New York Can’t Afford to Put Off the Move NY Plan Any Longer

During the Bloomberg era, there was no bigger backer of congestion pricing than Kathryn Wylde, director of the Partnership for New York City, a downtown business group. Wylde, a confidante of Mayor Bloomberg, spearheaded the Partnership’s 2006 Growth or Gridlock report that provided both quantitative firepower and political cover for the mayor’s congestion pricing proposal the following year. The executive summary, a powerful account of traffic congestion’s drain on city and regional job creation and business competitiveness, culminated with this admonition: “Traffic is worse every day. The time to act is now.”

Ten years ago, the Partnership for New York City said in its “Growth or Gridlock” report that traffic reduction was an imperative. Today, the Partnership say a well-known traffic reduction plan with sponsors in Albany is “premature.”

So it was jarring to read Wylde’s letter in yesterday’s Times protesting that the paper “jumped the gun when it endorsed a State Assembly bill proposing traffic congestion toll pricing in New York City.” Wylde was alluding to the Times’ May 21 editorial, A Creative Way to Fix the Subway, which called the Move NY Fair Plan “a fine proposal [that] needs Mr. Cuomo” to champion it through the state legislature.

Wylde demurred, however:

Based on a review of the Move NY Fair Plan, carried out with support from the N.Y.U. Center for Urban Science and Progress, we believe that this bill [to enact the Move NY plan] is premature. Our panel concluded that more study is required to determine whether the plan would generate the net revenues projected, if economic hardships could result, and what transit investments would be required to achieve equitable results.

The dissonance between “The time to act is now” in 2006 and “this bill is premature” in 2016 is striking. True, a decade separates the two statements, and a lot has changed. Traffic in Manhattan’s Central Business District is perhaps a tad more manageable, and policy wonkery no longer rules City Hall. But even if the annual cost of traffic congestion here has fallen back a bit from the staggering $13 billion figure emblazoned in “Growth or Gridlock,” its toll on economic activity and the quality of life remains high.

Indeed, gridlock has metastasized from the streets and bridges to the subways, underscoring the need for the transit improvements that the congestion fees could finance. In that light, quibbling over whether Move NY will yield three times as much new net revenue as Bloomberg’s congestion plan, or merely double, seems like a distraction.

At this point I should mention that as the architect of the traffic-pricing model underlying Move NY’s revenue and other projections, I was personally taken aback by the skeptical tone in Wylde’s letter and the Partnership’s review. And though I’m an economic consultant to Move NY I don’t represent or speak on behalf of the MNY team or coalition.

Wylde says in her letter that the Move NY plan and bill “rely on assumptions that have not been thoroughly vetted by transportation agencies or other independent experts.” But those assumptions have been made explicit and transparent for years, in the “Balanced Transportation Analyzer” (BTA) spreadsheet I began developing in 2007 and have continually expanded and updated in the public domain.

To be sure, the assumptions in the BTA run well into the hundreds, befitting the intricacies of New York’s vast transportation ecosystem. But all of them are tweakable. Does Move NY overshoot the mark in projecting that 97 to 98 of every 100 vehicles passing through the CBD entry points will actually pay the toll? Then slide that parameter downward and observe — in seconds — how the net revenue shrinks. Does the BTA overstate the tendency of motorists to continue driving to the CBD in the face of the new toll? Simply bump up the model’s “price elasticity” and watch the revenues go down, though the decrease will be partially offset by added bus ridership as the drop in traffic shortens bus travel times.

There’s no indication that the Partnership’s panel performed such “sensitivity analysis,” even though any of the team’s six transportation academics, two NYC DOT staffers, and four outside consultants are more than intellectually equipped to do so.

The panel’s report makes some fair points, especially on the need to synch the transit investments to the influx of people who will cease driving after their car trips have been “priced off” the roads. But both the report and Wylde’s letter understate the urgency propelling the Move NY plan, as if the present situation — marked by bridge-shopping, toll inequity, and the incipient immobilizing of both streets and subways — is manageable.

“A proposal of this magnitude deserves independent analysis and public scrutiny before it becomes law,” Wylde’s letter concludes. Yet the basic contours of the Move NY plan and the underlying traffic and revenue model have been in the public domain for five full years, giving the Partnership plenty of time to enhance it.

Nearly a decade passed between windows of opportunity to enact traffic-reducing, transit-improving road pricing reforms in New York City. If elected officials don’t act now, it may be another decade before the city gets another chance. Suggesting further delay isn’t just disingenuous, it’s a misstep New York can ill afford.

  • Vooch

    MoveNY – If only because 30% of motor traffic on East River Bridges has no Manhattan destination

  • Jesse

    Is that true? That’s insane. You would think just the time cost of Manhattan traffic would be enough of a deterrent. But I guess if people thought rationally about transportation then we wouldn’t have traffic.

  • AnoNYC

    What about public health Wylde and NYU CUSP? Cleaner air and a reduced number of collisions? It maddens me that this is never highlighted as a priority of utmost importance.

  • Driver

    The time cost of traveling around Manhattan can easily be greater. Ever try taking the Cross Bronx Expressway or the BQE to Staten Island?
    Also, how will congestion pricing address the influx of Uber cars (and similar companies) , who will inevitably either absorb or pass on the cost of any proposed toll?

  • Komanoff

    Respectfully, I think you’ve missed the central point of traffic pricing or congestion charging or whatever we call it.

    People are generally quite rational in their travel choices. Without congestion charging, they “pay” for their own time lost to traffic, but for none of the time costs their driving imposes on others. Being able to drive is so “beneficial” (in their minds) that they’ll bear their own time costs, grudgingly but willingly.

    While the Move NY plan wouldn’t impose those latter costs (the costs imposed on others) in full, it would at least impose some, thereby shifting some driving trips (in the minds or eyes of those now taking them) from profitable (benefits exceed costs) to not. Those shifts reduce traffic congestion. Most car trips wouldn’t be shifted, which is fine, since they’ll now pay tolls, creating revenue.

  • AnoNYC

    A lot of people would opt to stay on the LIE through the Queens-Midtown tunnel rather than take the QB around. Same for the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel and the Brooklyn Bridge. Same for Bruckner Expressway/Major Deegan to Triboro Bridge.

    These benefits are huge considering the amount of congestion at these bottlenecks.

    After congestion pricing is finally implemented, we could potentially run SBS service over these bridges to supplement the subway.

    I really feel this is inevitable, looking forward to it.

  • AnoNYC

    “What the bill does: (i) Directs the Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC) to impose sand collect a new surcharge on taxis and FHVs that pick up or discharge people within the part of the “hail exclusionary zone” that is Manhattan south of East 96th St. and West 110th St. Revenue from the surcharge must be transferred to the Move NY Mobility Fund (Topic 2.1) and used for improvements in public transit and other transportation infrastructure (Topic 3).

    Read the legislative language: V.T.L. §§ 1703(7).

    (ii) Sets the basic surcharge, initially, at 12¢ per 2/10 mile at 6 MPH or more, plus 20¢ per 2/10 mile at less than 6 MPH, but directs that the actual surcharge will vary with demand like the new roadway and bridge tolls. (Subtopics 1 and 2) The TLC can increase the surcharge in the future.

    Read the legislative language: V.T.L. §§ 1703(7)(b), 1703(10).

    (iii) Exempts taxis and FHVs that pay the surcharge from also paying the new roadway and bridge tolls.

    Read the legislative language: V.T.L. §§ 1703(7)(d).

    ? Rationale: Taxis and FHVs are a middle ground between public transit and private autos. The surcharge approach–which combines distance traveled within the Manhattan hail exclusionary zone, plus an adjustment for congestion wait-time–makes sure that riders pay their fair share. At the same time, taxis and FHVs will benefit from less congestion from private vehicles. Increased traffic speed means greater fare turnover, which should more than offset any drop-off from the price increase. Also, the surcharge approach should avoid “gaming” on either side of 60th St. — that is, passengers taking a trip right to the toll line, then getting out and completing their trip from the other side.”

  • rogue

    The facts seem to be on her side then? It isn’t an independent analysis, it draws on assumptions that have not been vetted.

    It sounds like she implies a more thorough analysis would yield better policy. I’m curious as to the difference between the 2006 plan and the current one, since that seems to be the crux of her objections.

  • Maggie

    Thought this was an interesting snippet. I don’t agree with the report, but this feels like the crux of the debate to me. You either think paying a toll to drive a private vehicle to work in Manhattan is an unfair burden, or you think the toll corrects a longtime unfairness.

    I end up curious whether they’ve weighed in on other local transit funding and planning issues.

    MoveNY leaves some important regional and social equity issues unanswered. It does not lay out what investments will be necessary to avoid placing an unfair burden on those individuals and small businesses whose only practical option for commuting into the Central Business District is a private vehicle.

  • Keon

    Overall I’m for this plan but I don’t agree with everything. I think some things are missing or need to be changed

    1. Subways are already busting at the seems and there is not enough investment in expansion. No one cares about your stupid SBS proposals, we want subway expansion. NYC has already surpassed it’s 2020 population estimate and is only projected to go higher. We spend 5-8 times per mile for new subway lines vs cities like Paris, Berlin, Tokyo, Moscow. The costs are ridiculous and need to be looked at. Manhattan gets 7 train expansion, SAS, East Side Access and we in the outer boroughs get nothing really, Triboro RX is a start but not enough and even that is unlikely.

    2. CBTC needs to be implemented on more lines and faster. This will allow the MTA to runs trains more frequently reducing the number of packed trains and we’d have countdown clocks on every line. Win win.

    3. There needs to be price adjustments based on time of day. The entire premise of this plan is those in transit rich areas don’t need to drive and as such should take mass transit. Agreed, however if I’m driving into Manhattan at 3am on a Sunday there is no reason I should pay as much as someone driving in during the Monday rush hour. Nights and weekends should be reduced pricing. There is less mass transit on nights and weekends as many lines shut down until the morning(or Monday in the case of weekends) and both trains and buses run less frequently therefore tolls should be less.

  • Frank Kotter

    Excellent point and you have successfully put into words an idea I have had knocking around my head for awhile now: the issue is not the benefit one is receiving which is not being paid for as much as the sanction the rest receive through the action.

  • Frank Kotter

    I don’t wish to confuse the focus of this very specific rebuttal to the statements given by Katherine Wylde but I have to wonder why the experiences of the city of London is not used as a bellwether in these past or, indeed, ‘future studies…’

    London is such a perfect peer to NYC for all things transportation it would seem the two could learn so bloody much from one anther. For example: congestion fees in London. They were implemented after lengthy consideration and have had mostly the intended effect and are wildly popular.

    It would be refreshing to hear from you as an insider, Charles, that all stakeholders do these comparisons but that they are not communicated publicly due to Americans’ famous aversion to being gauged against anything not ‘American’.

  • vnm

    There’s also basic fairness. If I want to go over the Manhattan Bridge without emitting greenhouse gases* in a subway, the government charges me $2.75. If I go over the Manhattan Bridge while emitting greenhouse gases in a car, the government lets me do that completely for free. It should be the other way around, if we actually cared about stopping climate change.

    *OK, fine, vanishingly small pollution levels that depend on your measurement of how the subway gets electrical power generated, and then divide that among millions of people.

  • Komanoff

    Glad my words helped, and kind of you to say so.

    What crystallized the idea for me was a quote from Wolfgang Sachs I saw in the early nineties. I liked it so much I made this graphic (with help of Steve O’Neill). I use it in all my talks about traffic pricing.

  • Joe R.

    I think a fairer comparison would be pollution emitted where people can breathe it. By definition motor vehicles in NYC emit pollution where it causes the greatest harm. Any hypothetical fossil fuel generator which powers the subway emits its pollutants in the middle of nowhere. Also, large power generation stations can have much more stringent emissions controls than motor vehicles.

  • Exactly. It was OK for the Partnership when proposed by Bloomberg. It is not OK if proposed by DiBlasio. What gives?

  • Vooch

    toll shopping

  • Komanoff

    London’s success w/ congestion charging was indeed a huge stimulus to both Wylde’s and Bloomberg’s embraces of c.p. for NYC.

    BB’s c.p. proposal was solid and worthy enough. Move NY’s is even better. It truly cures the main political and logistical deficiencies in BB’s, without adding new ones. Clearly, Wylde’s retreat must be politically motivated. I’d rather not speculate publicly, further. Thanks.

  • Komanoff

    1. New subway lines should take a back seat to increasing capacity on existing lines, at least until the MTA is able to slash costs on big new projects (your point). I wouldn’t trash SBS; I would go straight to real BRT which can be implemented quickly if the mayor steamrolls the NIMBY’s. That’s how we’ll expand transit capacity in time to accommodate people whose car trips will be tolled off the roads.
    2. CBTC of course. I quantified some of the possibilities in this space, last fall:
    3. I also agree re time-of-day, day-of-week adj’ments.The BTA has a built-in MoveNY “parallel plan” that generates the same revenue as our current flat fee, with off-peak discounts and on-peak premiums. Take a look. We’ve led with the flat rate for simplicity and to align the new CBD tolls with the MTA’s tunnel tolls, which, as you know, are also flat.

  • bolwerk

    I see no way to increase capacity on existing lines without some construction. I don’t know exactly what “real BRT” means over supposedly fake BRT – I regard SBS as quite successful, overall, but people who were expecting subway-level service on buses obviously set themselves up for disappointment. Most of our capacity problems on the subway occur along points where buses would need subway-level capital expenses to even dent subway crowding, and if you do that you just may as well build train lines. I can think of a few places where maybe more complex/expensive BRT makes sense in NYC, like Woodhaven, but even those are mostly feeder lines that will complement/crowd the subway more, not relieve it.

    And this piecemeal approach is lunacy. BRT features should be introduced wherever buses around the city could feasibly use the features, with little or no input from the NIMBYs. Certainly POP is besides the point for them, and dedicated lanes where feasible are hard to oppose. You can almost always have POP, but I guess sometimes a dedicated lane is expensive or even physically impossible.

  • CeeTee55

    If building subways costs as much in NYC as it does elsewhere you’d see a lot of new construction.

  • AnoNYC

    Killing ourselves.

    And one of the big problems is that drivers think they are immune from these chemicals thanks to their filters, which is absolutely false considering no ordinary passenger automobile is air tight. I’ve read in recent studies that it’s healthier to walk, bike, or even run near automotive traffic than to sit inside a car due to a lack of air circulation.

  • AnoNYC

    Roads are bursting at the seems, far worse than in the subway too. The public health, environmental and economic consequences are far worse. If we push automotive volume out of the core and arteries leading to it, we could run physically separated bus lanes to assist in the short term.

  • JamesR

    So, I live in the Bronx but work up in Westchester. I’ve done so for almost a decade. When I started, traffic heading back in via the HH Parkway or Deegan was more or less a non issue. Now, with good weather upon us, congestion on these highways backs up nearly into Yonkers almost every evening. The roads are indeed bursting at the seams. It’s bad. I know folks who used to have no problem driving downtown during the evening to catch an event or have drinks who won’t do it anymore. They’ve probably joined the hordes on bursting-at-the-seams subway.

  • Joe R.

    I’m particularly sensitive to the aromatic hydrocarbons present in car exhaust. I get nauseous in short order being in a car stuck in heavy traffic, regardless of whether or not the windows are closed. The problem of air quality inside cars is even worse than what you say. You have exhaust emissions combining with outgassing from the plastics used in car interiors, perhaps resulting in synergistic effects where the combination is far worse than either one in isolation. It certainly feels that way to me. I’ve been on rides to my sister’s in Yaphank where it took me literally a week before I felt normal again. When we wonder why cancer is so prevalent these days, I’d say look no further than the toxic soup which car users regularly breathe. I’m glad in a way I’m like the proverbial canary in the coal mine when it comes to these types of emissions. I get nauseous enough riding in cars to not want to do it often enough to make me permanently ill. Come to think of it, the last time I rode in a car was when I went to my sister’s for Thanksgiving.

  • ahwr
  • ahwr

    Concerns about climate change/CO2 etc…are distinct from air pollution

  • Joe R.

    Yes, definitely. CO2 isn’t harmful to humans in the quantities we’re making but it’s harmful to the planet. For that reason CO2 produced from generating electricity is still relevant.

  • Danny Franklin

    You hit the nail on the head. Now we know all pros and cons of the form. I am sure at least once in your life you had to fill out a form. I use a simple service for forms filling. It definitely makes my life easier!

  • Julian Herring

    Thoughtful blog post – Coincidentally if you require a IRS 1120 , We used a sample form here

  • Paramnte

    Interesting ideas – Speaking of which , if your business is searching for a IN Death Certificate , my business saw a template document here


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