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Posts from the Keep NYC Congestion Tax Free Category


The 2008 Streetsie Awards, Part 2


Biggest Setback: After being approved by an unprecedented civic coalition, the mayor and New York City Council, congestion pricing -- the one policy measure that simultaneously reduces traffic congestion while raising money for mass transit and livable streets -- died in an Albany backroom without even a vote.

Lobbyists of the Year: Walter McCaffrey and the Committee to Keep NYC Congestion Tax Free (below). It turns out New York City government is controlled by a handful of Queens Democrats, suburban state legislators and the Automobile Club of New York.


How Not to Lobby a State Legislator: Brooklyn State Senator Martin Malave Dilan's car is towed during a congestion pricing meeting with city officials.

Most Sociopathic Elected Official: Bronx State Senator Jeff Klein nearly crushes a cyclist with his black Mercedes and then tells him, "Get your hands off my car, you f*#king a55hole." Unfortunately for Sen. Klein, this particular cyclist happens to run a pretty robust media operation.


Most Disappointing Elected Officials: During the congestion pricing debate, three State Assemblymembers stood out for their enormous potential to exert leadership and their utter inability or unwillingness to do so. Deborah Glick, Joan Millman and Hakeem Jeffries all represent districts that would have overwhelmingly benefited from New York City's congestion pricing plan. Yet, Glick could only find reasons to oppose it. Millman decided she supported it -- two hours after the proposal was killed by her Democratic Assembly colleagues. And Jeffries had the gall to demand increased subway service on the G line three weeks after helping to eliminate the revenue source that might have paid for it. If only New York City were represented in the state Assembly by an aggressive, attentive, self-aggrandizing politician like...

Elected Official of the Year: You've got to hand it to Westchester Assemblyman Richard Brodsky -- he works hard for his constituents and supporters. Unfortunately for New York City's traffic-choked neighborhoods, beleaguered transit riders and asthmatic kids, his constituents are the metropolitan region's wealthiest car commuters and his supporters own a bunch of parking garages in Manhattan. While New York City's legislators rolled over and played dead, Richard Brodsky worked his butt off to make sure that New York City's congestion pricing plan -- a plan approved by the Mayor, City Council and a state commission -- died a quiet death in the Assemly's Democratic conference. Brodsky did incredible damage to New York City in 2008 but he also showed us what effective representation in Albany might look like.


Worst Elected Official: Rochester Assemblyman and transportation committee chairman David Gantt continued his decade-long effort to deny New York City the ability to deploy automated traffic enforcement systems on its streets. He loosened up a little bit though. This year he introduced legislation that would allow counties outside of New York City to use red light cameras -- as long as they purchased the technology from a Swedish firm represented by one of his cronies. Shocking? Not really. Just another day in Albany.


Most Opinions Fewest Solutions Award: From now on, this will be called the Anthony Weiner Award.


Most Moronic Idea From Albany: State Senators Jeff Klein and Eric Adams put on their serious, fighting-for-the-people faces and proposed suspending tolls on New York City bridges and tunnels and giving drivers a $200 gas tax rebate ahead of Memorial Day weekend. Not planning to burn lots of gasoline for your summer holiday? These two have nothing for you.



Congestion Pricing Populist Soundbite Contest

Why do Richard Brodsky and Walter McCaffrey  get to have all of the populist soundbite fun?

Last Friday, in a story about the Committee to Keep NYC Congestion Tax Free stepping up its lobbying efforts, the Daily Politics blog published this gem of a rallying cry from pro-congestion lobbyist Walter McCaffrey:

"You are in the driver's seat. Put the brakes on congestion pricing now before it goes to Albany."

Which means, of course, it's time to launch the Congestion Pricing Populist Soundbite Contest. Paul White at Transportation Alternatives gets us started with the following:

"Diiiiing Dooong. You are in the subway seat. Tell your state legislator not to hold the doors on congestion pricing."

Here's mine: 

"You are walking across the street. Put the brakes on congestion pricing opponents before one of them runs you over in his Buick Skylark."

I'm sure you can do better...


As Anti-Pricing Arguments Fall Away, It’s Just Parking & Politics

Over the weekend, City Council Member David Weprin and "Keep NYC Congestion Tax Free" spokesman Walter McCaffrey got a lot of press by casting doubt on whether congestion pricing revenues would, as promised, be invested in transit. It looks like a plan was already in the works to allay that fear.

The Daily News reports:

State and city officials are hashing out a plan to ensure congestion pricing money pays for mass transit upgrades -- and mass transit upgrades only, sources said Wednesday.

Under the developing plan, net proceeds from new tolls for motorists entering a large section of Manhattan would be put in a "lock box" administered by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, sources in City Hall and Gov. Spitzer's office said.

The fund could only be used for transit projects that meet specific criteria, which would be spelled out by state legislation, sources said.

A member of Gov. Spitzer's administration confirmed that Spitzer will include the creation of the MTA account as a line-item in the proposed budget he unveils next week.

At a Congestion Mitigation Commission hearing yesterday at Hunter College (which saw the notable emergence of a pro-pricing coalition of advocates for low-income transit customers), Regional Plan Association President Bob Yaro testified that similar measures have successfully earmarked transit funds for decades.

The MTA's revenues at their bridge and tunnels in excess of operating costs is guaranteed by formula set by the State Legislature for use by the MTA for transit since 1968. Taxes such as the mortgage recording tax, petroleum business tax, corporate franchise tax and sales tax have also been reliably dedicated to transit since the early 1980s. It should not be difficult to establish a mechanism for congestion pricing revenue that would do the same, while requiring the use of the funds by the MTA on the projects agreed to by the MTA and the City.


Weiner and Wylde Square Off in Pricing Forum

Four veterans of the congestion pricing wars went toe-to-toe at the Museum of the City of New York Wednesday night -- the last showdown before the Congestion Mitigation Commission releases its draft proposals today.

Taking the stump for pricing were Kathryn Wylde of the Partnership for NYC and Michael O'Loughlin of the Campaign for New York's Future. Arguing against were Congressman Anthony Weiner of Queens and Walter McCaffrey of the Coalition to Keep NYC Congestion Tax Free. The standing-room-only crowd of more than 120 people -- most of whom came from the Upper East Side and East Harlem, judging by the post-debate Q & A -- appeared to favor Weiner and McCaffrey by a noticeable, though not overwhelming, margin. Wylde and O'Loughlin scored their share of applause, but Weiner was the only speaker to draw vocal cheers.

Claiming that "we are buying a pig in a poke," Weiner made several arguments familiar to Streetsblog readers, adding a few rhetorical flourishes worth noting. Among his main points:

  • The current plan is "not fair" because suburban drivers from LI and NJ won't pay any fee in addition to the existing tolls on the Hudson River crossings and the Queens-Midtown Tunnel.
  • Commercial truck traffic in Midtown is increasing faster than car traffic, so a priority should be placed on mitigating truck congestion.
  • The number of people who switch to mass transit because of congestion pricing will impose costs on the transit system that significantly outweigh the revenue pricing will generate.
  • Republicans support congestion pricing because it "bolsters the idea that municipalities should pay for their own transportation enhancements," as opposed to the idea that transit improvements should be paid for from a federal pot of gas tax revenue.

Weiner built up this last point quite dramatically, painting congestion pricing as a wedge issue that has played into the hands of "Texas conservatives" by dividing people who share a concern for the environment. "There's a reason that George Bush likes this plan," he said, insisting that "there are smarter and more progressive ways to do this."



Pricing Alternatives Fail the “Reality Test”

A side-by-side comparison of PlaNYC congestion pricing and alternatives offered by pricing opponents shows that the Bloomberg proposal is the only one that would have an immediate impact on auto traffic while improving transit. Further, the report concludes that plans put forth by Congressman Anthony Weiner, Council Member Lew Fidler, and Keep NYC Congestion Tax Free would actually promote driving.

Does the Rubber Meet the Road? Investigating the Alternatives to Congestion Pricing, a 14-page study (pdf) issued by Environmental Defense and the Pratt Center for Community Development, breaks it down as follows.

Anthony Weiner's Reducing Traffic and Improving Our Environment: An Alternative to the Car Tax: Many aspects of this proposal are similar to the PlaNYC's original congestion pricing scheme. However, Congressman Weiner would limit congestion pricing to trucks only and would take a series of steps to open up more existing road space for faster-moving traffic, such as reducing alternate side street parking, and increasing traffic law enforcement, that would attract more traffic in the long run. He also suggests large-scale, long-term capital investments, such as building a Cross-Harbor Freight Tunnel, that while essential for long-term regional planning, cannot address traffic with the immediacy and revenue-generating capacity of congestion pricing.

Lew Fidler's 9 Carat Stone Plan: This plan to fund long term transportation projects, including three major tunnels requiring massive capital investment, essentially levies a regional payroll tax that would support the state's general fund and not be dedicated to transportation investment, unlike tolls. Councilman Fidler proposes hydrogen powered cars, which automakers and scientists agree are many years and breakthroughs away from being practical and commercially viable. He supplements these ideas with short term measures such as increased truck loading zones and enforcement of traffic laws that, while perhaps good to speed traffic flow and ensure better safety, are not likely to achieve significant reductions in traffic volumes. Other elements of Councilman Fidler's plan, such as moving government offices from Manhattan to the other boroughs, would simply displace current traffic to new locations, and to the extent that those locations are less centrally-located in the transit system, there would likely be a net increase in traffic overall.

Keep NYC Congestion Tax Free's Alternative Approaches to Traffic Congestion Mitigation in the Manhattan Central Business District: This plan, primarily supported by AAA, the Metropolitan Parking Association and the Queens Civic Congress, among others, combines several separate measures that collectively claim to meet and exceed the 6.3% vehicle miles traveled (VMT) reduction of the mayor's plan. In fact, many will simply make driving easier in the Central Business District, thus probably attracting more drivers over time. Furthermore, the report's additive approach for totaling VMT reduction overstates the results dramatically, double-counting many overlapping traffic reduction measures.

"Unlike congestion pricing, these alternatives would encourage driving -- not discourage it -- and as a result attract more traffic in the long term," says Michael Replogle, transportation director for Environmental Defense and the report's primary author, via media release. "They also fail to match the criteria required by the federal grant, by state law, and the reality test for effectiveness, timeliness and revenue potential."

"Alternative proposals to fund mass transit through broad income and payroll tax increases are like taking a sledgehammer to a nail because they place special burdens on low and middle income residents," says Joan Byron, Director of the Sustainability and Environmental Justice Initiative of The Pratt Center. "In contrast, a congestion pricing plan benefits lower-income folks most and burdens them least since the vast majority of them rely on public transportation, and do not drive into Manhattan's zone."


RPA Refutes Anti-Pricing “Alternatives” Study

On Wednesday, Jeffrey Zupan, Regional Plan Association's transportation analyst, issued a comprehensive rebuttal of the main traffic reducing measures proposed in Keep NYC Congestion Tax Free's anti-congestion pricing report, “Alternative Approaches to Traffic Congestion Mitigation in the Manhattan Central Business District."

Thanks to Zupan, Transportation Alternatives and other critics, four fundamental problems with the Keep NYC Congestion Tax Free plan have emerged:

1. Any alternative plan which does not include some form of congestion pricing will forfeit $354.5 million in federal transportation aid -- much of which is dedicated to bus improvements in Brooklyn and Queens.

2. The plan does not address through traffic, which accounts for 39% of driving in the
Manhattan CBD. Congestion pricing does.

3. The plan does not address -- and may worsen -- traffic diversions from paid river crossings to free East River and Harlem River bridges, which hurt neighborhoods including Downtown Brooklyn, LIC/Woodside, Harlem and the South Bronx. Congestion pricing directly addresses these traffic diversions.

4. Some of the traffic reducing measures in the plan -- value parking pricing, variable tolls and BRT, for example -- would be far more effective if used with congestion pricing, instead of as a substitute for it. Many of the measures are not "alternatives" to congestion pricing but complements.

Among other problems with the report, the Keep NYC Congestion Tax Free plan applies an "equity double standard":  It harshly criticizes congestion pricing for its pocketbook impact on middle class motorists while ignoring the impacts of value parking, variable tolling and $200 double parking tickets that the plan would impose on these same motorists.

Zupan sums up the "Alternatives" report:

While many of these measures are worthwhile, the report overstates both their traffic reduction impact and their revenue potential. Many of these estimates are speculative, and the costs and difficulties of implementation are largely unaddressed. More importantly, nearly all of these would be far more effective if implemented in combination with congestion pricing.

The full text of Zupan's comments appears after the jump.


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Parking Reform Alone Won’t Solve Congestion

Room Eight contributor and Streetsblog commenter Larry Littlefield has a thorough critique of the congestion pricing alternatives released last week by anti-pricing group Keep NYC Congestion Tax Free. 

Proponents of congestion pricing, who would probably otherwise support many the alternative’s ideas, immediately blasted it for being what it probably is –- a red herring designed to ensure that nothing 203396002_f378185804.jpghappens, existing privileges are maintained, and problems are not solved, but the public is confused about who is to blame and thus just shrugs its shoulders. The typical Albany win over the public, in other words. Still, there is enough of interest in the proposal that it deserves a thoughtful review, and such a review finds that it is essentially an extension of current policies, and has the same hole as those policies. 

Since most of these are sensible measures they shouldn’t be rejected out of hand. But they don’t do anything to discourage through traffic, an issue the opponents acknowledge. Even so, the congestion pricing opponents, in recommending variable tolls for peak and non-peak hours and higher costs for parking have accepted the concept of using pricing to limit the over-use of a scarce resource, a large leap for them to make if they have in fact made it. Perhaps they should be given a little credit rather than just ignored.

Here is the complete article

Photo: roinks/Flickr


Fact Remains: No Congestion Pricing = No Federal Funds

Last week, the parking garage industry-funded group Keep NYC Congestion Tax Free issued its latest salvo against congestion pricing. The report begins:

Keep NYC Congestion Tax Free proposes a cost-effective, efficient, fair and practical alternative plan that will address the problems posed by congestion in New York City and exceed the guidelines imposed by the Urban Partnership Agreement between the USDOT and New York City, New York State and the MTA.

The report then details ten traffic reducing measures as alternatives to congestion pricing.

Unfortunately, "Keep NYC's" language here is misleading. Regardless of whatever potential traffic reducing benefits these alternatives might provide, the U.S. Department of Transportation has made it very clear that New York City's congestion reduction plan must include congestion pricing or New York City will not get $354.5 million in federal Urban Partnership start-up funds, of which $342 million is for new buses, bus depots and Bus Rapid Transit.

The Urban Partnership agreement between the USDOT and NYC, NY State and the MTA, which can be downloaded here, says:

In the event the New York State legislature enacts and the New York City Council approves the Mayor's Plan, the Urban Partner agrees to undertake the following actions: (i) institute a broad area pricing system in Manhattan south of 86th Street…

(The "Mayor's Plan" is the congestion pricing plan and is what the feds considered as New York City's submission for Urban Partnership funding.)

Later in the document the USDOT explains what it would fund as an alternative to the mayor's congestion pricing plan:

5. Grant Agreements for Alternative Plan.

In the event that the New York State legislature enacts and the New York City Council approves an alternative congestion mitigation plan, the Department and the Urban Partner agree to negotiate the funding of such plan if it:

(a) Is reasonably expected to reduce average vehicle miles traveled by at least 6.3 percent across a geographic area of similar size and travel characteristics to the area proposed for pricing under the Mayor's Plan;

(b) Uses pricing as the principal mechanism for achieving this congestion reduction;

(c) Includes at least an eighteen month operation of congestion pricing;

In other words, if the legislatures moved the border of the pricing zone from 86th Street to 60th Street that would probably be OK. But both here, and in the agreement summary, the feds clearly state that the $354.5 million in Urban Partnership funding is contingent on congestion pricing. The feds use the words "area pricing system" and "congestion pricing" to make it clear they seek to support a fee for pricing street use, and that a value parking scheme and the other traffic reducing measures ­within the Keep NYC Congestion Tax Free report -- however effective -- are not what they are considering. Thus, any alternative congestion relief plan adopted by the legislatures which does not include congestion pricing will forfeit $354.5 million in federal Urban Partnership start-up fund, including $342 million for better bus service.


Here is the Keep NYC Congestion Tax Free Report

The report that we summarized this morning, Alternative Approaches to Traffic Congestion Mitigation in the Manhattan Central Business District, can be downloaded here in its entirety.


Anti-Congestion Pricing Group Suggests Alternatives

While waiting for Walter McCaffrey to send over an official version (he sent it -- download it here), we managed to get a hold of a bootleg copy of the executive summary of the Committee to Keep NYC Congestion Tax Free's new report. Willie Neuman has a write-up of the report in the Times today as well.

The Committee's report aims to offer up alternatives to Mayor Bloomberg's congestion pricing proposal, many of which are ideas familiar and appealing to regular readers of Streetsblog. The executive summary itemizes eight specific traffic mitigation ideas and calculates that, together, these could reduce VMT, or vehicle miles traveled, between 7.6 and 11.5 percent south of 86th Street (table above).

New York City's $354.5 million federal grant is dependent on a plan that reduces VMT by at least 6.3 percent. The grant, however, is also dependent on the City implementing some form of congestion pricing technology as a part of that plan, so it's not at all clear if any of the suggestions above would allow the city to keep that money.

Hugh O'Neill, the president of Appleseed, the economics consulting firm which wrote the report, acknowledges that his numbers are soft. Neuman reports:

Altogether, the study says, such measures could reduce traffic volume by 7 to 11 percent. Mr. O'Neill said, however, that the estimate was very rough.

"I would fully acknowledge that those numbers are speculative and would need to be subject to further analysis," he said. "I think what the numbers legitimately show is that there are real options, real world alternatives, many of which are much simpler to implement than what the city has proposed."

The report does not include an overall estimate for the cost of putting its proposals in place, but it says it would cost far less than the mayor's congestion pricing plan.

In addition to a "speculative" analysis, the report offers no price tag for its proposed changes. Some ideas, like increasing the cost of on-street parking and reforming the city's government employee parking abuse problem, are almost certainly net revenue earners, though come with their own set of costs and political challenges. Other suggestions have a universally appealing but vaguely expensive ring to them; for example, this one: "Major transit improvements."

In addition to the eight congestion pricing alternatives listed in the table above, the executive summary offers these as well:

Options that reduce VMT, congestion or both (2008-2009)

  • Reducing congestion caused by black cars and non-yellow for hire vehicles.
  • More effectively regulating the use of streets for construction projects.
  • Modernizing traffic signal systems.
  • Implementing 511 (A system to notify drivers of real time traffic conditions).

Options for reducing congestion beyond 2010

  • Bus Rapid Transit.
  • Lower Manhattan bus depot.
  • Incentives for off-peak delivery.
  • Increased use of water transportation for movement of freight.
  • Expanding the Lower Manhattan traffic management program to Midtown.
  • Improving the distribution of information to motorists by state of the art technology.
  • Encouraging greater use of bicycle transportation.