Those who have labored a lifetime on the city's environmental fronts were
blown away on Earth Day to hear our words articulated by Mayor Michael Bloomberg
with more mastery and conviction than any of us have mustered. Brilliantly couching
congestion pricing in the context of the city's survival, the mayor made it
a moral imperative. To convince motorists there is a trade-off, the mayor shrewdly
seeks to get tangible transit improvements in place before charging motorists
for entering Manhattan.
But the Mayor and Governor Eliot Spitzer must act quickly if they are not to
be hamstrung in their commitments to expand transit use. They must reverse New
York City Transit's plan to junk 607 subway cars as new ones arrive this year
and next. NYC Transit's reason for throwing away usable cars, which could also
be rebuilt for one-third the cost of new ones, is that there is no yard space
for overnight storage. Accepting that limit will leave NYC Transit with no spare
cars, its smallest fleet ever, and unable to deliver the increase of subway
service central to the mayor's plan.
The mayor cites bus rapid transit as a quick, high-visibility way to boost ridership,
but even this will take too long if it relies on dedicated buslanes. What can
be installed quickly is the high-tech component ofbus
Rapid transit -- a GPS tracking and radio communication system. This would eliminate
much of the bus bunching that infuriates riders, and the monitors at each bus
stop, posting wait times for each route, should help make waiting for a bus
more tolerable, even seducing some drivers out of their cars.
Congestion pricing could be made simpler as well. A lot more funds would be
available for transit users if the congestion fees were simply collected on
the bridge spans and along 60th Street, rather than at dozens -- even hundreds
-- of charging points south of 86th Street. Equalizing the charges on all crossings
would provide a strong signal to motorists that it doesn't pay to drive out
their way to avoid tolls. While the mayor's proposed adjustments in congestion
charges levied in Manhattan may remove any advantage of untolled bridges, the
complexity muddies the message.
Instead of capitalizing on Manhattan having just four untolled entries, the
proposed multiple checkpoints, exceeding London's charging cordon, will be a
lot more costly and may raise new objections to tracking motorists' movements.
Even the staunchest supporters of congestion charges in the boroughs see neighborhood
parking permits as an essential element of any plan to reduce traffic. The permits
would not guarantee a parking place, but would
Charge outsiders a hefty price for precious curb space. Fees and fines could
be reinvested in streetscape improvements and effective traffic calming. Such
measures would reinforce the quality-of-life benefits of tolls.
The old pre-E-ZPass image of bridge tolls of long spillback of traffic from
toll plazas is dead. There is a growing concession in the boroughs that a seamless
charging technology can unclog approach roads to free bridges from the lemming-like
traffic that is drowning neighborhoods and delaying drivers. Armed with the
mayor's powerful ability to change the political
equation, why not institute congestion fees in the fastest, most productive
Carolyn Konheim is chair of Community Consulting Services.
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