The High(er?) Cost of Driving
April 20th, 2007

Mayor Michael Bloomberg has not formally made a proposal for charging motorists a fee to drive into parts of Manhattan but whatever form it takes apparently, Councilmember David Weprin is against it. The Queens councilmember, who has adapted Senator Charles Schumer’s penchant for Sunday press events, sent out a release today announcing he would be moderating a transit forum in Queens on Sunday where he “will be making a major policy statement opposing City Hall’s proposal for a congestion pricing charge.” Weprin will also unveil his own alternative proposal.

Meanwhile, a mayoral push for some kind of congestion pricing seems increasingly likely. Following press reports today that he would announce such a plan in his much-awaited speech on planning for a sustainable future in the city, Bloomberg defended congestion pricing in his weekly radio appearance. According to quotes on Empire Zone, the businessman turned mayor said, “Using economics to influence public behavior is something this country is built on, it’s called capitalism.” As to complaints by Weprin and others that the fee would place an unreasonable burden on outer borough residents, Bloomberg said, “Let’s put some of this stuff in perspective here. The cost of parking here in the city, people who drive into the city generally — you have to be careful not to say everybody — … it tends to be people who can afford it, because otherwise they’ll take mass transit.”

In trying to push through a plan sure to face opposition, Bloomberg faces a political quandary, the Empire Zone observes: “On the one hand, if a congestion charge only applied to nonresidents, Mr. Bloomberg could probably get the support of city lawmakers, only to face the opposition of Albany. On the other hand, if the congestion charge applied to everyone driving into Lower Manhattan, Mr. Bloomberg would have an easier time in Albany (which might not even have the power to intervene) but would face the wrath of politicians from the other boroughs.”

Sure Bloomberg faces a tough fight, writes Larry Livermore, as he will confront the wrath of “hordes of motorists who seemingly would need to have their cold, dead fingers pried from their steering wheels before giving up their God-given right to clog the streets and foul the air.” But Livermore continues, “Bloomberg’s success with the smoking ban might augur well for his chances with congestion pricing: widely derided at first, it’s now almost completely accepted.”

By on April 20, 2007, 1:42 pm
In category: Albany,Environment,Gotham City,Public Finance,Transportation | 8 Comments »

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8 Responses to “The High(er?) Cost of Driving”

  1. Sean Corker Says:
    April 21st, 2007 at 4:26 am

    Speaking as someone who experienced the misery caused by the London congestion charge; the people of New York need to be aware of the true cost a Con Charge, or Toll Tax as we affectionately call it over here! The cost of the charge has increased 3 times, dispite promises that it wouldn’t.
    The London Chamber of commerce has reported a 6% drop in the turnover of businesses inside the zone and as many as 6000 job losses. Residents inside the zone have experienced a decrease in the number of visitors to their house.
    Up to a third of residents say they are struggling to pay the charge.
    Pollution in the form of carcinogenic Pm10’s and Nox has increased.
    The charge has cost as more to implement and operate then it has taken in tolls (the real reason why the charge went up)
    Transport for London let slip in the Evening Standard that the charge has been made deliberately difficult to pay. TfL wins only 7% of appeals cases for non payment of the charge.
    70% of income from the charge comes from the swinging non payment fines.
    To cap it all congestion is very nearly back to pre con charge levels and is actually worse outside the zone.

  2. Larry Livermore Says:
    April 21st, 2007 at 11:31 pm

    Having lived in London before, during and after the implementation of the congestion charge, I would say that the “misery” described here impacted almost entirely on that minority whose brains and/or limbs have atrophied to the point where they can’t conceive of traveling into Central London by any means other than their own private automobile. As a non-driver (by choice), the congestion charge had no negative effects whatsoever on me, nor on the great majority of Londoners who use public transport or the two good feet that God gave them.

    In fact one of my regrets about leaving London was that the congestion charge was about to be extended to include my own area, and I had been looking forward to the decreased traffic and pollution. It’s true that the charge has been increased (though only once, from Ł5 to Ł8, not three times as your correspondent states), but as far as I’m concerned, it should have been Ł10 all along, at least in the most congested areas.

    The main problems with the charge are that it is only in force on weekdays during business hours, which means that it hasn’t accomplished the wholesale transformation of travel habits that a full time charge would, and that public transport hasn’t yet been improved sufficiently to accommodate all those now being discouraged from driving. Also, residents of the congestion charge zone are given a 90% discount, which creates very little motivation for them to give up their cars. In sum, the charge needs to get more onerous and all-encompassing before it accomplishes the major reduction in auto traffic that London desperately needs. But it’s a start.

  3. Jason Gooljar : The Working Families Party Man » They mayor makes a good point Says:
    April 22nd, 2007 at 9:23 am

    […] The High(er?) Cost of Driving […]

  4. Sean Corker Says:
    April 22nd, 2007 at 3:36 pm

    I feel compelled to reply to the somewhat exaggerated claims made by Mr.Livermore. Rather then a congestion charge his preferred course of action seems to be to ban all cars from Manhattan. For a social engineering experiment on this grandiose scale a congestion charge would be about as useful as a chocolate teapot. In reality no city authority could hope to introduce such a scheme as draconian as Mr. Livermore suggests and remain in office after the next election.

    Congestion charging is flawed for a number of reasons not least because congestion is self regulating. There are thousands of drivers who have already chosen to use public transport because of congestion, any reduction in congestion will quickly be filled by commuters prepared to pay the extra charge, in reality you are pricing the poorest off the road to make space for the better off.

    In this country at least we already have congestion charging on the railways in the form of higher fares at peak periods. The result is still hugely overcrowded trains at rush hour because people still have to be at work for a certain time. If congestion charging does not work on trains it will not work on the roads.

    The 3rd price increase I referred to was the extra 4×4 (SUV) charge introduced at the same time as the extension. More then ever politically unpopular taxes are ‘green washed’ to justify their imposition. If Mr. Livermore was looking forward to decreased traffic and pollution in London then he would have been sadly disappointed on both counts.

    So far the London Chamber of Commerce has reported approx 6000 job losses, a reduction in turnover of 6% and a growing list of small businesses looking to relocate outside the charging zone. Economists have predicted that the congestion charge extension will cost business Ł230 million in lost revenue.

    As colourful as Mr Livermore’s prose is, he is peddling a Utopian dream that is considerably beyond the scope of a congestion charge to deliver. The reality is somewhat different in that far from being a panacea a congestion charge is little more then an expensive placebo. An irrational hatred of the automobile such as that displayed by the London Mayor is not a quality conducive to a balanced debate on the future direction of transport policy in any city.

  5. Daniel Millstone Says:
    April 22nd, 2007 at 8:36 pm

    Whether congestion pricing is a good idea for New York seems to me to be a tricky question. While I intuitively agree with outer borough politicians who oppose it (It’s certainly a tax on those who can least afford it; the rich will drive where they like), congestion pricing does seem to hold out the promise of deterring vehicle drivers from entering mid and lower Manhattan. What, if anything, to opponents of congestion pricing propose to end traffic gridlock in New York? Unless and until the opponents of congestion pricing propose effective traffic control alternatives, they’ll sound “right to drive” fanatics. I am especially worried about the predicted exceptions to Mayor Bloomberg’s congestion pricing plan. Shouldn’t fair congestion pricing, fall on taxis and trucks as well as private cars, though? They’re all polluting our air and jamming our streets.

  6. Larry Littlefield Says:
    April 23rd, 2007 at 7:08 am

    I am in favor; my only objection is in some of the details.

    For example, a jump from $0 to $8 at the start would encourage people to rush for the tolls, while a fall from $8 to $0 might encourage people to hold back and then rush in all at once. Better to phase it in and out by $1 every 15 minutues.

    I am in favor of the government assuring everyone’s basic necessities. But driving into Manhattan is not a necessity, it is a luxury. Even those living beyond mass transit choose to do so, and have the option to park and ride (an option that can be expanded by,building parking using the funds generated).

    The one exception is those who require their vehicles to deliver goods or provide services in Manhattan. Their added cost, since it applies to everyone, will be passed on to their Manhattan customers. It might make it worth the while of those customers to accept deliveries overnight. In any event, for service providers and delivieries the savings due to less time spent in traffic — and more reliability of arrival time — would likely overwhelm the added cost of the charge.

    The equity argument is dishonest. Most of those driving in are already paying far more than this for parking. And those who aren’t? They are the people who get free permit parking on the street — the political class. Don’t kid yourself. Exempt members of the City Council, their staffs, the leadership of certain unions, state legislators, their staffs, judges, and those holding certain high civil service and commission posts, and the opposition goes away.

  7. Gotham Gazette - The Wonkster » Blog Archive » Reacting to Bloomberg’s Green Vision Says:
    April 23rd, 2007 at 11:58 am

    […] Press NYC Blogs  » Environment, Parks, Transportation Recent Posts Reacting to Bloomberg’s Green Vision The High(er?) Cost of Driving What They’re Saying This Morning The Push for SchoolReorganization […]

  8. Gotham Gazette - The Wonkster » Blog Archive » More on Congestion Pricing Says:
    April 25th, 2007 at 11:59 am

    […] Streetsblog surveys the political reaction. Take Christine Quinn, normally an ally of the mayor’s. The likely 2009 mayoral candidate goes way out on a limb on congestion pricing: “Whether you’re for it or against it, it’s a serious proposal and it deserves serious attention.” Outer borough politicians including mayoral contenders Anthony Weiner and Adolfo Carrion and Marty Markowitz (who’s reportedly running for something) were more outspoken. Carrion wonders about “another hidden tax on working people” (the same working people who pay $15 an hour to park), Marty Markowitz would support congestion pricing – provided it doesn’t apply to people driving to work – and Weiner, applauds long-term planning — but thinks congestion pricing is a sure that’s “worse than the disease.” Councilmembers David Weprin, who is reportedly mulling a bid for city comptroller, and Lew Fidler came out against the plan – before the mayor even proposed it. […]

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