Jan
26

The return of the son of congestion pricing?

By

As more and more members of the new Republican majority in the State Senator and a few Democrats too have taken aim at the state’s controversial commuter mobility tax, I’ve speculated about a tit-for-tat trade. In return for a reduced tax burden for suburban business, Albany could support and approve a congestion pricing fee for New York City with dedicated revenues for the MTA. For city transit advocates who have long pushed for a pricing plan, such a proposal would be ideal.

Today, we learn that forces are quietly gathering in Albany to push such a plan. With a new name attached to it — traffic pricing as opposed to congestion pricing — Sen. Daniel Squadron is, in the words of The Daily News, “rounding up colleagues” who will support his plan to charge $10 per car to enter parts of Manhattan. In exchange, the payroll mobility tax would be drastically altered.

Squadron, who is working with members of the Bloomberg Administration to develop a concrete proposal, sees congestion pricing as a way to restore stability to the MTA’s balance sheet. “The MTA needs a sustainable funding source,” Squadron said. “This has to be on the table.”

Adam Lisberg has more:

While there is no formal proposal, the money could restore some of last year’s MTA service cuts, halt the next fare increase and reduce the payroll tax outside the five boroughs…Now, backers call it “traffic pricing” – and want to build support among outer borough and suburban lawmakers before proposing a specific plan…

One idea would reduce the payroll tax on businesses outside Manhattan – which could win backing from suburban lawmakers. “Everybody out in the suburbs hates the payroll tax, so the idea of ‘feathering’ the tax could be helpful,” said one person involved. “This has to be a regional effort. It has to enjoy regional support,” the source added.

Driver fees could also reverse some of the MTA service cuts that eliminated two subway lines and 36 bus routes last year, and help plug the system’s $10 billion long-term maintenance gap. They could also delay the 7% fare hike scheduled for a year from now, backers hope.

Despite these hopes, Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos seems less welcoming of the idea. In an interview today with Capital Tonight, he called congestion pricing “just another tax” and said he wouldn’t support the plan even if it resulted in a lower payroll tax for suburban businesses. It sounds as though the MTA might have to threaten steep fare hikes to see such a pricing plan realized.

Still, as someone who has supported congestion pricing since Day One and loves the idea of using this fee to reduce auto traffic while supporting transit, it’s tough to find anything wrong with this plan. I would caution its supporters not to overreach though. New York City residents have expressed their support for congestion pricing as long as revenues go toward the MTA, but how far can those revenues go?

Already, in the build-up to a concrete plan, early whispers have these revenues being used to (a) restore service lost to the June cuts; (b) lower or avoid the 2013 fare hike; and (c) help close the $10 billion gap in the capital plan. The money generated simply cannot go that far. Three years ago, officials estimated approximately $400 million in annual revenue from congestion pricing, and that’s enough to reverse the service cuts and likely avert some of the fare hike. It’s not enough to also begin bonding out the next capital plan. Someone will have to make some tough choices there.

From a policy perspective, I’d prefer to see congestion pricing revenue go toward expanding service. If that means capital investments and rolling back service cuts, then we’ll just suffer through another fare hike that’s probably inevitable anyway. By putting a price on driving, the city will send more people to the subways, and the system must have the reach and capacity to respond. The fare, while good for politicians looking to curry favors, matters less in the long-term than expansion and maintenance.

No matter the outcome, though, it’s nearing time to rally the troops for another fight. This time, the state, despite Skelos’ objection, should work to approve congestion pricing. For the sake of transit, for the sake of our productivity and for the sake of the environment, the city will be much better off for it.



Categories : Congestion Fee

41 Responses to “The return of the son of congestion pricing?”

  1. Edward says:

    I’m really torn on this issue. As a driver who leaves the car home much more often than not (after having moved to a part of town with good ferry-rail connections) I’m still suspicious of this plan. If there were a rock-solid guarantee that the monies would go to NYC Transit to keep subways and buses running, then I’m somewhat for it. But, if history is any guide, after a few years the cash will be used to plug other budget holes, and drivers will be out millions of dollars in tolls for no good reason.

    Add to this the fact that it’s kinda unfair to charge a driver $10 so a subway rider can save .50 cents. I know, the perception is that most drivers are “rich”, but that’s just not the case. A middle-class shift worker who gets stuck on the 4pm-midnight tour is not exactly rich, especially if he can’t afford the $2.5 to purchase a home in Manhattan and opts for Queens or Staten Island. And commuting from Midtown to Queens Village or New Dorp at midnight is a nightmare that can take upwards of 2 hours.

    How about a plan that doubles cab fares for those in Manhattan who don’t opt to take a subway or bus to get downtown? Remove a few thousand yellow cabs (and the horrible drivers who operate them) from Manhattan streets and traffic will move nice and smooth, and those “rich” enough to hail cabs will not suffer because they have numerous public transit options. Why does the “outer-borough” guy have to bear the brunt of this plan?

    PS: this is a very civil, sincere posting. Please keep your replies the same; I’ve heard the “drivers are Nazi puppy killers” BS enough that I just ignore it and move on to the next posting.

    • Here’s the thing, Edward: Those middle class folks who live work the 4pm-midnight shift and live in Queens Village aren’t driving. As repeated studies have shown, people who drive regularly into Manhattan make $20,000 more per year than subway riders on average, and those middle class workers can’t afford to pay for parking in midtown, insurance in New York State or the costs of gas and maintenance on their cars. Even if a few people in that income bracket stretch their finances to own a car and decide to drive, they don’t exist in numbers great enough to present a roadblock to congestion pricing, and they are the very people who stand to benefit the most from a steady revenue stream for transit.

      • Edward says:

        Studies done by whom Ben? The MTA? And even if true, a whole, whopping $20k per year? Hell, most of us pay more than that in rent. Should a guy who makes $55k per year and has to drive in pay thousands more to enter Manhattan than a guy making $35k and rides the subway? Is this about income redistribution or getting rid of traffic in Manhattan?

        • The MTA hasn’t done a single thing to lobby for, promote or study congestion pricing. Take a read through the State of the City reports produced by "http://furmancenter.org/">NYU’s Furman Center, and you can get a better picture of who drives and how much they make. Congestion pricing is about putting a premium on an activity that taxes the city and ensuring that the environmentally-friendly alternatives are fully funded and adequately maintained and expanded.

        • alex says:

          For someone commuting to work from Queens, paying an extra $10 per workday would account to about $2500 per year. I’d say that’s a fair premium for using a car in Manhattan.

        • R. Graham says:

          But why? Why really do you HAVE to drive into Manhattan. That’s the thing I don’t really understand. Unless you are going to the far west side where service is limited to 8th Avenue then I don’t see the point in driving to Manhattan with all of these train lines scattered all over the place. All that’s being asked of the guy making 55K is to get himself on the train. YOU’LL SAVE MONEY on gas, car maintenance, the fee itself, parking, etc!

          Then in turn since you feel the need to spend that money you’ll find other ways to spend it helping to grow the economy in other ways.

        • Alon Levy says:

          Studies done by the American Community Survey. You can go online to the table called “means of transportation by selected characteristics,” which tells you what the median incomes of single drivers, carpoolers, and transit riders are.

  2. eveostay says:

    Great news — I’d even be in favor of a token fare increase to symbolically spread the pain.

    Now, wouldn’t it be great if the 10-county payroll tax was an ingenious plan to eventually get support from the suburbs for congestion traffic pricing? Now that’s some sweet politics.

  3. Clarke says:

    What about adding a $2.25 surchare onto each taxi ride that overlaps with a subway route (if, say, the route goes up 8th Avenue, or crosstown on 14th St), and have that go directly to the MTA.

    • nycpat says:

      Sure, when they ban overnight street parking like they did before 1951. Or charge for all street parking.

    • Andrew says:

      Why? If I’m riding a taxi, I’m not using the subway, so why should I pay for the subway any more than anybody else who isn’t using the subway?

      Should I also be required to pay the subway fare if I walk up 8th Avenue?

  4. Donald says:

    What about NJ drivers? I pay $8 to go through the Lincoln Tunnel. Do I have to pay the congestion tax on top of that? What about trucks that make deliveries to stores? Taxing them will only result in higher prices for consumers, as the tax will get passed on.

    • R. Graham says:

      Add two bucks to that toll if you’re paying cash. If you have E-ZPass and you paid a discounted amount, don’t be surprised to see the congestion charge for the difference of that discount up to $10. But then again the MTA is always behind the curve so you might not have to worry about that.

    • Alon Levy says:

      Congestion itself is a tax on trucks.

    • Bolwerk says:

      Can’t say what a future proposal will do, but the one defeated by Sheldon Silver, Inc., 2-3 years ago simply rationalized the cost of driving to Manhattan. Tolls were credited towards the congestion charge.

      This makes a lot of sense, of course, since at least some congestion in the region can be attributed to the stupid measures drivers take to avoid tolls.

  5. iatee says:

    $10 a day added to the price of a large truck of goods isn’t going to affect prices. If anything, delivery trucks might have the most to gain from this, considering that they’d be able to deliver faster and more reliably.

    • Bolwerk says:

      Indeed. I’d be curious to know how much fuel is flushed down the toilet by delivery trucks stuck in traffic. Given that it’s easy to burn $8 (2-3 gallons of gas) or so for a relatively small passenger vehicle stuck in traffic, it must be sizable. And that’s before accounting for the fact that truck drivers get paid whether they’re in traffic or actually moving goods around.

      • R. Graham says:

        Just keep in mind that the original proposals called for a $21 fee for trucks. Who knows if that will be apart of this proposal, but the $21 from the original is something to keep in mind.

        • Bolwerk says:

          That doesn’t seem outlandish to me. There must be a cost for allowing trucks into Manhattan too. A truck driver probably costs more than $21/hr to employ, so if an hour of time is saved it already is worth it.

  6. bb says:

    these taxes are essentially just a penalty for not being rich enough to live in Manhattan, and punish the poor for being poor. Just tax the rich more for being rich. They will still be rich and at the end of the day we’ll all still be miserable but have at least one less thing to complain about.

    In all practicality though, since Manhattan thrives on luxury and vanity, then taxes on these seem the most fair way to generate city funds. Luxury cars and vanity vehicles, high fashion, jewelry, extravagant dining and bars, essentially things people throw money at daily just for vanity, tax those, not essential services.

    Perhaps a exclusive velvet roped luxury subway car on each train would generate income as well, I’m sure people would gladly spend $30 or more to ride in pompous high style.

    • R. Graham says:

      I hate this argument for the sheer fact that you can’t be poor if you drive into Manhattan to work everyday. The argument itself is an oxymoron or plain hypocritical. I’m sorry and I don’t mean to offend anyone but I live above the proposed fee border and if I could drive to work now I would do it but my expense would go up two fold!

      If you can afford to drive to Manhattan, drive across all of the potholes, pay the high charge of gas in this state, maintain your vehicle and pay for parking, well then my friend, you have it made!

    • Bolwerk says:

      Adding to what R. Graham said, car ownership is a big burden on the poor anywhere – especially when one considers the cars that get the best mileage and enjoy the lowest maintenance costs often have upfront costs well in excess of anything poor people can finance. For this and many other reasons, including nutrition and health, it costs money to be poor.

    • pete says:

      Perhaps a exclusive velvet roped luxury subway car on each train would generate income as well, I’m sure people would gladly spend $30 or more to ride in pompous high style.
      The MTA already has one. Its called MNCR and LIRR. Soft padded seats. Minimal if any standees. Sound proofed cars. Better shocks on the cars. Power outlets. Bathrooms. Personal customer service of a conductor. Strict schedules. No bums (pay per train, not pay per enterance). MNCR and LIRR are gold plated public transportation compared to NYCT.

  7. Duke87 says:

    I’m not sure how much discouraging driving such a plan would actually do. If people are willing to pay $50 to park in Manhattan, plus gas, plus maybe a bridge toll… is an extra $10 on top of all that really going to make much of a difference?
    I also question how much the idea of extrapolating this out to X dollars per year is really valid. I know plenty of people who drive into the city on occasion, but only one who does it every day (she carpools with her husband). I don’t know if a study has ever been done, but I would guess that a majority of the people driving cars into and out of Manhattan at any given time probably don’t do it daily.

    Another interesting question: will all those people just briefly passing through Manhattan on their way to the GWB from the Bronx get hit with the fee? I don’t think they should, since that’s regional traffic and it isn’t contributing to congestion in the city (and would just cause more traffic problems for the Tappan Zee)… but will they?

    • R. Graham says:

      All the better, if you’re not discouraged than more money for the pool.

      The GWB would be completely out of range for the fee area. The fee area as originally proposed and if it remains in that form will be all entries into Manhattan below 60th Street. The original proposal called for all entries below 86th Street.

      • Duke87 says:

        Sorry, you’re right. I was thinking of the bridge tolls plan, which would have affected the upper parts of Manhattan as well.

        • R. Graham says:

          I don’t think that’s doable because it would be a permenant toll for all bridge. That plan collapsed partially because of the small business lobby. There are a lot of corner stores that travel from the uptown areas of Manhattan into the South Bronx (very short distances) to buy case loads of beer from warehouses.

          Now I did say “collapsed partially” so don’t go taking that as the whole reason why the bridge toll plan failed. There are many reasons why that plan didn’t work out even though it was deemed as the one with a better chance to succeed. The assembly men and women representing those outer-borough bordering neighborhoods were going to have none of it.

    • Bolwerk says:

      Eh, I don’t remember the exact details, but it’s pretty well known how much people drive to Manhattan daily. IIRC, it’s north of 200k.

      According to the old plan, the fee didn’t apply to people passing through on the FDR or across Manhattan to The Bronx (or anywhere above 59th, IIRC). However, new details seem to need to be worked out.

      Anyhow, how much is probably answered by enough to reduce traffic congestion somewhat. It’s not likely to be enough to make driving in Manhattan unusual, and I don’t think anyone in power has pushed for that.

  8. R. Graham says:

    There’s only one thing I want to see come out of this. A residence and business parking permit system for the surrounding neighborhoods in the outer boroughs as well as for most of Manhattan, especially the areas with high asthma rates. That will include most of East Harlem. Parking is already hard in the borough and the last thing that’s needed is people driving into these other neighborhoods just to steal street parking from those who live and work in these areas.

    The last thing I would want to see is what’s going on in the area surrounding the new East River Plaza shopping center.

    • Andrew says:

      I don’t have anything against parking permits per se, as long as they are priced appropriately and that provisions are made for visitors (even overnight visitors).

      But I don’t think they’re necessary for congestion pricing to work. If you’re going to end up on transit anyway, why bother driving all the way up to the cordon line, where it’s going to be hard to find parking? You might as well drive to a station further out.

      • R. Graham says:

        I don’t fear anyone driving to the line. I can’t even find parking in those neighborhoods when I go shopping downtown. I fear people parking well above that line in my neighborhood where the odds for finding parking are much greater, especially during alternate side hours.

        • Karen says:

          I believe the city should build parking skyscrapers, charging minimal fees, located at the entrances in to Manhattan (tunnels, bridges) and also around large residential areas. Take an empty lot and make a parking skyscraper, charging residents to park all the time for very cheap, and charging daily visitors/tourists slightly more for a short term parking situation.
          This will clear streets of regular residents cars, let commuters from surrounding area drive in to Manhattan, but not clog up the roads, leaving space for bike lanes, taxi’s, buses and delivery trucks.
          This idea also generates ongoing revenue.
          Some people are too old, or handicapped, to ride public transport as easily as the well and unchallenged. Why should people have to pay more because they have a car? (which they already pay enough for the “privilidge”)
          I am childless, but i still pay taxes that support programs for children and education initiatives/school system that i do not access or use. I suppose living in a society where the children are educated is worthwhile to maintain a safe and tolerable world, but traffic pricing seems a band aid for a problem that need an ongoing solution.

  9. Donald says:

    According to all of the reports out there, congestion pricing in London, which was used as an example during the last debate, failed to reduce congestion.

  10. Al D says:

    Another positive coming out of Albany? What in the world is going on up there? This should be pursued with reckless abandon, and that fella Mr. Skelos will sign on board after his constituents chime in.

    Congestion, cough, cough, TRAFFIC pricing always made the most sense, since it charges a fee for the premium time and space and for all motor vehicle operators utilizing this, not just the outer borough penalty proposal (aka bridge tolls)

  11. Traffic Tax/ Toll Tax/ Congestion Tax – The faulty policy that no amount of messaging can correct. Keep NYC Free comments on Daily News report
    (2011-01-26)
    See: http://keepnycfree.com/media/f.....e_Haze.pdf

    • Andrew says:

      Are you also working to eliminate the subway fare, which would have an impact on far more New Yorkers (and especially New Yorkers of limited means)?

      Or do you only care about time-insensitive drivers? (Time-sensitive drivers are better off with congestion pricing – they pay a bit of money to save time.)

  12. jj says:

    I’ve driven in Stockholm and London’s Citi where congestion pricing has worked well .

    It’s not the end-all-be-all that proponents want , but it’s a lot better than the do-nothing status quo

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