, the need for much less road space or parking space and subsequent reduction in gridlock, 
    health benefits (which will at least indirectly help society and the medical system).  Then there are the less tangible benefits like:  safer, quieter streets and more-livable neighborhoods and the fact that every intersection wouldn’t need traffic control signals if there weren’t cars around, all of which are toughter to quantify in monetary terms.  And lets not forget that much of our local roads and maintenance is paid for by things like property tax.  In essence people who pay such taxes but who rarely drive or don’t even own a car are already tremendously subsidizing those who drive, yet the vast majority the road network has been designed with only the automobile in mind and many of our transit systems are pitiful compared to other Western countries.  And now people have the audacity to ask that cyclists pay more?  Sure, I totally support the idea that everyone should pay their fair share.  And if that’s the case, then people who commute on foot or by bike have already paid for their share and then some, and should be getting subsidies for crossing the bridge that way.  I don’t see anybody here asking, as a cyclist or pedestrian, for compensation in the form or a check, etc. in return for all of the benefits listed above nor am I asking for these things.  But at the very least, choosing to travel on foot or by bike shouldn’t incur additional fees.    

  • Danny G

    I wouldn’t mind paying a toll for the ability to cross a bridge. I already am paying for MetroCards, which costs (at most) $2.25 to cross the Manhattan Bridge.

    I’d prefer to see $8 million per year come from fees tacked on to the cost of a yearly bikeshare membership, for convenience’s sake.

  • Danny G

    Also, is there a Student MetroCard version of bridge bike tolls?

  • eric colburn

    It wouldn’t be a terrible idea except that collecting the toll seems difficult and expensive.  Plus, it’s hard to imagine those bridges ever being built…

  • As a regular bike commuter I would say that this is truly a small price for a great benefit. It both a good policy in terms of making every person in the transportation system contribute and good strategy to once again shift the discussion to visionary infrastructure that will emerge from this plan rather than the short term pains. Classic Sam Schwartz: brilliant. 


This Week: Gridlock Sam, Sandwiched By Bike Lane Proposals

On the Streetsblog calendar: In between community board meetings about bike lanes in Manhattan and Brooklyn, you can learn more about “Gridlock” Sam Schwartz’s plan to rationalize NYC’s toll system. Tuesday: DOT will present a plan for expanding the bicycle network in Brownsville and East New York to Brooklyn Community Board 5. CB 16 has already voted […]