Congestion pricing in New York City
Congestion pricing in New York City was a proposed traffic congestion fee for vehicles traveling into or within the Manhattan central business district of New York City. The congestion pricing charge was one component of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's plan to improve the city's future environmental sustainability while planning for population growth, entitled PlaNYC 2030: A Greener, Greater New York. If approved and implemented, it would have been the first such fee scheme enacted in the United States. Nonetheless the proposal did not succeed as it was never put to a vote on the Assembly.
Mayor Bloomberg's goals for long-term sustainability through the year 2030 were first announced on December 12, 2006. On April 22, 2007 (Earth Day), PlaNYC 2030 was unveiled. Along with transportation initiatives, the plan outlined steps to clean up brownfields, create affordable housing, utilize open spaces, provide cleaner and more reliable and efficient energy sources, improve water quality and infrastructure, achieve cleaner air quality, and address climate change issues. The transportation initiatives support greater use of mass transit through various improvements and additions to transit infrastructure and services. In addition, the initiatives also include increased use of cycling, expanded ferry services, increased traffic violation enforcement, and installations of Muni Meters and an intelligent transportation system.
Of the 16 proposed transportation initiatives in PlaNYC, the congestion pricing program is the only component that has to be approved by the New York State Legislature with financial support from the State; the remainder is within New York City's or its regional jurisdiction and is to be funded by a new Sustainable Mobility and Regional Transportation Financing Authority, which would also take in revenue from the congestion fees, estimated at $380 million.
New York City applied to be part of the United States Department of Transportation's Urban Partnership Program, which would allocate money to cities that were willing to fight urban traffic congestion through tolling programs, express bus services or bus rapid transit, telecommuting, or technologies designed for the purpose. In June 2007, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Mary Peters said that out of the nine finalist cities applying for the program, New York City was the farthest along in its traffic reduction planning and the city was eligible for up to $500 million for funding the congestion pricing plan. Since the final funding decision would be announced in August, Peters wrote in a letter to Governor Eliot Spitzer that if state approval was not met by July 16, "it is unlikely that New York City would be selected."  Although a commitment was not established by that date, on July 19, the State legislature approved the creation of a 17-member commission that will study different plans to reduce traffic in the city, including congestion pricing. Signed by Spitzer on July 27, the bill authorized New York to apply for at least $200 million in federal funds.
On August 14, 2007, the U.S. Department of Transportation awarded from the Urban Partnership program $354 million to New York City. It was the largest of the five grants awarded to cities, which included San Francisco, King County, Washington (Seattle), the Minneapolis area, and Miami. Only $10.4 million is allocated for launching the congestion pricing program and $2 million for research. The rest of the grant will fund transportation infrastructure and services: $213.6 million to improve and build new bus depots, $112.7 million to develop bus rapid transit routes, and $15.8 million for expanded ferry services.
The idea of congestion pricing was endorsed by the then Governor Spitzer, Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, and other New York City politicians, such as City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, and Representative Joseph Crowley of Queens and the Bronx, as well as the U.S. Department of Transportation. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and other politicians expressed skepticism about the plan, raising several questions about its viability, its environmental effects on neighborhoods bordering the congestion zone, the lack of state control in Bloomberg's proposal, and the imposition of a regressive tax on some commuters.
On January 31, 2008, the New York City Traffic Congestion Mitigation Commission approved a plan for congestion pricing, which was passed by a vote of 13 to 2. Some changes over Mayor Bloomberg's original proposal were introduced, such as reducing the congestion zone, no charges for vehicles which stay within the zone, and a discount for low-emission trucks. The commission estimated that revenues from the congestion charge will generate $491 million a year, which would be committed to improve and expand the region's mass transit. The proposal was approved by the New York City Council on March 31, 2008 by a vote of 30 to 20. Another alternative considered by the commission, and promoted by Assemblyman Richard Brodsky, was to restrict access into the congestion zone one day a week based on the last digits of the license plates. This sort of road space rationing system is currently practiced in two of the world's Top 10 megacities, São Paulo and Mexico City. Bloomberg's plan was endorsed by the then new Governor David Paterson, whose support was considered key to approve the bill in Albany.
The deadline to approve the plan by the State Assembly was April 7, 2008, for the city to be eligible to receive US$ 354 million in federal assistance for traffic congestion relief and mass transit improvements. On April 7, 2008, after a closed-door meeting, the Democratic Conference of the State Assembly decided not to vote on the proposal, "...the opposition was so overwhelming,...that he would not hold an open vote of the full Assembly," Sheldon Silver, the Assembly Speaker said. Afterwards, the USDOT announced that they will seek to allocate those funds to relief traffic congestion in other cities.
Ironically, by July 2008, gasoline prices of over $4.00 a gallon caused a dramatic 5 percent drop in vehicle trips into lower Manhattan, realizing goals that Bloomberg had envisioned for his congestion pricing scheme. This finding vindicated the plan's premise that higher driving costs would in fact reduce congestion, while at the same time rendering the plan completely unnecessary, at least while fuel prices stayed high.
Bloomberg's 2008 proposal
New York's proposal cites comparable congestion pricing programs in London, Singapore and Stockholm. New York City's program is proposed to be a three-year pilot program, at the end of which the City and State would decide if the program should be made permanent. When final legislative approval is given, the program could be put into effect within 18 months.
As proposed, the congestion pricing zone is defined as the island of Manhattan (bordered by the East and Hudson Rivers) south of 60th Street (originally 86th Street but changed after the commission's recommendation released on January 10, 2008). Exempted roadways within the zone include the FDR Drive, New York Route 9A (West Side Highway and Henry Hudson Parkway included), the Battery Park Underpass, and the East River bridges (Queensboro Bridge, Williamsburg Bridge, Manhattan Bridge and Brooklyn Bridge) and their approaches. A free route from the East River bridges to the FDR Drive and from the Lincoln and Holland Tunnels to Route 9A would be designated. Drivers who use toll crossings to or from the zone (e.g. Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel and Queens-Midtown Tunnel) would be charged the difference between the toll and the congestion charge.
The charge would apply on weekdays from 6:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Proposed fees would be $8 for cars and commercial vehicles and $21 for trucks entering from outside the zone. Transit buses, emergency vehicles, taxis and for-hire vehicles, and vehicles with handicapped license plates would not be charged the fee. Taxi and livery trips that begin, end or touch the zone would have a $1 surcharge. Vehicles would be charged only once per day.
Operations for monitoring vehicles within the congestion zone will be barrier-free and includes E-ZPass transponders and a license plate recognition system that involves cameras. The system for monitoring congestion pricing will be made separate from existing red-light camera systems. Drivers would be able to pay by a debit from their E-ZPass account or a debit from a pre-paid non-EZPass account linked to the vehicle's license plate number. For drivers without traffic payment accounts, they would have 48 hours to pay via phone, the Internet, text messaging, or cash transactions at participating retailers.
The accelerated MTA Capital Plan for 2008-2013 details transit investments that revenue from congestion pricing would pay for. These include 44 subway station rehabilitations, increased bus service, new Select Bus Service bus rapid transit in all 5 boroughs, $40 million for suburban park and ride facilities, Metro-North and LIRR station rehabilitations, third track work, East Side Access, Second Avenue Subway, and Fulton Street Transit Center, to name a few.
In addition to charging drivers, there have been additional proposals to further reduce traffic. One proposal from Sam Schwartz recommends removing tolls from the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge to encourage trucks en route from Long Island to New Jersey to use Interstate 278 through Staten Island and over a proposed twin-span Goethals Bridge, as opposed to using the now toll-free route via the Manhattan Bridge, congesting Manhattan's local streets, and out the Lincoln or Holland Tunnels. Furthermore, he suggests that government parking passes be limited; the number of taxis be reduced dramatically; and the Belt Parkway be redesigned to allow commercial traffic to reduce congestion on Brooklyn's local streets.
The Campaign for New York's Future, a coalition of over 150 civic, business, environmental, labor, community and public health organizations that support the goals and strategic direction of PlaNYC, supported congestion pricing throughout the political discussion. They argued that the plan would reduce road congestion, shorten commutes, reduce air pollution, and raise funds for long-term mass transit upgrades.
The Tri-State Transportation Campaign, a member of the Campaign for New York's Future, released an analysis of Census data showing that the vast majority (approx. 93-99%) of workers in the MTA service area, and in individual legislative districts, did not drive to work in Manhattan. TSTC argued that the data showed that congestion pricing was progressive policy.
A March, 2008 Quinnipiac poll found that New York City voters supported Congestion Pricing 67 - 27 if the money were used for mass transit improvements, and statewide voters supported the plan 60 - 30, although the majority of New Yorkers were unaware that a $1 taxi surcharge was included in the plan. Then-presidential candidate Barack Obama, scores of city and state legislators, as well as community leaders openly expressed support for the plan.
New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver opposed the plan, citing several issues. Since motorists would want to avoid the congestion pricing zone, he claimed they would choose to park in neighborhoods just outside the pricing zone. This, in turn, would allegedly create "parking lots" and add more traffic and pollution to those neighborhoods. Secondly, because the plan would reduce traffic in Manhattan's central business district, but, he thought, not necessarily elsewhere, neighborhoods with high asthma rates such as Harlem, the South Bronx, and Bedford-Stuyvesant would not benefit. The installation of cameras for tracking purposes might have raised civil liberties concerns. Silver stopped short of opposing the entire plan, and said he would continue to work toward an agreement.
Other opponents argued that the pricing could become a tax on middle- and lower-class residents, since those citizens would be affected the most financially. At the same time, higher-income commuters would not be turned off by paying the charges; thus the fee would not do much to discourage traffic into the congestion area.
In response to many of these issues, Bloomberg argued that a significant percentage of commuters would switch to public transportation, and most likely for all of their commute; thus cars would be taken off the road outside the Central Business District as well as within it. John Gallagher, a Bloomberg spokesman, also said that "toll shopping", a tendency for drivers to seek toll-free routes, will end as all commuters who go to the congestion zone will have to pay tolls.
On July 9, 2007 Assemblyman Richard Brodsky issued an adverse report, calling the proposal thoughtful and bold, but expressing skepticism on points including financial fairness and environmental impact.
It mentioned as insufficiently studied alternatives (though it did not recommend any of them):
- Better traffic enforcement
- Time-of day pricing on mass transit
- Taxes on gasoline, payroll, commuter, or stock transfer
- Fees on City parking permits
Keep NYC Congestion Tax Free, a coalition of about 80 civic, business and labor organizations and businesses throughout the New York metropolitan area, proposed non-intrusive, low-cost traffic mitigation measures with some half billion dollars or more in incidental revenues as an alternative to the city's congestion pricing scheme that it argued would also qualify for the federal grant. It also recommended revenue measures that would raise nearly $1.8 billion to mass transit projects to induce less driving through better transit service.
Brooklyn and Queens strongly opposed the bill in the City Council, voting against it by a margin of nearly two to one. Brooklyn specifically becomes geographically isolated without access to its free bridges as Manhattan blocks its access to the mainland. A map of the council votes can be seen at http://www.brooklyn-living.com/brooklynpress.html. There have also been protests against congestion pricing at City Hall.
The City Council passed the bill, with the only "No" votes coming from Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island, but on April 7, 2008, Speaker Silver announced that the Assembly would not vote on the measure. Shortly thereafter, most of the federal grant that was to have gone to New York City was awarded to Chicago for bus-only lanes and more buses, and Los Angeles for high-occupancy toll lanes.
- Congestion pricing
- Electronic toll collection
- London congestion charge
- Manchester congestion charge
- Milan Ecopass
- Road pricing
- Road space rationing
- San Francisco congestion pricing
- Singapore Area Licensing Scheme
- Singapore's ERP
- Stockholm congestion tax
- Transportation in New York City
- Website of PlaNYC 2030
- Hakim, Danny and Ray Rivera (2007-06-08). "City Traffic Pricing Wins U.S. and Spitzer’s Favor". The New York Times. Retrieved 2007-06-12.
-  NYT:$8 Traffic Fee for Manhattan Gets Nowhere
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- Mobility Needs Assessment: 2007-2030, p. 142
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- "Interim Report for Public Comment" (Press release). NYSDOT. 2008-01-10. Retrieved 2008-02-02.
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- Brodsky's Congestion Specifics, in New York's Premier Alternative Newspaper.
- See CONGESTION TAX SCHEME MADE WORSE
- NY1: Top Stories
- Chicago gets congestion pricing money, accessed May 28, 2008
- (LAC)MTA votes for tolls on some carpool lanes by 2010, accessed May 28, 2008 Archived May 5, 2008 at the Wayback Machine