Charging tolls to cross the Brooklyn Bridge could be a simpler alternative to road pricing (Photo: Simone Roda)
New York bridge tolls
New York congestion charge
US transportation and the economy
US transportation debate
US public transport use
US public bus systems
US car parks
Cycling in US cities
Road tolls in cities worldwide
Issues facing megacities
Most polluted US cities
Road traffic kills children
German Greens call for road tolls
US built environment in 2030
City Mayors reports news from towns and cities around the world. Worldwide | Elections | North America | Latin America | Europe | Asia | Africa | Events |
Mayors from The Americas, Europe. Asia, Australia and Africa are competing for the annual World Mayor Award. More
City Mayors ranks the world’s largest as well as richest cities and urban areas. It also ranks the cities in individual countries, and provides a list of the capital cities of some 200 sovereign countries. More
City Mayors reports political events, analyses the issues and depicts the main players. More
City Mayors describes and explains the structures and workings of local government in Europe, The Americas, Asia, Australia and Africa. More
City Mayors profiles city leaders from around the world and questions them about their achievements, policies and aims. More
City Mayors deals with economic and investment issues affecting towns and cities. More
City Mayors reports on how business developments impact on cities and examines cooperation between cities and the private sector. More
City Mayors describes and explains financial issues affecting local government. More
City Mayors lists and features urban events, conferences and conventions aimed at urban decision makers and those with an interst in cities worldwide. More
City Mayors reports urban environmental developments and examines the challenges faced by cities worldwide. More
City Mayors reports on and discusses urban development issues in developed and developing countries. More
City Mayors reports on developments in urban society and behaviour and reviews relevant research. More
City Mayors deals with urban transport issues in developed and developing countries and features the world’s greatest metro systems. More
City Mayors examines education issues and policies affecting children and adults in urban areas. More
City Mayors investigates health issues affecting urban areas with an emphasis on health in cities in developing countries. More
City Mayors examines the importance of urban tourism to city economies. More
City Mayors examines the contributions history and culture make to urban society and environment. More
City Mayors describes the history, architecture and politics of the greatest city halls in the world. More
City Mayors invites readers to write short stories about people in cities around the world. More
City Mayors questions those who govern the world’s cities and talks to men and women who contribute to urban society and environment. More
City Mayors profiles national and international organisations representing cities as well as those dealing with urban issues. More
City Mayors reports on major national and international sporting events and their impact on cities. More
City Mayors lists cities and city organisations, profiles individual mayors and provides information on hundreds of urban events. More
Toll bridges a simpler alternative
to Bloomberg’s road pricing idea
By Hope Cohen*
7 January 2008: New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s proposal for ‘congestion pricing’ a fee imposed on driving in Manhattan’s central business district during prime hours has made it safe at last to discuss traffic solutions that were previously off limits. Just last week, New York City Hall announced a crackdown on the official placards that allow tens of thousands of public employees to park free on the street a topic long avoided by those in charge.
Join the debate on New York City congestion pricing
The discussion will continue throughout January as the Traffic Congestion Mitigation Commission, established by the New York State legislature in response to the mayor’s congestion pricing plan issues its report later this month. The group may support City Hall’s proposal or suggest its own ideas for reducing traffic by at least as much as the 6.3 per cent proposed by Bloomberg.
In its report the commission might even break a long-time taboo in the city and call for charging drivers a toll to cross the now ‘free’ East River bridges. Such a charge, along with an overhaul of the city’s policy on parking, could meet the traffic reduction goal while also raising much-needed funds to maintain and expand the city’s transportation infrastructure.
Toll revenue helped finance the construction of the Brooklyn and Williamsburg bridges. The tolls were discontinued along with those on the Manhattan and Queensboro bridges in 1911 by Mayor William J Gaynor, who saw “no more reason for toll gates on the bridges than for toll gates on Fifth Avenue or Broadway” and proposed making up the lost revenue through an annual tax levy. Since that time, tolling the East River bridges has been the third rail of New York City transportation politics. Mayors who tried to bring up the subject including Bloomberg himself, early on in his administration quickly dropped it again under intense inter-borough pressure.
The lack of tolls has put the bridges in competition for funding with the entire array of municipal budget priorities. This has cost the bridges dearly. The absence of a dedicated funding stream resulted in deferred maintenance and, ultimately, dangerous disrepair. (Just last month, a state task force issued multiple “flags” both “yellow” and “safety” to the Brooklyn Bridge for problems including decaying beams.)
Meanwhile, all of the tolled East River crossings (the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Triborough Bridge, Queens-Midtown Tunnel and Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel) and the Hudson River crossings (the Port Authority’s George Washington Bridge and Holland and Lincoln tunnels), which also charge tolls, are in exemplary condition. Tolls yield enough revenue not only to maintain the facilities to the highest standards, but also to subsidize the public transit operations of Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) and the Port Authority.
Bloomberg wants to reap similar benefits from congestion pricing collecting revenues from drivers to pay for maintenance of Manhattan’s streets, beaten-up from overuse. Just as the authorities collect tolls to subsidize public transit, the mayor would collect congestion fees to fund improvements in public transportation. At the same time, reductions in traffic congestion, as some drivers choose alternative modes of travel to avoid paying the fee, would benefit the city’s economy and environment.
The overall concept of City Hall’s initial proposal is elegant, but its specifics are much too complex, with different prices for driving into (or out of) the charging zone vs. driving within it, along with a very expensive and potentially intrusive network of E-Z Pass readers and cameras throughout the zone, from Manhattan’s Battery to 86th Street.
Eliminating the charge for driving within the zone would remove much cost and confusion. The East and Hudson rivers define all but one side of Manhattan’s business district, so adding a northern boundary and simply charging people to enter the zone would be fairly straightforward.
Now, the commission, led by Marc Shaw (whose background as a state and city budget guru served him well as first deputy mayor and as MTA executive director), is considering the advice of traffic experts Brian Ketcham and Carolyn Konheim, among others, in examining several variations on this simplified scheme. Commission staff members estimate that adding tolls to the East River bridges and equivalent charges to cross a northern boundary at 60th Street (rather than at 86th, as City Hall proposes) would double the traffic reductions the mayor seeks and nearly double the revenue at a fraction of the cost to collect it.
Moreover, the participation of the MTA and Port Authority executive directors on the traffic commission offers an opportunity to develop a unified approach to pricing all the crossings and thus to rationalizing traffic patterns. Pricing influences driver behavior. The ‘free’ bridges, as well as their feeder roads, are generally more clogged than the tolled tunnels and their approaches.
The tolling alternative would generate more revenue and less traffic than the mayor’s approach. It is simpler to understand and to implement. It acknowledges the geographic reality that Manhattan is an island whose access routes are difficult to build and expensive to maintain. It has only one apparent drawback: It would allow Manhattanites to add to pollution and congestion by moving their cars inside the central business district without constraint. But the city does not need costly cameras and sophisticated software to solve this problem.
First, a 60th Street boundary would capture entry fees from Manhattan’s most significant source of automobile commuters, the Upper East Side. Second, since availability of free parking near the workplace is the single best indicator of whether someone will drive to work in Manhattan, the panel should recommend an array of measures to charge more for parking. Possible actions include modifying metering policies, charging people to park at currently free curb space and revoking residents’ tax exemption for garage parking. City Hall’s recent placard announcement is a much needed first step on the road to parking rationality.
Thanks to Mayor Bloomberg, it is finally possible to talk about rearranging New York’s transportation subsidies from free bridges and cheap parking to strengthened infrastructure and expanded capacity. Now that the conversation can flow freely, the commission, the City Council and the state legislature must negotiate the best ways to improve mobility in the city. By 31 March 2008 the federal deadline for a program of congestion reduction New Yorkers need to have moved from talk to action.
*Hope Cohen is deputy director of the Manhattan Institute's Center for Rethinking Development.
• Poverty is a crime against humanity
• Support mayors who fight poverty
• Nominate the best for the 2020 World Mayor Prize