The Fix NYC Congestion Pricing Plan Looks Solid — If Cuomo Aims High

Fees to drive into the congestion zone would take effect in 2020, according to the timetable laid out by the Fix NYC commission. Map: HNTB/Fix NYC
Fees to drive into the congestion zone would take effect in 2020, according to the timetable laid out by the Fix NYC commission. Map: HNTB/Fix NYC

I got a pleasant surprise this morning when I punched up a few Fix NYC congestion pricing scenarios into my Balanced Transportation Analyzer spreadsheet: Two of the three toll plans I modeled deliver strong results for traffic reduction and overall social benefits.

The Fix NYC report describes a range of options to price driving into the Manhattan CBD and add a surcharge on for-hire vehicle trips in the most in-demand parts of the city.

My findings suggest that if Governor Cuomo and the legislature choose to aim high on both counts and refuse to carve out exemptions, New York City could end up with traffic reduction and transit funding comparable to those promised by the Move NY toll reform plan.

In two options on the more ambitious end of the Fix NYC scale, traffic would fall about 10 percent initially. Eventually $1.7 billion would be raised each year, once you factor in higher farebox revenues. These results compare well with Move NY, especially in the long run, as revenues are invested to improve subway and bus performance.

Komanoff _ Table comparing congestion pricing scenarios _ 23 Jan 2018 _ revision 1

What’s more, in the same vein as Move NY, the two ambitious Fix NYC scenarios deliver a fair balance between the revenue raised from Manhattan residents and from residents of the so-called outer boroughs.

Recall that under Move NY, residents of Manhattan would pay 29 percent of all new tolls and surcharges — nearly as much as the 31 percent from Brooklyn and Queens residents combined. That’s due to both toll discounts on MTA bridges and proposed surcharges on for-hire vehicle trips in the Manhattan “taxi zone” (below 110th Street on the West Side and 96th Street on the East Side).

Fix NYC doesn’t propose a toll swap, but a similar toll incidence for Manhattan can be achieved with a for-hire vehicle surcharge that goes up to $5 per trip (rates are lower for trips made at off-peak times or that only “touch” the taxi zone rather than staying entirely within it). This has a significant effect on overall revenue generation and the share of revenue coming from Manhattan.

Table: Fix NYC/HNTB

Here’s a closer look at the inputs in my scenarios:

  • The “lower-range” plan uses a $2 for-hire vehicle fee for all CBD-touching trips (the third column of the first row in the matrix above), and a cordon toll only in effect on weekdays from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. (the first column in the table below).
  • The “higher-range plan” draws from the sixth (final) column and fourth row of the for-hire vehicle matrix and the second column of the cordon toll table.
  • The “variable-price plan” draws from the sixth column and seventh (final) row of the for-hire vehicle matrix and the third column of the cordon toll table.
  • The Move NY Plan employs variable tolls.
Table: Fix NYC/HNTB

The outcome Cuomo and Albany should strive to avoid is the “lower-range plan,” which falls 30-40 percent short of the others in traffic reduction, revenue generation, and overall societal benefit. While it qualifies as a significant improvement to current conditions — its various benefits net to around $1.8 billion a year — those are still a long way from the game-changing impacts of Move NY and the two other Fix NYC scenarios I modeled.

One last point: Except for the top data row, all of the figures in the table assume, and take credit for, investing the lion’s share of toll and surcharge revenues into improved subway service — not the spectacularly wasteful (and corrupt) megaprojects, but investments to bring the system back to a “state of good repair” and modernize signals, power supplies, stations, and trains. The resulting service improvements are assumed to “pull” a great many car, cab, and Uber trips into transit, supplementing the “price push” from the congestion charge and significantly augmenting the immediate decrease in traffic congestion.

  • FizzyMyNizzy

    So, if you drive and live under 60th street you are force to pay this unless you use the FDR. WTF.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Walk. It will help you live longer.

    Looks like a good plan. They might want to allow for toll-free travel on West Street, at least in mid-day, as well.

    But they need a way to make the price of taking the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel equal to the Brooklyn Bridge. Even I take the bridge when I can, and I know better and can afford the tunnel since I only do it rarely. It’s just too tempting.

  • FizzyMyNizzy

    What’s with the stupid suggestion. You want to walk 29 miles every day? No. So stop with the stupid suggestion.

  • Joe R.

    Option 1: Subway or walk or bike to Grand Central, Metro North to Tarrytown, bike remaining ~2.5 miles. Or get an e-bike and bike the entire way.

    Option 2: Move closer to work. You’ll save on housing expenses besides given how expensive living in Manhattan is. A 28+ mile each way commute to work is ridiculous.

  • Vooch

    Take the train

    you’ll be happier and you’ll be more productive

    so you’ll make more money

  • Vooch

    it’s not ridiculous – it’s dim witted

    28 miles each way ?

    Getta our of here

    Actually – Elizabeth F e-bikes more or less this exact route every day

  • Vooch

    Didja model the 100,000 placard holders getting freebies ?


  • Komanoff

    No. But you can. Why don’t you?

  • Vooch

    because I‘m scared to try. 🙂

  • Vooch

    I‘ll model the placards IF you promise to watch the Ford keynote at CES

  • kevd

    what is your final destination when you tempted to take the BK Battery tunnel but take the bridge instead?
    above or below 60th street?

  • kevd

    its less than a mile* from the harlem line. but metro north has weird peak fares outbound in the am, also – they don’t allow bikes on all out bound am trains.
    despite them being 1/2 as full as the inbound peak trains (at most).

    *N/M. thats only as the crow flies. due to shitty highways around there it is 3miles by road.

  • kevd

    Some people live with spouses or other family who have to commute other places. Simply saying “move” is completely tone-deaf. I’m sure there are many reasons why you would not simply move to be closer to a place of employment.

  • kevd

    Unless you take the FDR to the Queensboro or Brooklyn bridges to get to Brooklyn or Queens – you’d still pay. Though presumably less than the full rate if you’re reverse commuting, since the highest fees would be for people causing the most congestion. And by reverse commuting by car you aren’t causing the most congestion, just a lot of congestion.
    I haven’t heard about resident discounts in this plan, but they have those in London’s congestion scheme.

  • JarekFA

    What do you mean you’re “forced to pay this.”

    No one’s forcing anyone who lives in the densest county in the United States to drive or own a car, especially when such county also happens to have the best transit system in the United States (that’s still, even with the crumbling subways, Walk Score is like 100 for nearly every single block in the toll cordon).

  • JarekFA

    Ok, yah. That commute sucks. But at the same time — bruh; you should be paying it. You live where you live and you pay a huge premium to live there. Your rent is through the roof because you’re so close to so many things that have ridiculously high demand. And that’s the trade-off. Virtually everyone who lives where you do, work/school/commute within reasonable transit access. These are the trade-offs that everyone has to consider and I’d think you were probably already considering moving closer to school [or wondering how much nicer it’d be].

    But you don’t need to live in one of the densest square miles in the United States when you don’t work in the nearby CBDs.

    I’d love to be able to live where you live. In part because I’d be just two miles from work. But I don’t want my children to have bunk beds so I moved to Brooklyn [and still pay a fortune] for more space.

  • Joe R.

    Perhaps but this is the same answer people have told me when I said any of the following:

    1) I can’t find a job in my field.
    2) I can’t afford to live on my own.
    3) My parents are annoying to live with sometimes.
    4) I won’t have enough money to buy my siblings out of their share of the house when my mother passes on.

    Probably I heard it for other reasons as well. Moving for any reason is a royal pain in the butt. However, if people want to offer up moving for any of the reasons above, I feel I can suggest the same when they complain they’ll have to pay an extra fee in order to drive to work. In truth the only valid reason I see to move is you’re tired of living where you are and want a change.

  • JarekFA

    These are considerations that everyone must take into account. And it’s hard to feel sympathetic for someone who lives in the Village/LES and commutes by car to Westchester [like it’s his fault for not living UES which, and in Yorktown/Spanish Harlem in particular, have reasonable rents]. When I moved to Brooklyn a major consideration was that my wife and I both work downtown. If we both still worked in midtown, we would’ve more likely considered uptown. I’ve turn down job opportunities specifically because they were in the suburbs and I wasn’t confident I’d have a viable commute.

  • AnoNYC

    No one could have realized that you have one of the most uncommon commutes in NYC. The vast majority of New Yorkers work within their borough, a smaller share work in Manhattan, and an even smaller share in another borough. Commuting to areas outside the city has been growing, but it’s not nearly as common, and especially irregular from the Manhattan CBD. That said, the vast majority of those residents have enough disposable income and are making the choice to live where they do.

    You’ll have to pay the toll or save money and either move closer to work or find a job more convent to home.

    We can’t screw over everyone else to support these highly irregular circumstances. That’s why this city is broken. It’s a harsh truth.

  • Frank Kotter

    ‘Forced to pay unless…’ Is a great phrase no matter the context. Thanks!

  • Frank Kotter

    There are no stupid questions, only stupid answers. That you state your options to longitudinally travers the entire island of Manhattan are either by car or walking is solidly in the latter.

  • qrt145

    Option 3: Get a garage uptown and take transit or bike there.

  • kevd

    or if you’re really looking to save, the bronx.
    I knew a guy who kept his car in a lot in the bronx and would take the subway from downtown to get there to go away on weekends.

  • kevd

    So you agree that “Just move” is a silly suggestion and not especially helpful?

  • kevd

    Of course.
    You also know nothing about the posters specific situation or ability to move. Some people are tied down to their places or residence by far more than simply a lease.
    Here’s my suggestion to him or her in the medium term. Carpool with 2 others.
    Economic incentives get people to carpool pretty quickly.
    They’ll also be saving a ton of time that they would have been stuck in traffic. So it probably be worth $4/person a day.

  • Anxiously Awaiting Bikeshare

    We could admit that this one crazy commuter will be paying a bit more, and I understand their specific opposition, but a handful of people’s slight inconvenience for the benefit of millions seems like the exact sort of trade-off government is supposed to make.

  • kevd

    I think that more reasonable fares on commuter rail for reverse commuters (no peak fares for reverse commutes) and some congestion revenue going to expand suburban bus lines is a reasonable and fair trade off for congestion pricing.
    Medium term we need to locate more housing AND employment by transit nodes in the suburbs. White Plains, New Rochelle, Stamford & New Haven are doing that. But we have a long way to go.
    Long term, through running of commuter rail and even new tunnels in NYC would vastly improve regional connectivity.

  • Joe R.

    I agree “just move” is really a silly suggestion. That’s doubly true when gentrification raises the rents of long-time residents in a neighborhood. As you said, part of the solution is lower fares on outbound trains. Another part is better connections for biking or walking from Westchester stops to places of employment.

    That said, the real complaint here wasn’t about the commute, but rather about the fact the person doing it would be forced to pay ~$3,000 extra annually. Now if you’re living in Manhattan below 60th Street $3,000 should be pocket change to you. If it isn’t, then you’re stretching your finances way too thin and perhaps you really should be thinking about living somewhere less expensive. And not just because of this new congestion pricing but also because in general it’s a horrible idea to have most of your paycheck going just for necessary living expenses. That leaves nothing for savings or retirement or unforeseen expenses.

  • kevd

    “if you’re living in Manhattan below 60th Street $3,000 should be pocket change to you.”
    On average, perhaps, but that’s an absurd generalization.
    How about this one?
    “if you live in a single family detached house in Queens, $3000 should be pocket change to you”

    There’s public housing in Manhattan below 60th street. In addition to imposing congestion pricing we should be improving transit and biking options in the entire region (as you said!)
    $1.7 Billion/year could certainly help with that if Cuomo doesn’t siphon it all away, the bastard!

    If you want pricing to fly politically, you’ll have to be a bit more nuanced in your arguments than just assuming everyone in Manhattan below 60th street is wealthy, even if on average, they are.

  • JarekFA

    All good points and agree – a car pool arrangement would work best. But there’s one particularly material detail that’s missing. Where does he park his car in Lower Manhattan. That area has a fair number of garages. But I suspect he’s a free street parker and since he commutes most days he doesn’t have ASP issues.

    In either case, if he can afford a garage, then he’s rich. And if he’s parking on the street, then this is just another example of how our [high cost of] free parking induces people to keep cars when, in this case, it sustains the illusion that driving from the LES to 20 miles north of the city is somehow a reasonable commute and that our completely clogged up streets should set aside space for that use, ahead of, uses such as, truly protected bike paths.

  • kevd

    Re free parking.
    Sure. Agreed.

    I would also state that a 20 mile commute from Westchester into Manhattan is common place. It is so reasonable that 100,000s of thousands do it every day on Metro North.
    It *should be* as simple to do the reverse, but it is not. And that is a big reason why our poster thinks he has to drive. Because last mile connections in Westchester can SUCK and because employment is largely in car dependent office parks, designed to make it easy for suburbanites to commute by car, and little else.
    (the ones along 287 are surprisingly well served by bus if one takes the time to figure it all out)

    My point is, this isn’ just a story of a selfish car commuter. It is also a story of dysfunctional suburban planning and the awkward border between transit served NYC and car dependent America.

  • Joe R.

    Yes, but the people in public housing below 60th Street certainly aren’t driving to jobs in Westchester. Most don’t even have cars.

    if you live in a single family detached house in Queens, $3000 should be pocket change to you

    It is for me. As I’ve said before, I’m not super rich but my assets at this point are well into the 6 figures. The problem is that’s still not enough to buy my siblings out of their share of the house and still have enough left to live on until I get Social Security when I’m 70. Of course, since I’m my mother’s caretaker and have lived at home for more than the past 2 years I can have the home transferred to me with no look-back period for Medicaid purposes but my siblings are both against that. They somehow think it’s not fair to them even though I’ve already given up about 3 years of my life taking care of their mother, and will probably be doing the same for another 5 to 10 years.

    Getting back to congestion pricing, if there is some small percentage of low-income car commuters who really have no other viable means to get to their jobs, I’m all in favor of having full or partial rebates for the congestion charges once you show proof of income and expenses. That should satiate the politicians who continually say congestion charges are a regressive tax on the working poor. Perhaps they are, but the percentage of working poor who would be affected by this is a tiny minority compared to those who stand to benefit.

  • kevd

    “It is for me. As I’ve said before”
    thats exactly my point.

  • Joe R.

    Probably the best option even without a congestion fee if getting to your job entirely by public transit isn’t feasible. You avoid all the congestion in Manhattan by keeping your car at or near city limits. The subway from midtown to the Bronx has to be faster than driving most times of the day.

  • kevd

    its good if you’re always going in the same general direction.
    he was always going north, so it was perfect.

  • Joe R.

    Agree on all points. Also, MNRR average speeds are pokey compared to the NEC. The NEC locals averaged close to 50 mph at the time I was doing that commute. That’s as good as anywhere else in the world. Then they padded the schedules once they started using coaches pulled by locomotives instead of EMUs. What gives me hope is the specs for the Arrow III EMUs eventual replacement required a top speed of 110 mph and the ability to go from Penn Station to Trenton in one hour making all stops.

    Not sure how much MNRR can speed up their trains. They should at least try to get running speeds up to 90 or 100 mph in the parts of the route which are straight enough.

  • J. Geoff Rove

    The people who benefit the most drive in from NJ, CT, and Westchester. 50 bucks per week won’t dent their budgets.

  • sbauman

    Two of the three toll plans I modeled deliver strong results for traffic reduction…New York City could end up with traffic reduction

    When one is up to one’s eyeballs in alligators, it’s difficult to remember that the primary objective was to drain the swamp. Reducing congestion within the CBD is the objective. Reducing the number of vehicles that cross the CBD cordon is a strategy for achieving that objective.

    Whether this strategy should be employed should depend on how well it achieves its objective. Fix NYC projects a 9% increase in CBD speeds. This would increase average CBD vehicle speeds from 6.8 (2016) to 7.4 mph. This would still be below the prior year’s 8.22 mph average CBD vehicle speed. If one considers 2016 to be an outlier, 2015’s average vehicle speed would increase to 8.96. This would increase average CBD vehicle speeds to only 2012 levels.

    One reason for these lackluster improvements is that average CBD vehicle speeds have been decreasing despite continued reductions in vehicle cordon crossings. A chart of the number of daily CBD cordon crossings shows there have been 3 distinct behaviors. The first was a linear increase in crossings from 1932 through 1985; the second shows a less steep increase between 1986 and 2002; the third shows a decrease CBD cordon crossings between 2002 and 2015. Given this counter-intuitive relation , it’s unlikely that small reductions in CBD crossings would reduce congestion within the CBD.

    Reducing current CBD congestion must lie with identifying and eliminating the cause for the congestion. The shotgun approach of reducing CBD crossings won’t reduce congestion by very much.

    Eventually $1.7 billion would be raised each year, once you factor in higher farebox revenues.

    Mr. Komanoff, Move NY and Fix NYC have not included the cost of providing service the passengers that create the “higher farebox revenues.” It’s fairly easy to estimate this extra cost. The 2016 NTD tables noted: subway operating costs of $5,558,943,117 vs. subway farebox revenue of $3,351,083,122. The means a factor of (revenue-cost)/(revenue) or -65.88% should be applied to the projected higher farebox revenues.

    The additional amount that would be available subway improvements is substantially reduced, when the cost of the higher farebox revenues is included. Here are the results, using Mr. Komanoff’s BTA spreadsheet.

    Fix NYC – Lower Range Plan: $1000M (new cordon tolls); $1000M (amt before); $710M (amt after); 71% (recovery rate)
    Fix NYC – Higher Range Plan: $1575M (new cordon tolls); $1730M (amt before); $1200M (amt after); 76% (recovery rate)
    Fix NYC – Variable Price Plan: $1545 (new cordon tolls); $1690M (amt before); $1180M (amt after); 76% (recovery rate)
    Move NY – Flat Toll Plan: $1995M (new cordon tolls); $1530M (amt before); $1090M (amt after); 55% (recovery rate)
    Move NY Variable Tolls: $1995 (new cordon tolls); $1530M (amt before); $1080M (amt after); 54% recovery rate.

    The new cordon tolls include gross charges from CBD tolls (Results.K38), yellow taxi surcharges (Results.K46) and Uber/Lyft surcharges (Results.K49). The amt before is the sum of Total Net Income (Results.L69) and Total Spending and Allocations (Results.L77) before taking into account the cost of providing additional subway service. The recovery rate is the percentage of amt after divided by the new cordon tolls.

    The Total Spending and Allocations comprise: Revenues Invested in System Improvements (Capital)/Portion of annual revenue stream dedicated to transit capital plan (L73); Revenues Spent on Service Enhancements (Operating)/Portion of annual revenue stream spent on expanding transit service w/o capital investment (L74); Revenues Spent on Roads and Bridges/Portion of annual revenue stream spent on maintaining and improving NY-area roads and bridges (L75); and Revenues Spent on Fare Support (discounts)/Portion of annual revenue stream spent on discounts to certain fares (L76).

    The Revenues spent on roads and bridges… further dilute the amount of money to be spent on subways. If the intent is to provide funding for the subways, it should be removed from the amt category. This applies only to the Move NY plans. The Move NY entries should be restated as:

    Move NY – Flat Toll Plan: $1995M (new cordon tolls); $1180M (amt before); $740M (amt after); 37% recovery rate
    Move NY Variable Tolls: $1995 (new cordon tolls); $1180M (amt before); $730M (amt after); 37% recovery rate.

    One should note that vultures are already have their sights on the Fix NYC revenue stream.

    Nicole Gelinas has already complained: “None of the money would go toward the upkeep of the East River bridges that many drivers have to travel over to get to Manhattan. Nor would the money go to keeping up roads within the city.”

    John Flanagan, NYS Senate Majority Leader, will probably support Fix NYC, if some of the revenue were diverted to the LIRR. It’s likely that the Fix NYC plan that passes the legislature would have as dismal a recovery rate as Move NY.

    The return to the subway system from the cordon tolls would be in the 30 to 40% range should the vultures descend. Even if this were not the case, the best Fix NYC offers is a 71% return. If Fix NYC were registered as a charity for the purpose of raising funds for the NYC subway, the NYS Attorney General would prosecute it as a fraud.

    The crux of the problem is the mismatch between the subway system’s marginal cost and marginal revenue. According to economics 101 (14.01 where I came from), companies should file for bankruptcy when their marginal cost exceeds their marginal revenue.

    Any subway plan to pay for capital improvements that increases subway ridership must contend with this stark fact. Any monies raised will be diluted by increased operating costs. The congestion pricing proposals cannot deliver anything close to a dollar spent on subway improvements for each dollar raised in tolls.

    Any taxes or user fees should be directed on individuals whose commuting preference would not change with the imposition of such taxes or fees. DeBlasio’s millionaire’s tax fits this criterion; none of the congestion pricing proposals does.

    The marginal cost/revenue mismatch also points to how to prioritize capital investments. If the goal is to increase subway use, marginal cost and revenue must be brought into a semblance of balance. The criterion for judging the first capital investments should be how much they will reduce operating costs.

    Most of the operating costs are labor costs. This means automating existing jobs out of existence and eliminating existing jobs that are unnecessary because of automation that is already in place. Staffing can be reduced in half on most existing trains by eliminating conductors.

    Autonomous driverless vehicle applications can be adopted to subway operation at a very small fraction of the cost for such systems proposed by the MTA’s preferred vendors. Governor Cuomo wants to open NYS highways to autonomous driverless vehicles. He can start by opening up the subway tracks to trains equipped with this technology.

    Conductors and train operators comprise about $800M of direct operating costs. The current imbalance between cost and fare revenue is $2.4B. The $800M is a start; it’s the low hanging fruit.

    I’m interested in extending the subway system’s reach and increasing its use. That cannot be accomplished until marginal cost and revenue are more closely aligned.

  • neroden

    So complain to the Westchester employer that they need to support better shuttles from the train station.

  • neroden

    Anyone living in Manhattan below 60th street *and* parking a car there should consider $3000 pocket change — otherwise they cannot really afford to live there. If they’re in public housing *sigh* they aren’t gonna be commuting to Westchester by car.

  • neroden

    Whatever your mother’s will says, your siblings can’t contest that. So it’s really up to your mother.

  • Ruoyu Li

    the fix isn’t taxing the drivers. the fix comes from the city ultra inefficiency of managing the cost of projects. For example the White stone bridge reno took nearly 20 years to finish. from 1996 to 2015. It was in a continual state of repair. If managed correctly subway fare from the millions of daily users should be enough to manage the cost of repairs. Uber is taking away the revenue of mass transit and putting more cars on the road. Tax them instead!


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 […]