Margaret Chin: Toll Reform Will Protect New Yorkers From Truck Traffic

Photo: Brad Aaron
Photo: Brad Aaron

City Council Member Margaret Chin today introduced legislation to require the city to examine the effects of New York City’s dysfunctional bridge toll system on traffic safety. The bill would also mandate regular DOT safety audits for all city truck routes.

Trucks account for 3.6 percent of vehicles on city streets but are involved in 32 percent and 12 percent of cyclist and pedestrian fatalities, respectively, according to city data cited by Chin. At a press conference outside City Hall this morning, Chin said her bill “should be welcomed by the [de Blasio] administration as a component of Vision Zero.”

Chin cited the un-tolled Manhattan Bridge as a major cause of traffic chaos on Canal Street, which cuts through her district. Drivers have killed at least four pedestrians on Canal Street since 2012, according to crash data compiled by Streetsblog.

Chin’s bill would have DOT conduct studies at five-year intervals to “examine the impact of tolling policies on the city’s network of truck routes,” according to a press release. Crashes and traffic violations would be measured, with information collected on whatever street safety measures are implemented on each route. DOT’s last comprehensive truck route study dates to 2007, the press release said.

It's free
Trucker’s special: It’s free to drive over the East River, barrel across local Manhattan streets, and take a tunnel under the Hudson, but sticking to the highway and going over the Verrazano will cost a five-axle truck $80. Map: MoveNY

DOT would also be required to “develop new strategies” to improve pedestrian and cyclist safety along the city’s 1,000-plus miles of truck routes. Council Member Brad Lander pointed out that current truck route design — speed-inducing expanses of asphalt — leads to reckless driving regardless of vehicle type. Chin emphasized that the reports should lead to physical street safety improvements. 

City Council transportation chair Ydanis Rodriguez joined Chin to announce the legislation, along with Lander and Jimmy Van Bramer. Representatives from Transportation Alternatives, Families For Safe Streets, Move NY, the Chinatown Partnership Local Development Corporation, and Manhattan Community Boards 1, 2, and 3 also appeared in support of the bill.

By linking New York’s traffic-inducing toll system to street safety, Chin’s bill dovetails with the Move NY toll reform proposalwhich Chin supports. Developed by “Gridlock” Sam Schwartz, the plan would set a toll cordon at 60th Street and add tolls to East River bridges, while reducing toll rates on MTA crossings that don’t feed into Manhattan. It would raise nearly $1.5 billion a year, with the majority of revenue dedicated to transit capital and operating funds.

Alex Matthiessen, Move NY’s campaign director, said that the current toll system gives truck drivers a financial incentive to use neighborhood streets. The “New Jersey trucker’s special” lets freight haulers travel over the Manhattan Bridge and through the westbound Holland or Lincoln Tunnel without paying a dime. And since tolls are based on the number of axles a truck has, Matthiessen said, the bigger the truck, “the greater the incentive” to take a free route on local streets.

Whenever possible, surface streets should be the “exclusive domain of pedestrians, cyclists, and light vehicle traffic,” Matthiessen said. After the press conference, Matthiessen told me the official Move NY rollout would be happening next week, with the goal of getting it through Albany this year. Chin, Matthiessen said, “understands the synchronicity between these things.”

Chin hopes the City Council will pass her truck route legislation by the end of the year. 

  • Alex

    Worth noting that only trucks with up to 3 axles can use the Holland Tunnel, so no semis. But that still includes some very large trucks. Something definitely should be done, especially on Canal St.

  • ddartley

    We’ve got to do something. THIS youtu.be/BNzYAqT44-I is unacceptable (and not even that strong an example).

  • Matthias

    Brava. The current system is nuts.

  • WoodyinNYC

    Why not toll trucks, and for now only trucks, on the “free” bridges?

    The political opposition to congestion pricing in general comes from car drivers. But obviously the disproportionate numbers of dead and wounded come from trucks. So have the trucks pull into a special lane with E-Z-pass for most and toll takers for the rest.

    I’m not giving up on congestion pricing, but I may not live long enuff to see it. Let’s discourage trucks moving thru Manhattan NOW.

  • LM

    Your proposal creates a system that increases delivery prices, cost of goods, and therefore is a cost passed on to and shared by all NYC residents. Charging all drivers (not just trucks) for their use equally derives revenue from all motorists. This means the tolls are effectively a use tax and those that use the system pay for the system fairly. Tolls in NYC should not be skewed beyond what trucks cost the transportation system because truckers and every NYC resident should not be responsible for the use of personal automobile owners. If you drive, you should pay a fair share and not expect anyone else to cover your system use.

  • WoodyinNYC

    Trucks going to Long Island and making no stops in NYC liked to use the Verrazano Bridge, toll free eastbound, then return to New Jersey over the free bridges over the East River. Make the truck-only tolls on the East River bridges high enuff to persuade these truck owners to use the Verrazano Bridge westbound and pay that toll, and stay OUT of Manhattan coming and going.

    Besides, heavy trucks damage the streets and roads and in no way pay their share of repair costs.

  • LM

    You’re right that heavy trucks should pay for their use and damage to the road, you’ll get no disagreement on that. All I’m saying is putting disproportionate costs on trucks over cars means that every New Yorker has to pay more for goods and services. That increased cost can be offset somewhat by making all drivers pay their share of use and not putting the full burden on truckers since cars do cause damage to the streets as well.

  • Alex

    What about all of the local trucks from Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx coming in and out of Manhattan every day? Delivery costs and costs of goods will go up if you make them pay tolls every day as a cost of doing business in this city.

  • WoodyinNYC

    If it costs Starbucks another $20 bucks to deliver its supplies to their store on the corner near me, their customers can afford the few cents extra.

    Are we back to deciding how many dead people do we want to pay for maximum use of streets by trucks and cars?

    I’d prefer to pay a nickel more for that truck-delivered beer at the local deli than to pay for cheaper brews with one more truck-killed body in the streets.

  • Joe R.

    Exactly. I’m tired of listening to those who act like the sky will fall if we start charging heavy trucks a fair amount for the damage and congestion they cause. Remember trucks typically carry thousands of dollars of merchandise. That $20 or $30 toll is spread over all that merchandise. I’d be surprised if fairly tolling trucks added more than 1% to the price of anything. Most likely it would result in a better attempt to consolidate deliveries to save on tolls, perhaps even saving the shipping company money overall by using fewer trucks and drivers, resulting in no price increases whatsoever. Certainly we won’t get the ridiculous price increases the fear mongers claim we will, like Starbucks costing $2 more per cup.

    Of course, nothing stops stores from charging ridiculous price increases in line with what the fear mongers say, but eventually competition will ensure those price increases dissipate.

    People really need to brush up on their math skills. I heard the same crap when fuel prices went up. However, if you think about it, let’s take a hypothetical 20 ton load of groceries going the maximum possible distance it can go by truck-say 2500 miles across the country. If the truck gets 3 mpg it will burn about 800 gallons for the entire trip. If fuel costs $2 more per gallon that will mean $1600 more in fuel costs. That $1600 is spread over 20 tons of groceries, or about 4 cents per pound. In other words, any so-called “high fuel” price increases beyond that are profiteering. Note also this is an extreme case. Few groceries go 2500 miles by truck. It’s also funny now that fuel prices have fallen by $2 a gallon compared to a few years ago grocery prices haven’t fallen to match. The original price increases for many items, allegedly due to higher fuel prices, were out of line to begin with, and yet those increases haven’t been removed. Will we suddenly see another big price jump when fuel goes back to $4 per gallon on top of the last jump which was never removed? It wouldn’t surprise me if we did, but remember these increases don’t reflect actual cost increases, just profiteering on the part of everyone in the distribution system. Anyway, if we make it a point to show how little the tolls will actually really add to the costs of goods, we can stop a similar round of profiteering if we decide to fairly toll heavy trucks.

  • jackson

    Chin is worried that Preet Bharara’s investigating her dealings with Silver

  • ahwr

    The cost of food production is sensitive to oil price fluctuations, and a much much larger share of the final price you see at the food store than shipping costs are. One number I’ve seen tossed around is 3/4 gallon of oil per pound of beef.

  • Joe R.

    If that’s the case then it’s incumbent upon food producers to find ways of producing food which don’t involve fossil fuels. Man ate beef and other meats since we lived in caves. Until recently oil wasn’t needed to produce it.

    The big problem with using oil for anything is the price fluctuations cause havoc with the economy. People can plan for fixed costs but when you just don’t know what something will cost in a year or two, how do you plan?

    And none of what you said negates the fact that food prices haven’t come down to what they were when oil was last at ~$2.50 a gallon. If the price jumps over the last few years were indeed justifiably based on the actual increase in cost of producing the food due to higher oil prices, then they should have dropped to what they were before these steep increases. They haven’t. And I’ll bet good money when oil goes back to $4+ per gallon they’ll try to foist another price increase on top of the already high prices. I suppose people could boycott highly priced foods like beef but you can’t boycott food entirely. I’m going to go back to growing my own vegetables. Well worth it when you look at today’s high produce prices. I may even have room on the property for a few small nut trees.

  • ahwr

    I never said oil was the only factor in food prices. Not sure why you think food prices never come down, they have. Not as cheap as they were twenty years ago? Labor costs and rent are higher than they were then too, what do you expect? There are more middle class people in China and elsewhere that want more meat in their diet. Trends like that affect prices long term, and are different from short term shocks like rising oil prices that add a dollar to the pound of beef, or heat waves that kill crops unexpectedly, or failed monsoons, or droughts in the midwest that leave the Mississippi to shallow for shipping etc…

  • Joe R.

    A few things have but many haven’t. A few years ago I could get ~12 oz box of store brand cereal for about $1. I could also get an 8 oz bag of potato chips or other snack foods for $1, maybe $1.50 for brand name stuff like Doritos. I could get 8 oz of cheese for $1.50. Most kinds of produce were well under $1 per pound. Now grapes are like $3 a pound, peppers usually at least $2 a pound. Generic cold cereals are at least $2.29 for 12 oz, an 8 oz block of cheese is $2.50 to $4. Don’t even get me started on snack foods. Granted, they’re not necessary, but typically $1 buys you a lousy 3 or 4 oz bag. A 9 oz bag of Doritos is $4.29. And then you have huge price increases for most meats, to the point I stopped buying beef entirely.

    My point is these price increases are well above the rate of inflation. Even worse, the less expensive items, which people like me on a very limited budget tend to buy more of, went up disproportionately compared to a lot of other things. Maybe the expensive name brand foods didn’t go up as much, but I don’t even look at those. Sure, droughts and other stuff affect prices. That and oil price fluctuations just make the case for having more diversity in food production, including growing some foods right here in the city. It’s a win-win situation. Shipping costs are small, even negligible. You provide sorely needed jobs. People get better food at lower prices than the shit coming from factory farms. We just need to encourage more of it.

  • ahwr

    Other than anecdotes about the price of doritos do you have any data to point to showing what the actual increase in food price has been, as well as to support your original assertion that there is collusion among suppliers who have raised prices under the guise of increased production costs in some act of naked profiteering?

    Another hundred million Chinese demanding more beef and pork in their diet could raise the price of meat and animal feed. Ethanol could increase corn production reducing the supply of wheat. Droughts in Texas have forced many to thin their herds, cutting into the supply of meat. In California crops, including a substantial share of the nation’s fruit and vegetable production, have been left to wither. Why do you think it has to be a conspiracy? Vertical farms are probably a lot more expensive than shipping from far away. Destroying farms to build sprawl makes it hard to grow food locally. Food grown in the city will probably never be a huge source of the city’s supply. For some individuals who don’t work much and have the time, maybe, but it won’t scale. Local food will be from farms in Putnam or Rockland. Existing programs to protect farmland in NY and NJ have failed, too many fake farmers have taken advantage, that’s somewhere to look if you want more local food.

  • Joe R.
  • Joe R.

    By the way, I’m not necessarily blaming grocery stores here. They’re often marginal businesses entirely at the mercy of the price wholesalers charge. The problems likely exist at the bottom of the distribution chain, or perhaps in the middle (i.e. the manufacturers).

    We absolutely can grow more food closer to where it’s consumed, even if it’s not grown in NYC proper. All that sprawl which replaced farms would revert back to farms if we stopped subsidizing driving and the sprawl it promotes. And when you remove middle men in the distribution chain cost increases are felt less at the consumer level. I’ve heard stories of how a 1 cent increase in the price of wheat for a box of cereal eventually ends up as a $1 increase on the store shelf due to the middle men inflating their increased cost to the next person in the supply chain. That shouldn’t be. I’m a business person. If the parts to make an item increase in cost by $1, that’s exactly the increase I charge the customer. If the customer is ethical, then he/she would just charge the end purchaser an extra $1. Instead, the way it often works is the $1 parts increase will result in the wholesaler paying $2 more, and the end customer paying $4 more. That’s what I mean by profiteering. I understand if costs increase then you have to pass those on but the increase all the way through the supply chain should only reflect the actual cost increases at each stage. A 1 cent per box increase in the price of wheat should be reflected in a 1 cent per box increase on the store shelf. After you pay the cent more for the wheat, the intermediate processing steps don’t cost any more unless some cost associated with them went up also (in which case it’s justified passing on the actual cost increase up the supply chain).

    I’m not getting into it here much, but inflation is another issue entirely separate. Before we went to fiat currency, prices were often stable for many generations, changing only if actual supply or demand changed, but not routinely rising yearly. The issue with inflation is wages rarely keep pace with it. We’re seeing exactly that in the case of food.

  • ahwr

    Aside from your stories do you have any data to support your assertion that that is happening?

    http://www.ers.usda.gov/data-products/food-price-outlook.aspx

    2005-2014 ~30% increase in food prices, minimum wage in NYS increased 33% in that time.

  • Joe R.

    Minimum wage data means little. I’ve known people who work for $2 an hour. Many employers in the city pay cash money to skirt wage laws. Besides, even making well above minimum wage housing takes a lot of a person’s income. Bottom line-a lot of the items I regularly buy have gone up way more than the rate of inflation. Average data means squat because many items could remain the same but key items could go up a lot. Also, in case you haven’t noticed, package sizes shrink even when prices for an item might not go up as much. Take coffee for example. It used to be sold by the pound. Now we’re down to 10 oz. I was getting McDoubles off the dollar menu for $1 until 2012 or 2013. Now they’re $1.79 after increasing to $1.59 last year. 79% in 3 years? Give me a break.

    Incidentally, this food price stuff all kind of ties in with what I said about NYC being a much better place back when my parents were coming of age. You could find a halfway decent place to live for less than a week’s wages per month, and food didn’t cost an arm and leg. And NYC was actually able to get big projects built in decent amounts of time. It wasn’t perfect, but for the average person things worked a lot better than they do now. It shouldn’t be such a struggle to get by. I’m tired of seeing people crying in the grocery store because they can’t afford basic necessities. I had a B12 deficiency back in 2006 on account of not being able to afford decent food. The body can only take eating so much Ramen soup and other crap. A few times in the last few years my mom and me ended up eating cat food because there was nothing on sale we could afford. Incidentally, that’s how I get by-stock up on sale items but lately even the sales aren’t great. It’s a joke when they have a pound of bacon “on sale” for $5. The sale price was about $2 back in 2006. Tell me general inflation was 250% in that period.

    They’re getting away with crap like this because most people have short memories. Raise the price or shrink the package size in small increments so people won’t notice, sort of like a lobster not noticing the water is getting hotter until it’s too late. Maybe you’re rich and these price increases don’t matter to you but for many they do. I wouldn’t be so dismissive. People in the past have rioted when they couldn’t afford basic necessities.

    http://business.time.com/2013/03/12/if-theres-no-inflation-why-are-prices-up-so-much/

    There’s a great comment after that article reflecting what I’ve been saying:

    The article says food prices may fluctuate from season to season, but overall they have risen at only a 2% compound rate since 2009.

    Wrong.

    During the Great Recession food manufacturers attempted to keep grocery prices steady by reducing the volume of cereal, peanut butter and the like so that they could continue offering the same price on items while concealing the fact that the volume had shrunk. Packages were designed to look the same on the shelf but hold less. Meanwhile, there were riots in Algeria over sugar prices, riots in Mexico over tortillas and a rice shortage that forced no less than the likes of Costco to ration. How short our memories!

    Even after the Great Recession is said to have ended a December 2009 article on sticker shock at the grocery store suggests that even the US Agriculture Department anticipated overall food prices to increase as much as 4 percent by the end of 2010. Other economists anticipated a hike of as much as five percent. A five percent increase would mean coming up with roughly a thousand dollars more per year for groceries, the article went on to state. In fact, consumers are said to have already sustained a 45 percent hike for groceries over those costs in 2007!

    Source: “Sticker Shock at the Supermarket – Food Prices Poised to Rise” on the Daily Finance website.

    What harms the middle class in the US inspires unrest and instability elsewhere in the world. We are often told various protests and uprisings are in support of greater political freedom but more basic motivators such as the cost of food are precipitating factors. According to a senior economist from the Food and Agriculture Organization quoted by NPR in 2011, global food prices, which, among other commodities, are heavily influenced by US monetary policy given our status as world reserve currency, increased on the order of 50-60 percent year-to-year!

    Source: “Skyrocketing Prices Point to Looming Global Food Crisis”, NPR website.

    In conclusion, this TIME article is at best poorly researched and at worst woefully misleading. Few of the statistics cited in this piece are attributed to a source. That ought to be a reader’s first clue.

  • WoodyinNYC

    Letting any and every vehicle crowd into Manhattan for free causes our congestion. The savings from reducing traffic delays by heavier tolling could REDUCE the costs of necessary deliveries.

    Free bridges for trucks is obviously not working, like boycotting Cuba for 65 years, or waging a phony War on Drugs for 50 years. It ain’t working. Waaaaaay past time to make a change.

  • Canal Crosser

    More nonsense from Margaret Chin. If she wishes to reduce congestion on Canal Street (and the BQE) , why isn’t she addressing the root cause of it: the unfair, reversed one-way toll on the Verrazano Bridge in Manhattan. Not once has she ever addressed this.

  • avlowe

    Check out just how big a truck you need to make a delivery to a branch of Starbucks. Introducing effective tolling on the large vehicles which pose a disportionate hazard to other road users AND do more damage to the city roads will focus the commercial community in Manhattan and two things are likely to happen

    1) Instead of multiple calls by large trucks dropping part loads at each business, businesses will be serviced by consolidated deliveries and collections. During London 2012 Olympics a massive reduction in the truck-count going to London Hotels and stores was achieved by planning more efficient use of the trucks. Deliveries and collections were combined.

    2) Deliveries will be organised to use appropriate sized vehicles. As noted by the seminal Bicycle Blueprint for NYC (1994 -21 years ago) 90% of the packages delivered in New York City weigh under 30Kg and can be delivered by cargo bikes – In NL DHL has swapped vans for bikes on a 1 for 1 basis doing the same city deliveries and collections, saving between $12000 and $15000/year in operating costs per vehicle. Similar scaling detail may make it practical to use smaller trucks in better ways.

    All are fine green policies and have the backing of the finest green policy documents available – with President Jackson’s picture on them.

    PS I loaned my Bicycle Blueprint out to someone and never got it back so if anyone has a copy….

  • c2check

    That’s what the Move New York Plan seeks to address.

  • greg larsen

    I drive a charter bus into Manhattan about 20 time a year from Toronto. I see the
    truck problems all the time.The main cause of accidents is speed !
    Re: the toll: you could have a heavy toll charge during 8 am to maybe 6 pm and then have a very reduced toll for other hours..this might encourage night deliveries into the city.

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