De Blasio Leaves the Door Open to Congestion Pricing

The mayor's comments on WNYC make it clear, however, that any congestion pricing plan will have to be protected from death by a thousand exemptions.

Photo: NYC Mayor's Office/Flickr
Photo: NYC Mayor's Office/Flickr

With Governor Cuomo’s long-awaited Fix NYC recommendations [PDF] dominating today’s news cycle, Mayor de Blasio has softened his tone on congestion pricing. The mayor’s remarks on WNYC this morning suggest a congestion pricing plan would be in play at City Hall, but it will have to be protected from death by a thousand exemptions.

On Brian Lehrer, de Blasio continued to plug his millionaires tax — which would do nothing to reduce traffic — as a superior MTA funding mechanism to congestion pricing. But he called the Fix NYC proposal an “improvement over previous plans.”

De Blasio also said there should be consistent policy governing taxis, Uber, and similar services, and that the plan should reduce the mileage of for-hire vehicles traveling with no passengers. The Fix NYC plan sets out do just that.

On his wish list, de Blasio said the legislature should consider accommodations for “hardship cases,” like people who drive into Manhattan for medical appointments.

The Fix NYC report does say that care should be taken not to impose undue hardship on poor residents, while pointing out that there are very, very few low-income motorists who would be hurt by a Manhattan pricing cordon. From the Times:

The report dismissed those claims, saying only 4 percent of residents of other boroughs commute to jobs in Manhattan in a vehicle, or approximately 118,000 residents. Of those, it said, more than half were higher income individuals, and fewer than 5,000 of them would qualify as working poor.

The impulse to carve out wide exemptions, as opposed to precisely-targeted discounts for people in genuine need, will have to be guarded against as the plan goes through the legislative process. When a Manhattan resident called in to WNYC asking for a blanket exemption for people who live in the cordon zone — one of the wealthiest districts in the city — de Blasio didn’t rule it out.

Examples from other cities show that carving out exceptions for subsets of motorists is a recipe for an ineffective plan.

In Stockholm, congestion pricing has few exemptions, and the city has seen consistent results from its fee for more than a decade. Because the fee does what it promised, it is still exceedingly popular.

London, meanwhile, has a menu of exemptions and discounts, including taxis and residents of the charging zone. “Unfortunately, the shift to exempt traffic has diluted the scheme’s effectiveness,” writes road pricing researcher Lewis Lehe. Lehe notes that London traffic would be worse without pricing — at least 20 percent slower, according to Charles Komanoff — but the carve-outs make the congestion charge less effective.

Cuomo’s proposal is a solid start. It remains to be seen whether he’ll use his bully pulpit to push the plan through and, just as important, prevent it from being watered down.

  • Larry Littlefield

    All Democrats are in favor of having the government redistribute income.

    The difference in New York is that our Democrats are so in favor that they don’t particularly care in which direction the income is redistributed. Even if the pretense is redistribution down.

    And New York Republicans are also in favor of having the government redistribute income, as long as it is redistributed up.

    So yes, one has to beware DeBlasio. But one has to beware the state legislature far more.

    The bottom line is we’ll end up with a congestion charge AND higher taxes in the end. So they’ll all be happy.

  • JK

    Pricing in 2020, but first, “We must first improve mass transit capacity and reliability.” OK, L train is going to be shut from April 2019 until July 2020 — if MTA performs minor miracle and a major repair completed on schedule.

  • Folicle

    If you don’t exempt residents of the zone then they will never vote for it.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Then don’t let them vote.

    When they rob our future, there are no votes against.

    If they actually want to do something that might benefit the serfs and the future, they’ll give people permission to vote no and pass it by one vote in each house.

  • Folicle

    I know – democracy is a pesky thing when you feel certain that you know what is good for voters better than they do. But somehow Americans seem strangely wed to the idea that they decide their destiny.

  • JarekFA

    I used to live in the zone and if I still did I would’ve voted for it.

  • JarekFA

    Maybe some residents want less congestion on their streets? Crazy I know.

  • Inside the zone is probably where public support for congestion pricing is highest.

  • Toddster

    I find the parking placard paragraph interesting. While it’s sorely needed, am I the only one reading it as another attempt at Cuomo trying to emasculate De Blasio, who refuses to reign in the abuse despite all the coverage it gets? Or his attempt at driving a wedge between De Blasio and his base, aka parking obsessed public union supporters?

    Maybe I’m reading in too much. Either way it’ll be great if it happens.

  • vnm

    Maybe, maybe not. Residents of the zone are the ones who have to suffer the most from the abjectly horrendous traffic at, say, the mouth of the Holland, Lincoln tunnels, etc. They stand to gain the most in terms of quality of life from reduction in traffic.

  • Wilfried84

    Something like 80% of people within the zone do not own cars. So, unless they suffer from Stockholm Syndrome (which is entirely possible, considering how these things go), why wouldn’t they support it (FWIW, I live in the zone, and I think we should have had this five years ago)? And I’m willing to bet that car owners in the zone are way richer than even the average NYC car owner, who are richer on average than non-car owners. They would have to be.

  • Guest

    Unlikely. Polls have shown the highest support for the idea comes from people living in Manhattan.

  • Guest

    If only we had a mayor who informed himself with data and critical thinking and not just made-up anecdotes. Anyone driving to a doctor’s appointment in the CBD is already paying a fortune to park their car and surely could afford the congestion fee if heading in during peak hours.

  • ItsEasyBeingGreen

    I live outside the zone but would love them to extend the zone to where I live. I’ve always worked in the zone.

  • Folicle

    It’s been a while since I lived in NYC, but wouldn’t an election on this involve all five boroughs? And not just the privileged, wealthy folks in Manhattan under 96th Street who can easily take a cab, Uber or subway?

  • Folicle

    Just because somebody doesn’t own a car doesn’t mean they do not benefit from one. A family member or roommate may own a vehicle, or their friends and family may want to visit or give them a ride.

  • Wilfried84

    I benefit from cars, in which I ride from time to time. I benefit far more from keeping cars in check, and I’m down with paying extra to use one. For a non-car owner not to see that I chalk up to Stockholm Syndrome.

  • AnoNYC

    Sick people shouldn’t be driving.

    If you are not sick, but still need to visit a hospital in the CBD, take mass transit or pay up.

  • AnoNYC

    When you explain CP to people in areas that have low automobile per household numbers outside the CBD, people generally support it (tip, don’t call it CP). The problem is a lot of New Yorkers also do not understand the complexities.

  • AnoNYC

    Last time around the biggest opposition was from East Queens, SI and south Brooklyn. Things have evolved since then and with a reduction in tolls for outer crossings you could get it done.

  • AnoNYC

    How many drivers are expected to switch. Can the system handle 20-50,000 more people. Sounds like a heavily utilized bus route. I base that number from the fact that about 118,000 outer borough residents drive into the CBD for work during peak hours.

    I don’t think the number of people switching is going to burden the system, even if implemented today.

  • Ian Turner

    If the future generations are to pay these debts, wouldn’t democracy suggest that they should have a vote?

  • J. Geoff Rove

    Still no method to control the hoards of NJ vehicles crossing the Hudson, not paying NY gas or registration fees.

  • SingleOccupantDriver

    Result of “congestion pricing” taxing scheme: costs more to haul empty car side-seats. For congestion mitigation, cleaner air, and transit desert fix, manufacture single-width, highway-capable 100% electrc car fleets financed by Uber, Lyft, FedEx, Amazon, UPS, and other major fleets. Innovative thin car design more important than taxing for real congestion fix.

  • Anon

    Wow editor, so just because we live in Manhattan in the zone, every time we drive we should pay 11 bucks to get out of home? Absurd logic. Not everyone in Manhattan resides in one 57 building you know. We are not all rolling in it

  • Folicle

    How do we give the unborn a vote? What’s your special idea around registering them?

  • Larry Littlefield

    I haven’t heard that there would be a referendum on congestion pricing. The legislature will vote. And it will do so facing a financial disaster, starting with the transit system.

  • Folicle

    My point was more that politicians won’t pass something unpopular with the voters, because they fear not being re-elected. So it matters what the voters think regardless of whether they get a direct vote or not.

  • kevd

    no. only when you drive INTO the zone.
    but, very few residents of the zone are driving INTO the zone during peak hours – because they, um, just woke up there. and there is no fee to “get out of home”.
    leaving the congestion zone, like driving around in it, is free. Only entering it during congested hours would be charged.

  • kevd

    of course. thought it won’t be decided by a plebiscite. it will be decided by NY State
    you said “If you don’t exempt residents of the zone then they will never vote for it.” Polls show the opposite to be true. Residents or the zone are the greatest beneficiaries of the charge, are the least likely to own cars and support it in the highest numbers.

  • qrt145

    There are many illnesses that don’t affect driving ability at all.

  • OneTermMayor

    Interesting that De Blasios go to line to avoid taking a position on this has been that he can’t comment because he “hasn’t seen a plan” but now he’s claiming this plan is better that past ones. But I thought you hadn’t seen a plan before Mr Mayor? How can this be better than something you claim didn’t exist? Can we be done with this fool already?

  • Brian Howald

    The tolls on the Port Authority bridges and tunnels already accomplish that goal.

  • Andrew

    Wait, weren’t you saying before that you expected opposition to come from people who live in the pricing zone? Now you’re saying the opposite.

    Incidentally, in a representative democracy, the general electorate does not typically vote on specific legislative items.

  • Andrew

    People who benefit from cars benefit from congestion pricing.

    In Manhattan, only 23% of households own cars. That already accounts for your hypothetical roommates and family members.

  • Folicle

    No, I am saying that while people in the zone might support it, those who live outside the zone but enter it regularly will oppose it.

    So my guess would be it has support in Manhattan, is much more split in the other boroughs and is opposed in the suburbs and the rest of the tri-state area. So it depends who you ask.

  • Folicle

    Yes, but in the entire city? In the tri-state area?

    It affects far more people than just those who live in Manhattan.

  • pfrishauf

    I find this whole issue of needing a car to drive into a Manhattan hospital does not pass the smell test. If you’re driving to a Manhattan hospital you will almost certainly have to park in a garage that can easily cost $50 for the day by the time you’re done with it. Take a Via or Uber or Lyft if you need to travel by car. It will cost less.

  • J. Geoff Rove

    Wikipedia states nearly 500,000 vehicle trips cross on the Holland, Lincoln and GWB. Assuming equal two way traffic, I’d guess 200,000 NJ vehicles come into NYC everyday.

  • Brian Howald

    Are you suggesting that those tolls be higher than they currently are?

    The best solution would be a regional plan, but I don’t know if that’s possible given the multitudes of layers of American local government.

  • J. Geoff Rove

    The huge PA toll increases only caused traffic to drop by 10 percent on the Lincoln tunnel, according to:

    Year 2005=126,455
    Year 2015=113,783
    If Westchester and CT. originating vehicles get charged the congestion fee, then a similar drop in traffic can be expected.


Photo: Crain's New York

Bucking de Blasio, Speaker Candidates Support Congestion Pricing

Mayor de Blasio is pulling out all the stops to frame congestion pricing as a "regressive tax," even though low-income New Yorkers stand to gain enormously. Not a single contender for council speaker is on the same page as the mayor. In a debate hosted by Crain's this morning, they all signaled support for congestion pricing, with a few caveats.