In the week following Albany’s approval of congestion pricing, I wrote a piece for Curbed New York warning against an exemption-laden plan. The argument is a simple one: Small carve-outs can have a big impact on the effectiveness of both the revenue generation and traffic reduction pieces of congestion pricing, and the Traffic Mobility Review Board tasked with formulating the fees and structure of the plan should resist the political pressure and lobbying over fee exemptions as it works to formulate a plan throughout the next eighteen months.
Already, we’re seeing this lobbying unfold in predictable ways. Unions representing police officers have laughably called for a blanket exemption for all personal vehicles of any NYPD personnel stationed within the congestion pricing zone. Considering cops are the biggest offenders and non-enforcers of NYC’s traffic and parking laws, this demand hardly comes as a surprise, but it should be resisted at every turn. We’ve also seen New York politicians undercut the goals of congestion pricing by securing legislatively-mandated toll rebates for certain constitutions, and I’ll come back to that shortly. I instead want to focus on the reaction from New Jersey and how it underscores the way in which local politicians treat transit riders as second class citizens even when they far outnumber drivers.
What New Jersey Wants
New Jersey leaders have been making noises about congestion pricing for the past three weeks. We first heard Gov. Phil Murphy complaint reported by The Wall Street Journal a few weeks ago. The Garden State governor is worried — worried! — that congestion pricing will cause New Jersey commuters to abandon their cars and use transit (which is of course the point), and he’s also worried congestion pricing will make traffic worse. “The solution cannot be one with the unintended consequences of making traffic worse and increasing reliance on the regional rail partners without their receiving additional support,” he said a few weeks ago.
At first, Murphy’s comments seemed to strike the right balance between concern for an overburdened and underfunded New Jersey transit network, but in recent days, he and other New Jersey politicians have shifted their focus back to drivers. In an eye-opening piece in The Times, Emma Fitzsimmons took a deep dive into these complaints and the “revenge” politicians in New Jersey want to enact on New Yorkers:
The mayor of Jersey City suggested that New Jerseyans should toll New Yorkers entering their state. A congressman is calling for federal legislation to guarantee that drivers — who already pay tolls to cross between the states — are not charged twice. Others believe a lawsuit could be filed to stop the tolls. “We are a little confounded about why suddenly New York would turn around and take a two-by-four to New Jersey,” said Representative Josh Gottheimer, a Democrat who represents a slice of New Jersey suburbs near Manhattan and plans to introduce a bill he hopes will pressure New York to give his state’s drivers a break.
Gov. Philip D. Murphy of New Jersey, a Democrat, said he would fight any effort to double toll drivers using the George Washington Bridge, the world’s busiest span. “I won’t stand for it,” he told reporters, though he stopped short of summoning what he called a full “Jersey attitude” like other leaders seeking payback…
Drivers already pay as much as $15 to use the Lincoln and Holland tunnels or the George Washington Bridge to enter Manhattan. Some might switch to New Jersey Transit, the state’s commuter railroad and bus network. But the system is often no more reliable than the subway and also suffers from years of neglect. For that reason, some New Jersey leaders, including Loretta Weinberg, the Senate majority leader, argue that it would only be fair for New Jersey Transit to get a cut of the revenue from congestion pricing…
[Gottenheimer] plans to introduce a bill this week that could cut federal funding to New York or the transportation authority if New Jersey drivers are forced to pay two tolls for one trip into Manhattan. “I don’t look at it as retaliation,” Mr. Gottheimer said. “I look at it as encouraging continued cooperation.”
Fitzsimmons also tracked down some New Jersey-based Facebook commenters who have “threatened” not to drive into New York City any longer (which is, of course, the point). In a way, it’s quite the tempter tantrum from our neighbors to the west, but it also underscores how politicians view their constituents primarily as drivers and then secondarily, if that, as transit riders. In each case, these politicians object to an additional fee being levied on drivers and seem to focus on transit investment as an after-thought. That’s not the right way to look at things.
Each year, the New York Metropolitan Transportation Council releases a hub-bound travel report, counting the number of people who enter New York City’s Central Business District and breaking it down by modality. This is convenient for us now because it overlaps 1:1 with the congestion pricing zone. Here are the latest numbers from 2017, and you’ll see that far more people from New Jersey rely on transit to reach Manhattan than on cars. The columns are, from left to right, “Entering,” “Leaving” and “Total.”
Considering these numbers, why are New Jersey politicians being so blind to the benefits of congestion pricing? By limiting the number of cars that enter Manhattan, the hundreds of thousands of New Jersey residents who rely on buses will have shorter trips into the city, and the surrounding communities will see less pollution due to fewer cars, say, on the Lincoln Tunnel helix or jammed throughout the streets of Weehawken. Plus, most of these New Jersey residents then have to use New York City’s streets and its transit network once they arrive in Manhattan, and these commuters and visitors will continue to enjoy the benefits of increased New York City transit funding and fewer cars on city streets. These people count, and they are more of them. New Jersey politicians would do well to remember that as they fight against a rational congestion pricing.
What New Jersey Can Do
Ultimately, New York City does not exist as a place for New Jersey drivers to have unfettered free access to limited city streets. New York City and New York State can determine its own transportation and transit future, and if drivers form Missouri have to pay, so too must drivers from New Jersey who make the choice to drive into Manhattan. But that doesn’t mean New Jersey can’t do anything.
I’m somewhat sympathetic to the claim that New Jersey’s own transit system may not be able to handle increased passenger loads due to mode shift following implementation of congestion pricing in early 2021, but that’s also a good 20 or 21 months away. New Jersey has plenty of time to get its house in order. It can reconfigure lanes heading into the Lincoln Tunnel to ensure buses have more space and priority. It can also begin the process of building out its PATH service and tackling the problems with New Jersey Transit. But it must focus on bolstering transit and not being overly protective of drivers.
For years, regional transit wonks have tried to raise alarms over New Jersey’s approach to spending transportation dollars. When governor, Chris Christie shifted millions away from rail and New Jersey Transit to widen the turnpike and engage in other road-related work. It’s not New York’s responsibility now to fund New Jersey’s transit deficits, and if the Garden State politicians are concerned about capacity and reliability constraints, they need to start working on these issues today while congestion pricing is in the planning stages. Ultimately, if NJ Transit fails to meet demand in a post-congestion pricing world, that blame will fall squarely on the shoulders of politicians who aren’t listening when there’s still time to act. Threatening federal action or imposing higher user fees on New Jersey roads as revenge seems laughable, but at the least the latter could be a rational step toward funding New York’s transit investments.
Unfortunately, our own governor seems amenable to negotiating with New Jersey on some limits on the impact of the fee, and New Jersey’s State Senate President Steve Sweeney appeared to back that up in a statement. “After conferring with Governor Cuomo on the MTA’s efforts to implement Manhattan’s central business district tolling, I am confident that we will have a voice in the process that will allow us to protect the interests of New Jersey’s motorists. We will work in a coordinated way with the MTA, New York State, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and with other jurisdictions to develop a fair tolling system,” he said.
Whether it’s an elimination of a potential double-tolling scenario for drivers using the George Washington Bridge and heading south or a waiver related to tunnel usage, exemptions should be resisted. If New Jersey drivers want to use New York City streets, they can pay to do so. That is, after all, the entire point of congestion pricing.
It’s Not Just New Jersey
While New Jersey is raising the biggest stink right now, they’re not the only ones making moves to limit the impact of traffic-reduction fees. Assembly rep. Jeffrey Dinowitz announced a full rebate of all Henry Hudson Bridge tolls for any Bronx resident regardless of whether the final destination is within the congestion pricing zone or not. This is a mistake, and it’s designed to encourage more driving at a time when New York City needs to limit auto usage for both environmental and productivity reasons. Certain Queens drivers are getting toll breaks as well, and politicians are pushing for exemptions for motorcycles, so-called “green” cars, Staten Island drivers and Queens residents (as I explored in my Curbed piece).
Congestion pricing and crafting the proper plan was always going to devolve into a tough political fight, and we’re seeing the contours of it take shape. It would serve politicians well to remember that even if a few people have to pay the fee, the benefits — and the number of people who enjoy those benefits — far outweigh this new cost. As the climate changes around us, we don’t have time as a society to waste arguing over the edges of a congestion pricing fee, and as a city stuck in a transportation rut, we need to clear streets of cars and repurpose them for a higher and better use while funding transit. That’s what congestion pricing does, and exemptions should be resisted.
Using Gov. Murphy’s and Rep. Gottheimer’s reasoning, New York should sue New Jersey for allowing its towns to restrict street parking at night. If I can park my car overnight on New York City streets, for free, why should that right be impinged when I visit New Jersey?
If New Jersey politicians think it’s the right of their constituents to have free and unimpeded access to NYC streets, the reverse should apply as well. In fact – to take it to it’s logical conclusion – whenever two street usage rules or fees differ between the two states, the less restrictive one should apply in every case. RIP “states rights”.
NJT’s commuter rail has a fare recovery rate of approximately 60%. This means that Governor Murphy will have to cough up 67 cents for every dollar each new commuter pays in fare. (The numbers are similar for NYC. Congestion pricing’s backers have conveniently ignored this problem.) London, by contrast, had (and still has) a 100% fare recovery rate. This means that every pound raised by the congestion charges (less overhead) could be invested to increase London Transport’s service. By contrast every automobile commuter diverted to the subway will increase its operating deficit.
We’ve been over this before. Unless service is increased to match, that’s not how this will work.
That reasoning is so fantastically fallacious that I’d almost think it’s parody. An additional rider does not increment per-rider costs. What economists call the marginal revenue of a ride would probably be roughly the amount of a fare until the agency has to add service to meet demand, which may not even happen (and may not be possible during peak hours given current constraints). Even if service must be increased, it does not follow that average or marginal costs increase.
Here is one way New Jersey motorists can get their fair share of future New York congestion tolls for driving south of 60th Street in Manhattan starting in 2021. Governor Murphy should ask New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to allocate 10% of these revenues toward the $29 billion full build or $14 billion no frills Gateway (Portal Bridge, two new tunnels & rehabilitation of two existing tunnels) project just as Cuomo has done for Metropolitan Transportation Authority Long Island and Metro North Rail Roads.
There are other potential federal and local funding opportunities for Gateway that many continue to ignore. New Jersey Transit receives almost $1 billion and MTA $1.4 billion in yearly FTA formula funding outside of the discretionary New Starts process. Why not program some of these funds toward Gateway. Both NY & NJ could ask the Federal Highway Administration via the federal Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) State Transportation Improvement Program (STIP) to transfer Congestion Mitigation Air Quality or other flexible funds to FTA in support of Gateway? The recent gasoline tax increase provided New Jersey Governor Murphy with a robust State Transportation Trust fund. Governor Murphy can “walk the walk” instead of “talk the talk” by programming some of these funds for Gateway. Amtrak has its own multi billion Capital Program. Service on the Northeast Corridor between NYC and Washington makes a profit. Why are Gateway supporters not holding Amtrak accountable for programming their fair share of Gateway funding? After all, Amtrak is the actual landlord who owns Portal Bridge, tracks and tunnels connecting to Penn Station.
(Larry Penner is a transportation historian, advocate and writer who previously worked 31 years for the US Department of Transportation Federal Transit Administration Region 2. This included the development, review, approval and oversight for grants supporting billions in capital projects and programs on behalf of the New Jersey Transit, MTA, NYC Transit, LIRR & Metro North Rail Roads and 30 other New York & New Jersey transit operators)
Why don’t you compare the number of vehicles entering the CBD by year. NYMTC’s yearly data goes back the 1970’s. Hint: the number of vehicles entering the CBD peaked in the late 1990’s. It’s been declining ever since. The 2017 data continued this trend. It was 698K in 2017 down from 844K in 1999.
Except that NJ is sending more vehicles into the CBD now than they were in the late 1990s. Unless I am reading the old reports wrong, even as total vehicles entering the CBD may have peaked, it doesn’t appear as though NJ’s contributions did.
Read the tables again.
The 1999 24 hour inbound vehicle total from NJ was 112K or 13% of the total. The 2017 24 hour inbound vehicle total from NJ was 89K, also 13% of the total 24 hour inbound vehicle count.
It makes sense that trips into Manhattan by car have decreased in the last 20 years in light of higher tolls and the subway being cleaned up to the point people aren’t afraid to use it anymore.
What’s fascinating is that congestion is seemingly worse than it has ever been in spite of this.
But that too makes sense in light of lane reductions on and closures to motorized traffic of Manhattan streets that have occurred in that timeframe, as well as more recently the growth of app-based taxi services which have vehicles spending more time driving around within Manhattan for each entrance/exit.
NJ should have worked w/NY to extend the 7 to the Meadowlands. Make the meadowlands an intermodal terminal w/all buses terminating in the meadowlands and then commuters transfering to the 7. Results: 1) Less congestion at the tunnel and NYC streets 2) quicker turnarounds for the bus lines and possibly a need for less drivers. But no…they shot this idea down.
The recent opening of Hudson Yards clearly shows that NY did the right thing by refusing to consider extending 7 train to NJ. Over the coming years, passenger use of this station will continue to increase. Whereas, had the 7 train been extended to NJ, flooding density of NJ passengers would have made the Hudson Yards stop virtually unusable.
NJ has to break it’s ongoing mindset of under-funding commuter services into NYC. E.G., Increasing bus capacity to 42nd St PA Bus Terminal. Funneling more buses through Lincoln Tunnel and through NYC streets does NOT scale well. And rather than NJ canceling funding to expanded rail service (Christie / New tunnel), NJ (And CT, as well) needs to invest in their cities, and in public transportation to support them.
So really NJ, stop looking to benefit from NY for your transit needs (i.e., exemptions for Congestion Pricing). Own up to it, and develop expended rail service (incl tunnels) into NYC. Such benefit NJ FAR more than they do NYers.
Let’s have a discussion of what happened to Port Authority tolls, compared with MTA tolls, in the 1990s, and where all the passenger facility charges collected at LaGuardia went for 20 years.
You ignore that the Lincoln Tunnel and PATH are controlled by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey – aka, 50% of that is Cuomos’ baby.
Once again, this all goes back to the lack of regional planning. If PATH were part of the MTA, it would be getting congestion funding. Why should it be excluded because of some turf bs?
And one thing that is never talked about is that many NJ commuters take bus liens operated by private companies. Coach. Trailways. Suburban. Academy. Never mind a subsidy – are these buses going to be hit with congestion charges just because they don’t have the MTA logo on them?
@Ivan, they shut it down because thats a bad idea. Forcing people to transfer is how you scare people away from transit.
It seems like there a consistent theme throughout the metro area- despite the numbers saying otherwise (by a wide margin), there seems to be such a strong narrative- in the media, in politics, and in community meetings- making it seem like most people drive and any increase in tolls or encouraging a switch to transit is an attack on everyday people while its ok to stiff transit users. Why does that work so well? Why isn’t the silent majority of transit users much louder than this minority driving into the CBD? Is there some sort of common Stockholm syndrome where anyone who takes transit accepts that they are second fiddle to drivers or that transit is inherently uncomfortable so there’s no use in trying to improve it? Maybe in some weird way many transit users WISH they could drive so they speak/vote as if they did?
I get that there is lobbying, and out of touch rich politicians and TV personalities, but it seems like so many of these problems should solve themselves with clear support from the transit-riding majority but it never seems to turn out that way.
I think there’s definitely an aspirational notion at play. There’s also a very American notion that freedom to move about = driving, even in New York where most people don’t.
But moreover I think it has to do with the political and media classes who tend to drive a lot more than average New Yorkers. Many city workers get placards and use the hell out of them and those are the people who surround the political leaders who ALSO get placards and use the hell out of them. This creates this ongoing (incorrect) view that many workin’ folks drive into Manhattan. “Well most people *I* know drive, so I assume it’s just the poors who take the train.”
But outside of those circles, the vast majority of people take transit to work in NYC. People of every economic bracket use the train. I work in entertainment and tech and it’s exceedingly rare to encounter someone who drives to work on a regular basis, even higher-level executives. But this is absolutely inconceivable to the placard class of city workers and pols. And therefore, their anecdotal experience becomes reality. Bill de Blasio is a prime example of having this windshield perspective and upholding car culture. And so, we all suffer for it.
I agree with you on the major points, but here’s the thing.
Every where else in the United States – except for some cities with well-developed public transit – everyone who is able to drives in a car to get to work, and to the places that they need to go.
That is just a simple basic fact.
Plenty of people “think other people drive” to get where they need to go, because plenty many people drive in the United States to get where they need to go. In many places that is the only basic way to get around.
PS – I am not talking about the need for, the politics of, and the other issues surrounding congestion pricing.
This turf war between the Hudson ocean is ridiculous, sounds like divorcing parants fighting over the children.
The issue over the GWB tolls is easy… if you cross the bridge & then enter the congestion zone, what ever means is used to identify vehicles should recognize that the charge was prepaid & not charge those drivers a second time. It’s similar to transferring between busses & or the subway with a metrocard.
As for special carveouts, NO! NO! NO! not even for disabled plates or tags & I’m disabled. If you want to give some a lower rate based on NEED that’s fine, but everyone needs to pay something if they drive into the payment zone.
Trips through the Lincoln/Holland should not be charged twice, but I don’t know about the George Washington Bridge.
Shouldn’t we discourage drivers from using Manhattan as a throughway. There are routes through less dense areas of NJ that take them past the very dense communities of Washington Heights, Harlem, and the Upper West Side.
If drivers were discouraged from using the GWB to access the Manhattan CBD from NJ, you would probably see less congestion on that crossing which could improve other roads in that highly congested area as well. Imagine the effect the reduction in return trips (PM commute) could have on the Cross Bronx Expressway.
Yeah. This is ridiculous. Why should NJ drivers have to pay to cross the Hudson, AND THEN pay to use roads in NYC? Totally unfair. I mean, just imagine if New Yorkers had to pay to cross the Hudson, AND THEN had to pay to use the most congested roads in New Jersey.
There are no tolls to cross the Hudson headed west; all the tolls are as you drive east towards NYC…I do find it funny that Gov. Murphy is crying foul about the congestion pricing plan in another state while his own state gouges it’s own residents with tolls to drive on the Turnpike, the Parkway and to leave the State via the GWB, the Goethals, the Bayonne, the Outerbridge, the Lincoln, the Holland!!!
You forgot Philly bridges, too.
The general rule of thumb is you need to pay a toll to escape NJ. Is that because they figure no one would pay a toll to go TO NJ?
It’s a one way toll that is priced to cover both directions. So while a NYer might not pay on their way out, they pay on their way back.
If there are to be all these carve-outs, then what is the point of even trying to implement congestion pricing?
I support congestion pricing for Monday-Friday, non-holiday prime-time traffic. However, I do not support congestion tolls for travel between 9pm and 5am on weekdays, nor do I support congestion tolls for travel on weekends and holidays. The object of these tools should be two-fold: (1) To reduce traffic in Manhattan’s core district during periods of peak usage, and (2) To generate additional revenue solely for mass transit in NYC.
Unfortunately, we will never see the completion of the 2nd avenue line in our lifetimes. Nor will we see the added lines in the outer boroughs which are sorely needed. But we can keep what we have in good repair, and that is what is needed now. In Manhattan, we need to make sure that taking a bus is always faster than walking. If not, we will continue to see excess private car usage in Manhattan’s core, and the gridlock associated with that use.
If New Jersey wants to continue supporting private auto use over that of mass transit – that’s fine. But New York should look out first for New York’s needs, and let New Jersey fix its problems without inflicting them on New York.
Why shouldn’t we also toll during off-peak times? Traffic can get very bad on weekends, especially in the afternoons and evenings. The toll can and should be dynamic based on demand. But blanket saying we don’t need it on weekends doesn’t make sense.
I liked the original plan: toll the east river bridges and charge a lot to access the CBD. Simultaneously, cut the tolls on the Whitestone, Throgs Neck, and Triborough bridges for people forced to commute by car across them because there was no public transit, while there’s plenty of transit to the CBD.
That was a worthy plan. This is going to be a disaster.
Also important to make it more expensive to drive across Manhattan than to take the Verrazano. This was one of the goals of MoveNY, and from what I’ve seen of Cuomo’s plan, it will still be cheaper to drive across Manhattan, ensuring that the rumbling, honking, polluting parade will continue.
If you drive across the free East River crossings, up the free FDR and then cross the GWB, it will still be cheaper to go across Manhattan than through Staten Island.
Even with the congestion charge the Manhattan Bridge to the Holland Tunnel will be cheaper than the Verrazano. This is why there are so many trucks on Canal Street. It’s a perverse incentive that must be corrected. There’s no reason not to toll the Verrazano in both directions, especially now that it’s automated.
Seems to,me like a lot of kneejerk reaction from people who don’t have a good understanding of how this is likely to work. I can understand NJ being concerned about getting double-tolled, but in any sensible implementation of this plan, they won’t be. And once they see they aren’t that concern goes away.
Mostly agree. However I don’t agree with one position, motorcycles. Tolling rates are traditionally based on impact. Motorcycles are less than cars which are less than trucks. Not sure how applying this logic to congestion pricing is considered a carve out. . Trading a car on the road for a motorcycle supports the goal of reduced congestion. Or are we only viewing congestion pricing as a way to financially support the MTA. Full disclosure I commute by motorcycle everyday from BK to the city.
I agree, and in an ideal world am all for 2 wheelers. But the substantial number of bikers running gutted pipes and blipping the throttle just to be sure everyone along the city echo corridor knows about them and their very special personage pretty much kills my pro-biker inclinations.
It’s going to be a very long war from now until January 1, 2021 on making the implemented of Congestion Pricing a total reality.
I predict the most compelling carveout which will survive the debate will be that for BEVs.
Any vehicle entered into “Clean Pass NY” and stickered should be exempt from the congestion pricing scheme. This scheme can be used to create a finite and limited pool of Exempt Electrati Elites. Hybrids should be excluded over time from the scheme, even though they are included right now.
GWB users should not be provided an exemption, but pricing should be made closer to that of the, ahem, MARIO KWOMO BRIDGE, and tunnel pricing should include the congestion charge for impacted users. I’m sure the Port Authority would just LOVE that idea. Let PATH stand on its own two feet.
I have a simple alternative to any carve outs in the congestion pricing plan. I assume that any one who can afford to drive into the CBD is also paying to park their car in a lot somewhere. Drivers who use the GWB, the Throggs Neck, the RFK/Triboro, the Mario Cuomo/TZB, any other crossing that the pols feel their constituents are being “double-tolled” get a free transfer to the subway/bus. You can still drive into the city, park your car outside the CPZ and transfer to mass transit for the rest of your trip.
In addition, as part of the funds going to LIRR and MNRR, improvements to parking at stations must be addressed. Lack of available spaces as well as the cost of the parking itself makes driving appealing…
How many dollars worth of end-result transit improvements each dollar in tax revenue bring? Given current practice, there’s little reason to think that $1.00 of those taxes will provide more that 25c of transit, if that transit is priced based on comparable costs. e.g., compare a transit bus with private short-distance bus in a comparable location.
Such a comparison is hard to do for a NYC metro subway, but it can be approximated by someone both knowledgeable and not wholly biased.
SI should be the only one getting exemptions. The rest no even Bronx Driver’s should have to pay
From your numbers, it appears 4 out of 5 NJ/NYC commuters do not drive across the state line. Unfortunately, whereas congestion pricing incrementally benefits the 80% of non-drivers, it very clearly worsens the experience of (most of) the 20% who do … whereas the 80% will likely not alter their voting behavior or political support as as result of this, the 20% probably will. This is the problem with any socially optimal plan that has a minority clear losers: the losers are disproportionately motivated by the outcome, and the politicians who supported the plan get ousted, even though the majority of their consitituents benefit from it. This explains why gun control lasws are dead on arrival. Why a carbon tax is so difficult to pass. Why a pied-a-terre tax somehow managed to fail. An angry minority is far more politically damaging than a mildly better-off majority is beneficial.