Assembly Democrats’ Taxi Surcharge Plan Isn’t Congestion Pricing

Carl Heastie and his Democratic conference. Photo: Amirabbady00/Wikimedia Commons
Carl Heastie and his Democratic conference. Photo: Amirabbady00/Wikimedia Commons

Reports have surfaced that Assembly Democrats are working on “a modified congestion pricing plan.” A quick look suggests that “truncated” might be a more apt description. Or “eviscerated,” as in: guts removed.

Daily News Albany reporter Ken Lovett published the particulars on Monday: a $2.75 per-trip surcharge on Uber, Lyft, and other non-taxi trips that start or end in Manhattan south of 96th Street, and a $1 per-trip charge on other NYC trips by those vehicles; a 50-cent charge for yellow cab trips starting or ending south of 96th Street, and no charge outside; and no new tolls on cars or trucks, period.

The fruits of this “plan,” by my estimation: a whopping 1.8 percent rise in average vehicle speeds within the Manhattan Central Business District, as some New Yorkers swap for-hire vehicles for trips by train, bus, or bike. Over time this would rise to, at most, a 4.4 percent gain in speeds, provided the $420 million estimated annual revenue from the surcharges is spent to make transit more useful. On the other hand, these estimates don’t reflect the likelihood of some would-be Uber riders gaming the surcharges by switching to cheaper yellow cabs.

Bottom line — this isn’t congestion pricing.

There’s no cordon toll on cars or trucks, which means zero charge on, and revenue from, the city’s #1 congestion source. Yellow cab passengers will be dunned one-seventh as much as users of app-based services, even though the two vehicle classes cause roughly the same amount of traffic congestion in the Manhattan core. Weekend and night-time trips will pay the same rate as weekday peak-period trips.

In terms of revenue, the Assembly Democrats’ surcharge pencils out to $369 million per year from trips with Uber, Lyft, and similar services, plus $52 million from trips in yellow cabs, or roughly $420 million overall. The marked disparity between the effects on Uber and yellow cabs fits the popular but mistaken narrative that primarily blames the app-based services for Manhattan gridlock.

In reality, the Manhattan core and the streets feeding into it have been severely congested for decades. It is the rise of Uber and Lyft that is worsening, not creating, record levels of traffic congestion. And of course, an Uber and a yellow cab traveling the same distance at the same time in the same place contribute equally to congestion. (Yes, the vexing propensity of Uber drivers to stand and block travel lanes imposes additional congestion costs, including endangering pedestrian and cyclists; this warrants differential surcharges vs. cabs, but not a 7-to-1 disparity.)

Streetsblog editor Ben Fried is spot-on to call the Assembly proposal “a plan designed to relieve elected officials from sweating out a tough decision, not to improve New York’s transportation system.” And he’s right to hold Andrew Cuomo’s feet to the fire. Merely declaring that “congestion pricing’s time has come” won’t serve the millions of New Yorkers who need real transportation solutions.

The travel-speed and revenue figures in this post are derived in the Revenues tab of my BTA spreadsheet. To download (Excel file), click here.

  • Larry Littlefield

    I want to know is the capital plan funded, who is paying, and how much with what in return.

    Here is a hint. Signal systems last 60 years. If a project starts to replace the signal system on an entire major line segment, such as the Concourse Line or the West End Line or the Queens Boulevard line, every single year, things won’t get worse. NYCT won’t catch up, and there will be just as many signal failures as now, but things won’t get worse.

    Subway cars last 40 years, stretch to 50.

    Get the picture?

    Meanwhile, for an additional $1.5 billion in school funding the UFT will tell us that we don’t deserve anything because they’ve been cheated out of $billions. And the PBA will tell us that unless they get another 1,000 dues payers, they’ll let our children get run over. Etc. Etc.

  • bolwerk

    The most farcical thing about the anti-CP junta is that, once CP is implemented, it would work splendidly and many who are opposed right now would wonder why they ever objected to begin with.

  • Larry Littlefield

    What works doesn’t matter. They don’t think that way. It isn’t about what, it’s about who.

    How can our crowd get better off at the expense of people who don’t matter, without people who don’t matter FINALLY getting riled up enough to do something about it? How can we take everything we have promised ourselves?

    And, why have been cheated by holding office in the future after the future has been sold for 30 years? It’s not fair to us! We should get to hand out goodies, mostly to ourselves and our crowd but slightly to the serfs so we can think of ourselves as heroes!

  • Larry Littlefield

    Here’s an alternative to fund the MTA operating budget and capital plan I can get behind.

    “The agreement we announced today is a significant accomplishment, as it allows us to definitively address the more than $20 billion in debt that has burdened our capital structure,” CEO Bob Pittman said in a statement… “For years, the company has been saddled with $20 billion in debt, the legacy of a leveraged buyout in 2008.”

    “What they’ve done to try to stay afloat is financial engineering,” says Seth Crystall, an analyst at Debtwire. “There’s no reason to file for bankruptcy until you have to… but we’re at that point.”

    Run the government like a business.

  • Right, and unilaterally abrogate agreements that have been reached by means of collective bargaining. Egad, man.

    Someone who actually believes that this would be a the correct approach for a government to take towards public employees has no business posturing as a moralising scold.