Congestion Pricing Has More Positive Momentum But Remains Uphill Battle in Albany

Legislators are increasingly attune to the urgent need to fund and fix the city's transit system. Whether they're up to the task remains an open question.

The people's house in Albany. Photo: Wally Gobetz/Flickr
The people's house in Albany. Photo: Wally Gobetz/Flickr

State legislators increasingly understand the urgent need to address the city’s transit crisis, with longtime opponents even acknowledging the potential benefits — but whether that urgency will result in new funding for the beleaguered subway system is the $60-billion question.

On the table are an array of options to raise that kind of green — and only one, congestion pricing, has been endorsed by Governor Cuomo. The plan would generate funds for transit by charging drivers to enter Manhattan below 60th Street. The idea has been dead-on-arrival in Albany for a decade, when a proposal from then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg fizzled.

On Tuesday, Cuomo’s annual “State of the State” speech is expected to include new details of his plan to fund, fix and reform the MTA. The speech comes as policymakers weigh the merits of various funding schemes for the deficit-plagued MTA, including a potential fare and toll hike, while agency itself struggles to maintain credibility after Cuomo’s embarrassing rejection its long-planned reconstruction of the Canarsie Tunnel. That past is prologue this time — and some legislators who were previously on-record as undecided or opposed are rethinking their positions based on the new context.

There’s a new energy — a number of new members who rely more heavily on public transit who are engaged in the conversation now,” said Brooklyn Assembly Member Latrice Walker, one of the recent converts.

In addition to Walker, the roster of recent supporters also includes Mathylde Frontus of Coney Island, Maritza Davila of North Brooklyn and Aravella Simotas of Queens. (Indeed, a Siena poll released Monday shows support for congestion pricing is on the rise.)

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

Still, congestion pricing is far from a done deal. Cuomo has yet to put forward an actual plan, and legislators who support pricing aren’t going to go out on a limb to whip votes for an enigma. Cuomo’s 2017 Fix NYC panel proposed no less than 42 possible pricing schemes for the Manhattan toll. Some foes have grumbled that a congestion fee is a new tax on the working class — though statistics show the wealthy are more likely to drive regularly into Manhattan — while other opponents have said the MTA can’t be trusted with a new revenue source.

As a result, confusion reigns.

Nobody knows for certain what folks would vote for or vote against it because it’s never been presented,” said Assembly Member Robert Carroll, part of a small caucus of assembly members who are gung-ho for the policy. “Anybody who thinks that it’s inevitable just doesn’t understand Albany and the very steep hill congestion pricing must climb.”

Some congestion pricing opponents have changed their tune. In 2007 and 2008, Assembly Member Jeff Dinowitz of the Bronx allied himself exclusively with wealthier car owners, organizing forums and rallies to oppose congestion pricing, which he called a “regressive tax on middle-class and working people.”

A decade later, Dinowitz’s focus has completely shifted. This week, his office put out a 19-point transit wishlist for his district, suggesting that if congestion pricing did pass, at least he could bring back some improvements for his transit-using majority.

Manhattan-bound car commuters, who make up a small sliver of Dinowitz’s northwest Bronx constituents, are no longer Dinowitz’s primary concern.

“We know we have to significantly increase revenue for mass transit. There’s no two ways about it,” he told Streetsblog. “All options should be on the table. It’s likely it will turn out that one option will not be enough.”

Frontus opposed the policy during her primary campaign against Ethan Lustig-Elgrably.

“My position has evolved slightly since the campaign. I believe that congestion pricing is a viable option which should be seriously considered as a means to raise critical funding for the MTA,” she told Streetsblog. “I don’t want to see the fares raised for the MTA. It would be a burden on low-income and working families.”

Close observers noted the shift, which comes after years of increasing public outrage about the system’s collapse.

“The pendulum has swung a lot towards transit,” said Jon Orcutt, who was a deputy commissioner at the city Department of Transportation during the previous congestion pricing push. “There’s been a two-year public campaign pointing at Albany saying fix this, and I think that’s helping.”

Even then, some elected officials may need to be dragged kicking and screaming. Congestion pricing was suffering from middling poll numbers a year ago, but those are starting to turn around as voters understand the potential positive impact. That said, many self-described supporters have paired their endorsements with a laundry list of concerns. Walker, for example, is eager to know what her constituents will get in return. Others have called for carveouts for “low-income working families,” though few of such families regularly drive into the central business district of Manhattan:

I’m not opposed to congestion pricing, but congestion pricing is a means to an end: to be able to gain resources to fund some of the MTA’s shortcomings,” Walker said.

Carroll said legislators must avoid a slippery slope. He’s open to what a tabloid headline writer might call “the Chemo Carveout” — an exemption for, say, an Upper West Sider who needs to get medical treatment every day for a limited amount of time — but he opposes waiving toll fees simply because some people “need” to drive into the city one day.

“We can’t exempt all medical problems. I don’t think people are going to say, ‘I’m not going to cross this bridge for an appendectomy because it costs five dollars,'” he said. “That makes no sense.”

  • Joe R.

    My only concern here is that any ideas of bonding against future congestion pricing revenues should be nipped in the bud. It’s a stupid idea which will essentially result in all future congestion pricing revenue being spent within a few years. Instead, it should be used annually, as it comes in.

  • carl jacobs

    Well, at least it’s obvious now that congestion pricing is all about raising money and not about reducing congestion. It means the auto traffic will have to be maintained at the optimum level for maximum revenue extraction. That’s nice to know.

    If the Legislature has half a brain it will exempt delivery vehicles since doing otherwise will simply add to inflationary pressure. The delivery companies won’t pay the tax. The vendors won’t pay it either. They will both pass it on. Which means it will end of being covered by local price increases.

    The inevitable political carve-outs will be fun to watch as certain groups with leverage demand exemptions. They will get them too – written right there into the contract. In addition, transit Union employees will see that pot of money and think “I know just what that money should be used for … [cough] wage increases [cough] benefit increases [cough]”. Increased cost but no increased service.

    The “rich” will of course pay for the privilege of driving. But since salary is essentially a measure of one’s replaceability in the marketplace many “rich” people will have the ability to demand compensatory salary increases – with the concomitant marginal decrease in corporate competitiveness. The not so rich “rich” will simply have their standard of living in reduced.

    And of course all of this will be done on the foundation of a dysfunctional mass transit system that won’t be fixed before the imposition of the tax. (It will get fixed one day. They promise.) People are supposed to switch to mass transit to avoid the tax and sacrifice time and comfort (like for example heat) for money. Unless of course too many people switch. In which case the tax will have to be lowered to maintain revenue.

    What could go wrong?

    I wonder how satisfied the public will be with the idea of congestion pricing after all that.

  • AMH

    Can people who need to go to the doctor get an exemption from transit fares? Why should driving to the doctor get preferential treatment?

  • Joe R.

    The delivery companies won’t pay the tax. The vendors won’t pay it either. They will both pass it on. Which means it will end of being covered by local price increases.

    Let’s do a little math here because this reminds me of the same mentality where people accepted huge price increases in food when fuel rose by $1 per gallon. A typical delivery truck entering Manhattan might be carrying upwards of 10,000 pounds of stuff. I don’t know what the eventual congestion charge for trucks will be but let’s assume $50 for now. So that’s half a cent per pound of cargo. An average family might buy 100 pounds of groceries per week and might spend $150 to $200 per week. The extra needed to cover the congestion charge would be a whopping $0.50, or a few tenths of a percent more. And that’s assuming a rather high $50 per truck congestion charge.

    I did a similar calculation a few years ago for delivery fuel costs when fuel prices rose. An 18-wheeler might carry 40,000 pounds of cargo and get 5 mpg. If it’s going 3,000 miles across the country, which is the most it would be going, you would use about 600 gallons of fuel. At $1 more per gallon that would be an extra $600 spread across 40,000 pounds of cargo, or $0.015 per pound. The huge price increases grocery stores had because of “fuel price increases” were horseshit. They were just profiteering, like they might try to profiteer off congestion charges by raising prices 25% or more. We need to nip this in the bud by putting out PSAs which show the math. We should have done the same when fuel prices rose. And incidentally, now that fuel prices are way down off their peaks, funny how grocery prices didn’t drop. And yet next time fuel rises to the same level, they’ll try to use that as an excuse to raise prices again.

    It means the auto traffic will have to be maintained at the optimum level for maximum revenue extraction.

    There are always going to be some vehicles driving into Manhattan, and hence some revenues. Yes, if congestion pricing is successful revenues will fall and eventually plateau at a lower level. That’s fine. It’s also why we shouldn’t bond against future revenues as we have no idea what those revenues will be. Just use the money as it comes in, whatever the amount.

    In addition, transit Union employees will see that pot of money and think “I know just what that money should be used for … [cough] wage increases [cough] benefit increases [cough]”. Increased cost but no increased service.

    Again, nip this in the bud by stating from day one congestion pricing revenues will only be used for mass transit expansion and other capital costs, not wage or pension increases. Sure, there are groups who will see this money and want some. There is already some noise about schools getting “their fair share”. Sorry, but this money shouldn’t go into the general fund. It’s there for one purpose only.

  • carl jacobs

    Hey, it’s no skin off my nose how much you want to tax yourselves to pay for your transit system. If $50 per truck is inconsequential, then maybe you should charge $500 and make some real money. The point still stands. The trucking company isn’t going to pay. The proprietor isn’t going to pay. The shopper is going to pay.

    eventually plateau at a lower level.

    No, that is what is going on here. This is about finding revenue. The budget will be set based upon the expectation of receiving a certain amount of congestion money. Therefore the rates will have to be set to extract that amount of money. This program won’t seek to reduce congestion. It will seek to maximize revenue from congestion. Cuomo has already said this.

    congestion pricing revenues will only be used for mass transit expansion and other capital costs

    Yes, sure it will. How are you going to enforce this? Perhaps with a magic unicorn? In the first place, no legislature can bind a subsequent legislature so what is done can be undone. In the second place, money is fungible so Union demands can be met through offsets from other revenue sources. In the third place, unions are powerful political constituencies with powerful allies. You can’t just say “Nip this in the bud”. You have to account for that political power.

    This could well turn out to be one huge Charlie Foxtrot.

  • AnoNYC

    I know it’s so short sighted and misinformed.

    People that are regularly ill or old are more likely to take mass transportation than drive. They are more likely to make less money than most people in the city. More of these people would benefit from CP than be penalized by it.

    Also, there are medical facilities citywide. In fact, aren’t most of the specialist hospitals in Manhattan on the Upper East Side, not south of 60th St?

    There should be no exemptions for anyone.

  • AnoNYC

    If the Legislature has half a brain it will exempt delivery vehicles since doing otherwise will simply add to inflationary pressure. The delivery companies won’t pay the tax. The vendors won’t pay it either. They will both pass it on. Which means it will end of being covered by local price increases.

    This hasn’t been an issue in cities with congestion pricing. Any increase in the cost of goods and services has been negligible.

    Delivery vehicles should absolutely NOT be exempt.

  • motorock

    Not sure how exemption for patients would work but congestion-reducing, fuel-efficient alternatives like motorcycles, scooters, ebikes should be encouraged and exempted, just like they are in all European cities with some sort of congestion pricing (esp those serving as inspiration for the plan). This will give people a practical alternative and also reduce the stress on the subway. Not everyone can use a bicycle to work, nor does everyone live near reliable public transit . That’s not only fair, just and smart but also has proven to work.

  • walks bikes drives

    While I dont think bulk delivery trucks should be exempt, I do think that FedEx, UPS, USPS, etc delivery trucks making residential deliveries should be exempted. To offset the extra prices that businesses would have to pay for delivery fees, the city should charge a vacancy tax on commercial properties to avoid commercial owners from keeping empty storefronts waiting to hook the big one that will pay astronomical rents. This will help keep rents down. If the landlord is charged a vacancy tax equal to the market value rent for each month a store is vacant longer than, say, 3 months, then this will help keep rents down.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “We know we have to significantly increase revenue for mass transit. There’s no two ways about it,” he told Streetsblog.

    I guess that feels better for long time members to say than “actually, the MTA has plenty of money, except that it’s all being sucked into the past by deals we did for 25 years to benefit those cashing in and moving out.”

    When you talk about the state legislature, you are talking about the people who did it to us. And the officially approved designated replacements of the people who did it to us.

  • carl jacobs

    Nice of you to decide that someone else’s costs are negligible. You know, I said that the proprietor is going to pass the cost along. In general that is true. But in reality each proprietor is going to have to figure out how to recover the cost using price increases for products taking into account elasticity of demand. It won’t be so negligible for everyone.

  • AnoNYC

    ICE motorcycles and scooters should have a reduced fee, not exempted. Electric motorcycles and scooters should be exempted.

    And most trips via automobile in NYC are short, less than 5 miles. That means there are a lot of trips where bicycles, or electric bicycles and other electric mobility devices could replace a car. NYC could realistically aim for at least 10% of all trips by these alternative modes.

    Finally, most of the population of NYC lives within 1 mile of a subway station, the vast majority. For the metropolitan area this is not the case though, where most people are not within a reasonable walking distance to a rail connection. At the same time though CP has the potential to change living patterns over time, promoting even higher demand for housing near commuter rail in the burbs and reduced sprawl.

  • Joe R.

    I went through the math in another post to show that it would be pretty close to negligible. It will only be non-negligible if businesses use congestion charges as an excuse to gouge people. If you educate people via PSAs then businesses won’t try to pull that crap. If they do, people can just take their business elsewhere.

  • Joe R.

    OK, so you don’t like congestion charges then how about we just get to the heart of the problem and ban private autos from entering Manhattan? That will accomplish much the same, and you can’t say it’s a revenue grab.

    This program won’t seek to reduce congestion. It will seek to maximize revenue from congestion. Cuomo has already said this.

    Those goals aren’t mutually exclusive. Right now the charge to enter the cordon zone is zero. Now consider if it’s $1. You’ll get a very small decline in the number of people entering but you’ll also get some revenue. Let’s say you have 2 million vehicles entering the zone now. Charge $1 and that might drop to 1.9 million but now you’ll be getting $1.9 million. Raise it to $5 and the number entering may drop to 1.5 million but at $5 per vehicle you’re getting $7.5 million. Keep doing this until your revenue is maximized. That might be at $20 per vehicle, $50 per vehicle, or $200 per vehicle. Nobody really knows which but the concept is sound. It’s the same way companies often price products, with the goal of maximizing revenue, or more often maximizing profit.

    In the first place, no legislature can bind a subsequent legislature so what is done can be undone. In the second place, money is fungible so union demands can be met through offsets from other revenue sources. In the third place, unions are powerful political constituencies with powerful allies. You can’t just say “Nip this in the bud”. You have to account for that political power.

    In the final analysis, legislators need to keep their job. The public is slowly but surely seeing that the special interests these legislators pander to is a large part of the problem. Being pro-union in NYS, even NYC, isn’t necessarily a winning platform any more. It’ll be interesting to see how the teacher’s strike in LA pans out. I really hope it goes on long enough to get people really angry, and they see the union’s demands as unreasonable. Unions were great and necessary about 75 years ago. They’ve lived long past their usefulness. Now they’re just another fat special interest which has failed to realize their demands are unsustainable.

  • Joe R.

    While we’re at it, how about a vacancy tax on apartments which are bought for investment but not actually used? Ditto for single family homes which are rented. Rents and purchase prices are up in large part due to real estate speculation of all forms. The city can legislate mechanisms which make it very costly to use real estate in ways it wasn’t originally intended. Rents and purchase prices should reflect the actual demand by people wishing to use the property to live in or run a business out of, not as an investment vehicle. Historically, real estate prices more or less kept pace with inflation until maybe 30 years ago. Then people got the bright idea to start using it as an investment. That’s when prices shot through the roof.

    Same thing when investors buy and sell commodities they don’t intend to use. This causes prices to spike even if demand is low. To stop that perhaps pass a law stating if you buy a commodity, you have to take physical delivery of it.

  • burnabybob

    Wouldn’t congestion pricing also incentivize people to use transit, which would then increase MTA funds through fare revenues?

  • motorock

    In the current scenario, ICE motorcycles & scooters should be exempted just like in Europe- why take their congestion pricing ideas and keep out things that have worked for them? That’s illogical.

    Further, electric motorcycle are more expensive and harder to own and refuel in an apartment-based dwelling reality that dominates NYC. Maybe in 10 years when we have numerous charging stations on each block, we can think about charging some toll to iCE versions but until then, electric motorcycles & scooters are still akin to luxury items. Meanwhile, anyone can invest in a cheap motorcycle that meets at least Euro 3 emission norms. It’s about giving mobility to more people while the subway continues to suck.

    Speaking of sucking, it takes me 25-30 minutes to get to work from South-South Brooklyn to Midtown on a motorcycle. Even on the best days of subway service (which is less than 10% of the time), it will take me easily a minimum of 45-60 minutes- usually more. (and I only live about 7-10 minutes walking from my station) Are you going to compensate me for the 5-6 hours I will lose every week if I choose the train instead of my motorcycle? Plus, an unlimited Metro card would cost me more every month and increase my costs, so that’s another factor. Cars, SUVs, trucks etc should definitely pay- maybe in a graded system but not powered two wheel vehicles which have shown worldwide to reduce congestion and reduce pollution.

    You are asking folks to pay more and waste more time to use poor service when a reliable practical alternative is easily available- for those who can or want it. Mentalities really need to change- this aversion to motorcycles and scooters is such an annoying American thing. Europeans have embraced them and see their practicality- and thus, every single city I have been to, encourages them in many ways. Time for the US to open its mind.

  • HamTech87

    “Chemo Carveout”??? That patient is paying more in deductible and copayments in 5 minutes inside the hospital than any Fair Toll charge.

  • AnoNYC

    ICE motorcycles are going to be banned soon in many European city centers, just like ICE automobiles. Pollution is still an issue and all forms of ICE vehicles should be discouraged when possible. Having a reduced congestion fee is beyond fair considering local level pollution like NOx.

    “Further, electric motorcycle are more expensive and harder to own and refuel in an apartment-based dwelling reality that dominates NYC”

    This is why the electric bicycle market is exploding in NYC. The only disadvantage is the inability to use the highway system. But for most trips, which are short trips here, an electric bike makes more sense.

    Motorcycles compete with these vehicles in NYC, and these vehicles have several advantages like:

    -Way easier to filter through jammed up traffic (Disclaimer, I ride a motorcycle regularly as well). Also no police harassment because it is legal.
    -Charging in apartment.
    -No license, registration or insurance needed.
    -Can park almost anywhere.
    -Easier maintenance.
    -Lower cost of entry.

    That’s more or less the reason why motorcycles and scooters never took off in NYC, while bicycles and and now electric bicycles have. They are just preferable for most people due to the type of trips most people are making and listed advantages.

  • DoctorMemory

    Fedex et al should absolutely NOT be exempted. Overnight/3-day package delivery is a luxury, and those companies’ entire business model involves shifting the negative externalities of their service (heavy, inefficient, exhaust-belching, too-wide delivery vans that block both bicycle and car traffic) onto the city for free. You’re absolutely right that package delivery prices would go up, and that’s a good thing.

    Right on about the vacancy tax though. Or better yet an LVT.

  • motorock

    Disagree on a few things there.

    Firstly, ICE motos are NOT getting banned anywhere anytime soon. Let me know what other information that you have that actually says they are banning ICE motorcycles soon. AFAIK, that is just not true. The ULEZ zone of London will allow Euro 3 and up motos for free. Same in Italy with Vespas- only the old ones are going to b kept out or charged a toll. Stockholm, the other model for congestion pricing, has not even thought of that far yet. The 2 main inspirations for CP in NYC are London and Stockholm- though the situation is the same with other European cities.

    Pollution levels of motos meeting Euro3 (esp 4) emission levels and above are (near) equivalent to cars and in reality emit even less because they spend less time on the road. Air quality improved in London and Stockholm even though motos of all emissions were allowed. The ULEZ is going to be a great experiment to observe- but again, they are NOT banning motorcycles.

    Lane-splitting must be made legal in NYC, if not the whole country. The entire world does it- we don’t have to be babied because car drivers cannot handle it. It’s pretty backwards thinking. I do it any way whenever its safe so the cyclists really don’t have that advantage, esp over long distances (anything above 5 miles is long enough). Cyclists should not be weaving through traffic like some of them do- they are only creating more dangerous situations for everyone- technically, if there is a bike lane and they try to filter through traffic, they can be served summons. Or for jumping a light- they do have laws to follow and they are far more vulnerable and that’s why we have bike lanes.

    I cycle regularly too but it is not practical to go to work on it as it means hills and climbs and bucket loads of sweat and not being able to carry groceries at the end of the day or making other plans across town, be it Queens, Bronx, Jersey whatever. If you actually ride regularly, you will know that is true.

    Ebikes are great but their cost of entry is too high compared to the fewer advantages they have over a motorcycle that can double up as a long distance traveler or even carry a passenger or birthday cakes and supplies and tools through the city. On top of that police harassment of ebikes is real because of the stupid policy by NYC and its aversion to adopting smarter solutions like ebikes and escooters- considering they don’t think about motorcycles, hardly surprising. Point is, there are plenty of motorcycles and scooters available right now at every price point and they offer a better value proposition for more people.

    I have been thinking about getting a ebike but the ones that can give good range, are lightweight, compact, don’t look dorky, are reliable etc, all cost nearly the value of my 6-year old motorcycle and give me so much less. Perhaps, like Oslo, NYC should gives us a $1200 credit to buy ebikes- that will prompt more people to adopt.

    Motos and scoots did not take off in NYC mostly because of perception and harassment- things many are working towards changing once and for all.

  • motorock

    Disagree on a few things there.

    Firstly, ICE motos are NOT getting banned anywhere anytime soon. Let me know what other information that you have that actually says they are banning them altogether any time soon. As far as I know, that is just not true. The ULEZ zone of London will allow Euro 3 (& up) motos for free. Same in Italy with Vespas- only the old ones are going to b kept out or charged a toll. Stockholm, the other model for congestion pricing, has not even thought of that far yet.

    Pollution levels of motos meeting Euro3 & above emission levels are equal to cars and in reality emit even less because they spend less time on the road. Air quality improved in London and Stockholm even though motos of all emission levels were allowed. The ULEZ is going to be a great experiment to observe- but again, they are NOT banning motorcycles.

    Lane-splitting must be made legal in NYC, if not the whole country. The entire world does it- we don’t have to be babied because car drivers cannot handle it. It’s pretty backwards thinking. I do it any way whenever its safe. Cyclists are also supposed to be following road rules too and being in traffic when there is a bike lane can get one a summons in theory. They are far more vulnerable and that’s why we have those lanes.

    I cycle regularly too but it is not practical to go to work on it as it means hills and climbs and bucket loads of sweat and not being able to carry groceries at the end of the day or making other plans across the city’s boroughs. If you actually ride regularly, you will know that is true.

    Ebikes are great but their cost of entry is too high compared to the fewer advantages they have over a motorcycle that can double up as a long distance traveler or even carry a passenger or birthday cakes and supplies and tools through the city. Police harassment of ebikes is real because of the absurd policy by NYC and its aversion to adopting smarter solutions like ebikes and escooters- considering they don’t think about motorcycles, hardly surprising. Point is, there are plenty of motorcycles and scooters available right now at every price point and they offer a better value proposition for more people.

    I have been thinking about getting a ebike but the ones that can give good range, are lightweight, compact, don’t look dorky, are reliable etc, all cost nearly the value of my 6-year old motorcycle and give me so much less. Perhaps, like Oslo, NYC should gives us a $1200 credit to buy ebikes- that will prompt more people to adopt.

    Motos and scoots did not take off in NYC mostly because of perception and harassment- things many are working towards changing once and for all.

  • carl jacobs

    I suspect “incentivize” is a polite way of saying “coerce” in this context. The plan in fact tries to induce change by making it more painful to drive then to take mass transit. So you will end up with to types of reactions.

    1. One man will keep driving because he still thinks it is his best choice or perhaps because he has no credible alternative. He will be angry because his standard of living has been reduced while he achieves the same outcome.

    2. Another man will switch to the dysfunctional mass transit system because he can no longer afford to drive. He will be angry because he will feel coerced into taking a system which provides poor service and consumes more of his day in an unpleasant environment. There was after all a reason he wasn’t taking mass transit and that reason hasn’t gone away. Once again his standard of living has been reduced – only in terms of time instead of money.

    The problem will be magnified when no observable improvement in mass transit service is achieved as a result. Ideally they should fix that system before this tax is imposed but they can’t. There is no money. So the system is not going to get better initially. It’s going to get worse. And you are going to tell these angry people “Don’t worry. Trust us. It will get better.”

    I doubt it – for the reasons I gave. So will they. Which I think is why politicians are being so skittish about this idea. There is a tremendous risk that the whole thing will go sideways.

  • carl jacobs

    It wouldn’t hurt my feelings if you banned cars from Manhattan. I think you have a better chance of removing the Empire State Building to the Hudson River but you will do as you please. And I’m not going to drive there. Ever.

    In fact, I don’t possess any great ideological opposition to congestion charges. But you have to stop treating this issue like you are building a city in SimCity. This has the potential to hurt a lot of people. They will fight back. This is not going to play out according to idealized theory in a text book. It also won’t take much perturbation to produce a very pathological outcome.

    One of the notable features of this weblog is that it tends to push solutions with (allegedly) broad diffuse systemic benefits and (undeniable) high direct personal costs. Compare the marginal impact of one man driving to the high personal costs he experiences when he uses mass transit. People are supposed to just suck it up. They won’t. So you use words like “incentivize” when you mean “coerce”. There is a strong “Commisar” mentality behind this attitude. As in “We know best so do what we say and the world will be better. Maybe not for you personally but our vision will make the world better in the aggregate.”

    That’s not a trade most people are willing to accept.

  • Joe R.

    We’re not telling people they can’t drive any more. We’re just attaching a price to it. It’s up to them to decide if it’s worth the price. It’s pretty telling that a lot of delivery companies are behind congestion pricing because it will let them make their deliveries faster, perhaps need fewer drivers and trucks. This will more than offset any fees they pay.

    Consider that most of the individuals driving into Manhattan are fairly wealthy. They’ll likely continue to drive and accept the congestion fee. Those who will stop driving will most likely be suburban auto commuters. That’s exactly the demographic we want to target as this group pays no taxes to offset the problems their driving creates. Also, many have alternatives but refuse to use them. The NY metro suburbs are dotted with rail stations with park-and-rides. In most cases the overall trip time is shorter using commuter rail, but a lot of these people stubbornly insist of driving all the way into Manhattan, even though it’s slower and costs more. Charging them a fee is the only thing which may get them to change their mind.

    As for “coerce”, well isn’t that how government operates? Paying taxes is something which has high direct personal costs to every individual. Should we stop imposing fines and jail time on people who don’t pay their taxes because it’s coercion? Or should we accept that some coercion is needed if the end result is beneficial overall?

    Smoking provides an even better example. I don’t doubt that those who can no longer smoke everywhere they wish incurred a high personal cost as a result of laws designed to prevent exposure to second-hand smoke. However, there was a public health and quality of life justification which in the end helped more people than were hurt by the bans. Driving in crowded urban areas is similarly a major health problem. It causes cancers and asthma. It kills people directly. It reduces quality of life. If driving did none of these things I would be opposed to any measures to reduce it.

    I’d personally rather we use a more carrot than stick approach by having transit alternatives which are faster and more comprehensive. However, even in that world enough people will still insist on driving into NYC to make life miserable for everyone else because that’s just how people are. That’s why we need some form of coercion.

  • burnabybob

    As it is, driving is already incentivized. People don’t have to pay for the pollution their cars emit, and they get various indirect subsidies like paved roads and generous amounts of free parking, which is kind of ridiculous in a city like New York. Anything that gets more people to take transit and reduce carbon emissions and air pollution is a positive step.

  • Rex Rocket

    Special license plates for people who go the doctor a lot. Not subject to speed cameras, free parking anywhere within 750 feet of an office or hospital. Just need a form signed by a valid Physician’s Assistant.

  • motorock

    My comments for some reason keep getting flagged as spam by someone- truth is hard to swallow? I will try to just list out what I had said in a much lengthier post- I think y’all can find the data.

    1. Ice motorcycles are not getting banned anywhere- that’s just not true. Motos older than 2003 may be getting restricted like in ULEZ zone of London but generally, they are all exempted.

    2. Pollution levels in London and Stockholm actually went down after congestion pricing even though motos were exempted.

    3. Lane-splitting is common practiced everywhere in the world and American car drivers and general perception about it should change. Meanwhile, cyclists also have rules to follow and cannot legally be enadangering traffic by weaving through it.

    4. I cycle regularly but it would mean bucket loads of sweat, more time spent commuting and inability to carry groceries or another passenger- among other things. If you ride, you know that is true.

    5. The cost of entry for ebikes (that are any good for me- range, power, convenience etc) is still high- close to the current cost of my Euro 4 motorcycle! ICE motos already exist and do not need any extra investment from state or city- just legislation. Maybe NYC, like Oslo, should give everyone a $1200 credit to buy a ebike- that should definitely push more to adopt.

    Motos and scoots did not take off in NYC mostly because of perception and harassment- things many are working towards changing once and for all.

  • AnoNYC

    1.

    Norway will entirely ban new sales of ICE vehicles by 2025.
    Ireland 2030
    Netherlands 2030
    France 2030
    UK 2040
    Germany 2040

    2.

    Yes, reduced automotive volume did reduce emissions but it had nothing to do with increased adoption of motorcycles.

    3.

    Lane splitting should not be an issue so long as the activity is conducted in a safe manner. It is not illegal for bicycles to split through traffic in NYC.

    4.

    You’re right, sweating on the go sucks. However, I also sweat on my motorcycle in the summer, though not as bad as I would pedaling (engine heat, full face). Electric bicycles however are the best of both worlds. Electric motorcycles would also offer that benefit, but because they are larger (more robust to handle higher speeds), they are more likely to get stuck in traffic.

    5.

    The overwhelming vast majority of people in NYC do not need many miles in the tank. The average eBike can travel more than far enough. And eBike prices are dropping very quickly. You can buy a great bike for around $1,000 now.

    Motorcycles and electric bikes are blurring. In the past the primary difference was human power. When it comes to eBikes, I guess the biggest difference from motorcycles is going to be max speed (and the more robust frames and brakes necessary to facilitate those highway speeds). Smaller, low powered scooters and motorcycles are going to get eaten by the eBike market, with the exception of nitch bikes like the Grom. It makes no sense to get a 50cc motorcycle nowadays for example when an eBike just does everything better.

  • motorock

    1. That’s all ICE vehicles, not justmotorcycles- as you mentioned. Also, read the fine print and what that means for each country and how it compares to NYC. Some countries like Norway have it easier because of many concessions from the govt that NYC probably wont give. Also, these countries (cities) all made public transit better FIRST & have better infrastructure for charging stations so when MTA & NYC gets it act together, then it’s feasible. For us, with congestion pricing, we are starting from where they started- from zero. Important point to remember also, that man Euro countries have all failed to meet the initial Paris goals so this is right now still aspirational.

    2. Emission did not go up even though motorcycles were exempted and use increased. So motos did not have a negative impact on emissions- even in cities where moto usage is more than in NYC.

    3. If bicycles are ridden dangerously, like any vehicle, are liable to be ticketed. Lane splitting for motorcycles is different from reckless riding- proven scientifically to be safer for everyone involved.

    4. I dont mind ebikes but motorcycles, if allowed to lane split, have more advantages even within the city- to carry loads, passengers and travel greater distances.

    5. Again- I would like to own a ebike but you can buy many more motos for $2000- I haven’t found a decent ebike for less than that. The real good ones are all above that price range. Battery tech may get better, ebikes may get lighter and e-motos like CSC City Slicker may become more full size and have more range one day. However, the city needs to increase number of charging stations- Barcelona already has plenty of those but still has ways to go for full conversion. The other cities you mention probably are better placed or have funds in place to make it plausible. And they gave massive concessions, tax breaks etc. If NYC can do the same, sure. But till then, let’s not conflate these things and imagine NYC is anywhere close to its European counterparts.

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