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Posts from the "Congestion Pricing" Category

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Tony Avella Finds It “Offensive” to Say the Truth About NYC’s Toll System

In his quest to preserve free driving privileges over the Queensboro Bridge, State Senator Tony Avella seems to be having a hard time rounding up the old gang.

Photo: NY Senate

Photo: NY Senate

Yesterday, Avella tried to pick a fight with Council Member Mark Weprin, a fellow legislator from northeast Queens who opposed the 2008 congestion pricing plan but backs the Move NY toll swap proposal.

In an interview on NY1 Tuesday night, Weprin said it’s unfair to hike tolls and fares for everyone except the people who get to drive into Manhattan for free each day. “Every time the tolls go up, everyone’s costs go up. Every time the subway fares go up, people’s costs go up,” he said. “The only people who don’t pay extra are the people who use those free bridges right now to go to work. And most of those people are rich people who can probably afford to drive into the city. The average guy taking the subway, their costs keep going up.”

He’s right: Fewer than 20 percent of the 3.7 million people who travel to Manhattan south of 60th Street every day arrive by car, taxi or truck. Outer-borough residents who commute to Manhattan by car have household incomes 34 percent higher than the average New Yorker, according to Census numbers crunched by Move NY. The bottom line: The toll, which is capped for commercial vehicles, would fall on more affluent New Yorkers.

Tony Avella finds this offensive.

“I demand an apology from Council Member Mark Weprin for his outrageous comment,” Avella said in a press release. “This statement completely ignores the small businesses and commuters of all income levels who utilize these bridges on a daily basis and for whom added tolls would be a hardship… The legislature must take into consideration the middle and low-income New Yorkers who rely on these free bridges day in and day out.”

Avella and Weprin engaged in a Twitter back-and-forth in which Weprin distilled Avella’s position like so:

 

“Apology?” Avella tweeted back.

What makes Avella’s position even less defensible is that he’s rejecting a plan that would cut tolls in half on the Whitestone and Throgs Neck bridges — both of which are within his district.

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The Politics of NYC Toll Reform — What’s Different This Time?

Next month’s MTA fare and toll increase will be the seventh hike in 15 years, noted “Gridlock” Sam Schwartz this morning. ”But there is one traveler that hasn’t seen any change in the cost of travel,” he said. “And that’s the person that drives into Manhattan.”

All eyes on the governor: What will he say about the Move NY fair tolling plan? Photo: Governor's Office/Flickr

One person could put toll reform in play instantaneously: Governor Andrew Cuomo. Photo: Governor’s Office/Flickr

Schwartz was speaking at the public launch event for the Move NY “fair tolling” plan, which aims to dramatically reduce traffic while funding improvements to the region’s transit system (get all the details). The core of the plan is to charge for driving in Manhattan below 60th Street while reducing charges on outlying bridges. After years of careful preparation, Move NY made the case this morning that its plan is not only smart policy but a political winner.

The main message from Move NY was that its plan is unlike past congestion pricing or bridge toll proposals, which did not adjust prices on outer borough bridges. “AAA is now working with us on this plan, so we have some strange bedfellows,” Schwartz said. “The bed is getting larger. I think we’ve got something going.”

The coalition supporting Move NY includes groups like the Staten Island Chamber of Commerce and the New York State Motor Truck Association that either opposed congestion pricing in 2008 or sat on the sidelines. Move NY’s most recent polling indicates that a plurality of the region’s voters are in favor of the plan, with support highest in the suburbs.

“I’m as outer borough as you get, and I indeed was an opponent of the 2008 plan,” said Council Member and former Assemblyman Mark Weprin. “[The Move NY] plan is about, how do we increase the benefit for the outer boroughs?”

Weprin said this shift has made the plan more appealing to most (though not all) elected officials. “I definitely know they have more support than they had last time, just in my conversations with my colleagues,” he said. “This plan is about helping the outer boroughs. The 2008 plan, in my mind, was about helping Manhattan.”

In the Move NY plan, three quarters of the additional revenue generated by the toll swap would go to the MTA, leaving a substantial chunk for roads, which could appeal to legislators who opposed congestion pricing. (Unlike earlier drafts, the final plan does not spell out specific road projects to spend on.)

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The Complete Guide to the Final Move NY Plan

moveny_plan

Click to enlarge. Graphic via Move NY

After years of fine-tuning, the Move NY coalition has released the final details of its plan to reduce congestion and fund transit by reforming New York City’s dysfunctional toll system [PDF].

We’ll have a full report from the launch event later today. In the meantime, here’s a breakdown of the proposal in all its detail.

Who Would Pay What?

The plan creates a consistent toll for drivers to and from Manhattan south of 60th Street, while lowering tolls on outlying bridges. The idea is to charge the most where congestion is worst, aligning road prices with demand for road space and dramatically cutting traffic.

Cashless tolls at 60th Street and on the East River crossings would be approximately double what’s charged on major outlying bridges. Driving into or out of the Manhattan central business district would cost the same as tolls already on the Queens Midtown and Hugh L. Carey tunnels, which are $5.54 each way for E-ZPass, or $8 without. Instead of cash, the tolls would be collected by license plate readers or mobile applications. (Just 17 percent of existing MTA bridge and tunnel drivers pay with cash.)

Drivers on the MTA’s major outlying bridges — the Triborough, Whitestone, Throgs Neck, and Verrazano Narrows — would see tolls drop by 45 percent, or $2.50 each way, to $3.04 with E-ZPass or $5.50 without. Tolls on the “minor” outlying bridges — the Cross Bay, Marine Parkway, and Henry Hudson – would drop by $1.00 in each direction.

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Public Support for NYC Toll Reform Highest in the Suburbs

Since March, Move New York has made the case that its traffic reduction and transit funding plan can succeed in Albany. Proposing to raise car tolls in the transit-rich but congested Manhattan core while lowering them in more distant, car-dependent parts of town, Move NY seeks to avoid the political pitfalls that have sunk road pricing in the state capitol before. So how do the voters feel about this plan?

According to poll results Move NY released today, the plan is backed by a plurality of the region’s voters, 45 to 34 percent, with support stronger in the suburbs. When the plan’s benefits are explained, supporters outnumber opponents by a two-to-one margin, the group says [PDF].

Toll reform is more popular than Bloomberg's congestion pricing plan, according to new poll data from the plan's backers. Above, drivers exiting the Queensboro Bridge. Photo: Canadian Pacific/Flickr

Drivers exiting the (free) Queensboro Bridge at Second Avenue in Manhattan. Photo: Canadian Pacific/Flickr

The poll, conducted by Global Strategy Group over seven days in November, surveyed 1,003 registered voters in the 12-county MTA service area. It has a margin of error of 3.1 percent, with a greater margin of error in subsamples. Move NY did not share the poll’s exact phrasing or cross tabs, saying they “will have to remain proprietary.”

Move NY is proposing to add tolls on the East River bridges and across 60th Street while lowering charges on outlying MTA crossings. The plan would raise $1.44 billion annually, with three-quarters going to transit capital and operations and the remainder set aside for bridge and highway maintenance. The plan could play a critical role in filling the $15.2 billion gap in the MTA’s capital plan.

Other recent public opinion data on toll reform came from Quinnipiac in June. In that poll, 49 percent of New Yorkers were opposed and 41 percent in favor of a “toll swap” similar to the Move NY plan. (The Q poll mentioned adding East River tolls but did not mention a toll at 60th Street, a key component of the Move New York plan.)

It’s difficult to say how the Move NY proposal stacks up against the 2008 congestion pricing plan in terms of public opinion. When framed as a “charge” to drive in Manhattan below 60th Street, congestion pricing typically polled in the 30s in Quinnipiac polls from that time, but when people were asked what they thought of preventing fare hikes by implementing congestion pricing, support shot up over 60 percent.

But according to the Move NY poll, the fair toll plan now enjoys a distinct advantage: Just 22 percent of the region’s voters back the Bloomberg-era congestion pricing plan in the new poll. When told about the fair tolling concept, backers outnumbered opponents, 45-34, with support strongest among voters in Long Island (52 percent) and the northern suburbs (48 percent). After respondents received more detail about the exact toll changes to each crossing, support rose to 56 percent, with 36 percent opposed.

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Unlike Toll Reform, a Sales Tax Really Is a Regressive Way to Fund Transit

Funding the MTA with sales taxes? This is who will end up paying the most for it. Image: Institute on Taxation & Economic Policy

Among New York state residents under 65, poorer households currently pay a far greater share of their income in sales and excise taxes than more affluent households. Chart: Institute on Taxation & Economic Policy [PDF]

The MTA capital program is facing a $12 billion shortfall, according to Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, and unless that gap is closed, transit riders will end up paying even more to cover the agency’s ballooning debt load. There’s one clear way to address that problem while cleaning up the traffic mess that ensnares motorists, bus riders, pedestrians, and cyclists alike — raising revenue by reforming NYC’s broken toll system. But a leader of Governor Cuomo’s MTA Reinvention Commission appears to favor a regressive option that won’t fix the dysfunction on city streets.

Capital New York’s Dana Rubinstein reported yesterday that Ray LaHood, former U.S. secretary of transportation and co-chair of the commission, thinks Virginia’s transportation funding model is worth considering in New York. “They went from a gas tax to a sales tax,” LaHood told Capital. (Virginia repealed its gas tax in favor of a wholesale tax paid by gas station owners and a sales tax increase paid by consumers, raising $880 million each year.)

Speaking to Brian Lehrer on WNYC this morning, LaHood said he was unfamiliar with the “Fair Plan” promoted by “Gridlock” Sam Schwartz and the non-profit Move NY, which would raise revenue for transit by creating a more rational citywide toll system. LaHood went on to say, “People think [the Virginia sales tax model] has great potential.”

But a sales tax is one of the most regressive revenue-raisers out there. Of the types of taxes states typically levy — on property, income, and sales — “sales and excise taxes are the most regressive, with poor families paying eight times more of their income in these taxes than wealthy families, and middle income families paying five times more,” according to the non-partisan Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy [PDF]. In New York, sales taxes already hit the poorest fifth of the state’s households more than twice as hard as the wealthiest fifth, when measured as a percentage of income [PDF].

Compare that to who would pay under the Move NY toll reform plan: Tolls would increase only for people driving to Manhattan south of 60th Street, while tolls would drop on outer borough crossings. Car owners are wealthier than car-free New Yorkers, and a Move NY analysis shows that drivers who will pay more under the plan have household incomes far higher than transit users. Asking them to pay a higher toll to support train and bus service, while lowering tolls in the outer boroughs, transfers resources from the haves to the have-nots — it isn’t regressive at all.

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The Move NY Fair Tolling Plan Is Polling Better Than Congestion Pricing

Toll reform is polling better in New York City than congestion pricing did, even when pollsters don’t mention that the Move NY plan would mean billions in transit revenue.

Capital New York’s Dana Rubinstein reports

“Would you support or oppose a plan to charge tolls on the East River bridges, which go into Manhattan, and at the same time reduce tolls on the bridges between the Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn, and Staten Island?” a Quinnipiac University pollster asked New York City voters earlier this month.

The voters were divided, 49 percent against, 41 percent in favor.

Support fluctuated by borough — it was strongest in Staten Island and the Bronx — and was about the same among voters who drive to work (51-43 percent opposed) and those who take transit (49-42 percent opposed).

These are stronger numbers than congestion pricing got in 2007 and 2008. The proposal for a road charge below 60th Street in Manhattan during rush hours polled in the 30s, generally, when transit revenue was not mentioned. Pricing polled in the high 50s and low 60s when it was framed as a way to keep fares low.

The Move NY plan, developed by transportation consultant “Gridlock” Sam Schwartz, would establish a Central Business District cordon at 60th Street and add tolls to East River bridges, while tolls on outer-borough crossings would be reduced. The plan calls for removing the Manhattan parking tax rebate and adding a taxi trip surcharge. It would raise nearly $1.5 billion a year, with a quarter of revenue dedicated to road and bridge maintenance and the remainder to transit capital and operating funds.

Congestion pricing has risen in popularity in cities that have implemented it. Despite intense opposition beforehand, after three years 70 percent of Londoners said that city’s road pricing program was effective, and twice as many supported the charge as opposed it. Though it doesn’t yet have a champion in Albany, a coalition of interests, from the Straphangers Campaign to AAA New York, has coalesced behind the Move NY toll reform proposal. There’s room for its poll numbers to climb, if the upside for transit is part of the framing.

Here’s another figure for state lawmakers to consider: In 2007, 87 percent of voters said traffic congestion was a “very serious” or “somewhat serious” problem. This month it was essentially unchanged at 86 percent.

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Congestion Pricing Foes Sit Down at the Table With Fair Toll Advocates


After years of meetings and tweaks, the Move NY fair toll campaign launched this morning with a simple message: With AAA and trucking interests at the table beside transit advocates, reforming New York’s broken toll system actually has a shot. It’s a different beast than the congestion pricing plan that Mayor Bloomberg pushed for six years ago, with more obvious benefits for New Yorkers who don’t live in Manhattan.

The coalitions are shaping up differently this time, backers noted during a series of panel discussions this morning. ”Last time around there was a feeling that this was being shoved down people’s throats,” said Move NY campaign director Alex Matthiessen. “We have staunch opponents of previous pricing plans with us.”

“It’s a pleasure working with the other side here for a change, instead of being in our own corners,” said AAA New York’s Jon Corlett. Gene Russianoff, staff attorney for the Straphangers Campaign, compared sitting down with AAA to Nixon visiting China.

Why are these groups willing to work together? The Move NY plan, developed by “Gridlock” Sam Schwartz, has some big carrots for motorists while still reducing congestion and funding transit. The plan would charge everyone driving into Manhattan below 60th Street, while outer-borough crossings with few transit options nearby would see a toll cut. It also asks Manhattanites to pay up by removing the borough’s parking tax rebate and adding a surcharge to taxi trips. The plan would raise almost $1.5 billion annually, with a quarter of it going to road and bridge maintenance. The rest would go to transit in the form of both capital funds and operating assistance.

The exact mix of projects that would benefit remains to be determined, but Move NY advocates say they would like to focus on filling outer-borough transit gaps through a mix of bus and rail expansion, funding things like a new transit route on Staten Island’s north shore, additional Bus Rapid Transit lines, and new Metro-North service in the eastern Bronx to Penn Station.

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Congestion Charging on the Horizon for China’s Cities

shanghai

Photo of Shanghai traffic: Bert van Dijk

Which Chinese city will be the first to try congestion pricing? Beijing, Guangzhou, Shanghai — megacities whose populations are on the scale of New York’s? Or second-tier but still mighty cities (think Chicago) like Hangzhou, Nanjing, or Xi’an?

Road tolling à la American turnpikes and thruways is already extensive in China, as a means to finance highways rather than manage traffic. Increasingly, however, with traffic and vehicle exhaust demonstrably harming business as well as human health in dozens of cities, and with strategies like quotas on new vehicles unable to offset the growth in driving, officials are looking to “economic measures.” Tolling vehicle entries to congested city centers has established a strong enough track record elsewhere in improving traffic flow and air quality that it is attracting interest not just from municipal officials but also from China’s national transport and environment ministries.

Cordon or congestion pricing, as such tolling is called, was Topic “A” last week in Hangzhou, a city of nearly 4 million (6 million counting suburbs) south of Shanghai. Some 200 officials and academics from 11 provinces, 30 cities, and at least a dozen universities packed a two-day “International Forum on Economic Policies for Traffic Congestion and Tailpipe Emissions” organized by the Energy Foundation China. Representatives from the four largest world cities with cordon tolling — Singapore, London, Stockholm and Milan — related their successes and fielded questions on everything from the digital nuts and bolts of tolling technologies to the political path that led to implementation. I was invited to report on NYC’s mixed record and share analytical insights from my traffic modeling work.

I’m still sifting impressions, but here are some takeaways thus far:

  • The biggest driver of China’s interest in congestion pricing is air pollution, with gridlock, which is spreading to more hours and more areas in every city, a close second. “Congestion and ‘smogs’ have become major concerns of the public and major bottlenecks for urban development,” summed up one high-ranking official.
  • Revenue generation for public transport — a huge motivator for tolling vehicle trips into the Manhattan Central Business District — is downplayed as a rationale for congestion pricing, perhaps because Chinese drivers already pay road tolls. Revenue may become politically salient, however, as dwindling revenues from sales of land force municipalities to come up with other ways to finance transit lines.
  • The economist’s paradigm of “congestion causation” (the aggregate delay to other road users caused by each additional car trip to the CBD) has barely surfaced in transportation planning and the design of road pricing instruments in China, yet it seems an important metric for screening candidate cities for congestion pricing.

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You Know What’s Fundamentally Regressive? NYC’s Current Toll System

manhattan_traffic

You can drive into the center of town and clog up the streets without paying a dime, but you’ve got to pay a fare to ride the bus.

Well, a few words from Andrew Cuomo made clear that fixing NYC’s broken road pricing system won’t be on the table before next year’s statewide elections. But some opponents of congestion pricing — notably, Eastern Queens City Council Member Mark Weprin — are warming to Sam Schwartz’s toll reform plan, which calls for a uniform price on entry points into the Manhattan core, including the East River bridges and 60th Street, paired with lower prices on less congested, outlying bridges.

And so, the Times turned to former Westchester Assemblyman Richard Brodsky for a dash of his trademark fake populism:

Among former critics of ideas to toll the East River bridges, reactions to this one have been mixed. Richard L. Brodsky, a former Democratic assemblyman and a senior fellow at the Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service at New York University, said Mr. Schwartz’s plan was “a fundamentally regressive tax,” even if equity problems among the boroughs were “addressed to an extent,” at least compared with the 2008 plan.

“It will modify the behavior of the guy driving the ’97 Chevy,” Mr. Brodsky said, “but will do nothing to modify the behavior of the guy driving the 2013 Mercedes.”

It’s telling that Brodsky imagines his working-class stiff as “the guy driving the ’97 Chevy.” It’s not “the guy riding the R train” or “the gal transferring from the Q60 to the M15.” Transit commuters far outnumber car commuters in NYC and earn, on average, far less, but they never figured into his message.

Brodsky, who hasn’t held office since a failed run for attorney general in 2010, represented the wealthiest Manhattan-bound car commuters in the NYC region. He wasn’t looking out for regular Joes — he was defending free driving privileges for white collar elites earning, on average, $176,231 per year.

He also managed to obscure a core truth about NYC’s current toll system: It doesn’t work for the little guy. We are right now at this very moment living under the burden of a “fundamentally regressive” toll plan — it’s the status quo we’ve had for decades. It’s regressive that a few people in single-occupancy vehicles can clog streets and immobilize hundreds of less affluent people riding buses. It’s regressive that wealthy car owners can drive into the center of the city without paying a dime, while transit riders have no choice but to pay higher fares because the MTA capital program is backed by mountains of debt.

Reforming NYC’s road pricing system will make the regional transportation network more equitable in profound ways. It will speed up the surface transit that less affluent New Yorkers rely on, improving access to jobs. And by injecting funds into the MTA Capital Program, it will help improve the transit system without fares eating up a bigger chunk of household budgets.

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Krugman: Costs of Driving Deserve Way More Attention

Two of the nation’s leading lefty commentators weighed in on transportation incentives last Friday, when both economist Paul Krugman at the New York Times and Matt Yglesias at Slate went on a congestion pricing kick.

Krugman kicked things off by remarking that the surest way to reduce the costs imposed on society by drivers is to “get the incentives right, and charge large fees for driving in congestion.”

Yglesias took it one step further, pointing out how a variable fee on roads could lead to a virtuous cycle of better transit service and higher ridership:

Congestion fees are a kind of force multiplier for transit. After all, in some big American cities the peak congestion charge would have to get quite hefty at some times of the day. Some folks will respond to that by paying the fee, some by time-shifting their driving to a less-crowded hour, and some by riding transit. A bus, after all, is a great mechanism for spreading the cost of road access across a large number of people. And while with highways the quality of the service provided declines with the number of users (traffic jams), with well-designed transit it goes the other way. The more people who want to travel on a particular transit route, the more financially viable it is to provide high-frequency service. And high-frequency service is the key to real-world transit useability.

As Krugman noted, congestion pricing is an important mechanism to account for the cost imposed by drivers on society in the form of lost time. Anything that brings the actual price of our transportation decisions in line with the cost to society will be a boon for transit, biking, and walking relative to the status quo.

The flipside of congestion pricing would be to account for the social benefits of non-automotive modes by subsidizing them. The European Cyclists Federation currently has an interesting proposal on this front. With the European Union examining the “internalisation of external costs for all modes of transport, the ECF is advocating for a policy that would function as a kind of carrot, rewarding cyclists through tax rebates and incentives. Meanwhile, in America, we actually have a “symbolic” bike tax gaining traction in Washington state.