Memo To Council Member Barry Grodenchik: Find a New Congestion Pricing Guru

The Queens lawmaker foolishly said he agreed with former Assemblyman Richard Brodsky's flawed argument that fees on drivers are "elitist."

Photo: giggel/Wikimedia Commons
Photo: giggel/Wikimedia Commons

SB Donation NYC header 2Dear Barry,

I wish we could have spoken on Sunday before you tweeted support for Richard Brodsky’s Daily News op-ed in which he assailed congestion pricing as “elitist.” As you recall, we met at your office in August and pored over my charts, including one showing that this time around, congestion pricing would draw the most fees from residents of Manhattan, not Brooklyn or Queens. (The reason: hefty fees on taxi and Uber rides in Manhattan.)

I might not have changed your mind about congestion pricing, but maybe I could have stopped you from swallowing Brodsky’s Kool-Aid.

Komanoff bike outside CM Grodenchik's office _ 31 Aug 2018 _ IMG_4024 _ cropped
Our author, no “limousine liberal,” rode his bike to meet with CM Grodenchik in Hollis Hills. Photo: Charles Komanoff

And Kool-Aid it is, when Brodsky, a car commuter from Westchester and erstwhile lobbyist for owners of parking garages, casts himself as protector of the little guy against the big bad elites pushing congestion pricing. And it’s Kool-Aid again when he labels congestion pricing “an experiment in social engineering” that will open the floodgates to admission charges for libraries and parks, when it has done nothing of the sort in London and Stockholm, which have been charging vehicle entry fees successfully for well over a decade.

Of course, that stubborn fact didn’t stop Brodsky from writing, “If a public place gets overcrowded, the government charges a flat fee to get in. If it works for streets, it can also work for parks or libraries or swimming pools.”

Nonsense. If libraries or swimming pools get too crowded, the government can build more. Not so with streets, at least not now, in 2018, after a century’s worth of bulldozing neighborhoods (and parks!) and shrinking sidewalks has left no room for more.

To put this more formally, libraries and parks are what economists term “public goods” — domains that are open to the public but whose use by each individual doesn’t diminish their use by others. My presence in the library doesn’t interfere with yours. At the beach we squeeze in a little as more families arrive. Those public facilities aren’t used up by being used.

Alas, New York’s congested streets and roads are not a public good. My use of them does detract from yours — as everyone senses intuitively, as the Partnership for NYC has documented with its $20-billion cost figure for New York-area congestion, and as I’ve demonstrated with my mathematical finding that except after midnight, each minute that a motor vehicle resides in the Manhattan central business district tacks two additional minutes on other vehicles’ combined trips.

Brodsky disingenuously points to supposed “alternatives” such as Mayor de Blasio’s millionaire’s tax — a chimera that would do nothing for traffic congestion, would generate far less revenue than congestion pricing, and would be better dedicated to non-transit governmental services. He pretends to raise crucial new questions (“Will the government be tracking all vehicles in the zone?”) that have actually been asked and answered countless times. (No, just for-hire vehicles.)

But for sheer irony, you can’t top Brodsky’s invoking France’s “yellow vest” protesters:

Across the globe in recent months and years, we’ve seen outbursts against fuel taxes, austerity programs and things that make life difficult for average people, all of which originated with well-intentioned elites largely immune from the consequences of their own policies.

Au contraire, in New York City, the “average people” take transit to go to the Manhattan core. In New York City, the elites are the one in seven who sit in hermetically sealed, private transport vehicles and enter or pass through the most transit-rich and traffic-jammed district in our entire hemisphere at no charge to themselves. The elites are apparatchiks like ex-legislator Brodsky who sport a parking placard that lets them stash their vehicle virtually anywhere, anytime, at no charge to themselves.

Chart: Charles Komanoff
Chart: Charles Komanoff

Though Brodsky wouldn’t know it, New York City has its yellow vests. We are the bus riders and straphangers organized by the Riders Alliance; the walkers and bicycle-riders organized by Transportation Alternatives; the poverty-wage transit users who, thanks to resolute campaigning by Riders Alliance, the Community Service Society and Council Speaker Corey Johnson, are about to become eligible for half-fare Metrocards.

Barry, these groups, along with hundreds of allied livable-streets and economic-justice organizations, are united for congestion pricing because we know — from London, from Stockholm, and from economic logic — that it will make life materially better for the vast majority of New Yorkers.

Reject Brodsky. Stand with us.

Streetsblog contributor Charles Komanoff is a long-time traffic pricing modeler and advocate and one of the nation’s best respected experts on pricing the street.

SB Donation NYC header 2Meanwhile, our December Donation Drive continues!


Brodsky Presents Dems With a Choice: God’s Love or Al D’Amato

Richard Brodsky is using this letter to rally opposition to congestion pricing. To get a sense of the issues that congestion pricing advocates will have to address in the State Assembly, download this letter that Westchester Assemblyman Richard Brodsky circulated to his fellow Democrats yesterday. In it, Brodsky repeats the debunked claim that congestion pricing […]

Brodsky Sows Doubt, Misinformation at Brooklyn Pricing Debate

Fred Siegel of the Progressive Policy Institute moderated Sunday’s debate. On Sunday, Temple Beth Emeth in Ditmas Park, Brooklyn hosted a classic congestion pricing match-up: Michael O’Loughlin of the Campaign for New York’s Future vs. Assemblyman Richard Brodsky (who, it turns out, went to shul at Beth Emeth until age ten). The crowd of 50 […]

Traffic Congestion Mitigation Commission Opens for Business

Westchester Assembly member Richard Brodsky on Mayor Bloomberg’s congestion pricing proposal: "My problem is that I don’t understand what you’ve proposed." "This is going to be interesting," Straphangers Campaign Senior Staff Attorney Gene Russianoff said as he waited for the start of yesterday’s inaugural Traffic Congestion Mitigation Commission meeting. "Usually with these things, the fix […]

Traffic Pricing Is Evolving. Can Its Opponents?

“The difficulty lies, not in the new ideas, but in escaping from the old ones,” wrote John Maynard Keynes in his ground-breaking 1935 treatise, “The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money.” Keynes was bemoaning budget-balancing nostrums that deepened the Great Depression. But the famed economist’s lament applies equally to Richard Brodsky’s exhumation last week […]