Sunday, March 01, 2015
By Fred Mogul : Reporter, WNYC News
Friday, February 20, 2015
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Thursday, February 19, 2015
Wednesday, October 03, 2012
(Drew Reed -- This Big City) Whether they own a Prius or a Hummer, a Porsche or a Pinto, or anything in between, car owners all over the world can agree on one thing: they don’t want to pay to use the roads they drive on. User fees like toll roads, congestion pricing, or others, are almost always met with scorn. Some of the best know examples of this have been in London and New York, where despite the transit friendly culture the measures have been met with controversy. Not surprisingly, similar proposals made in more car-oriented cities have gone down in flames.
The core rationale for user fees on roadways generally falls into two categories. The first is the idea that, since roads are expensive to build and maintain, the people who directly benefit should help to pay for them. While no form of direct payment for roads is ever going to be immensely popular, this idea is generally well received. People who feel their tolls are being used for something are likely to quietly accept them.
The second rationale for road user fees is that they should be used as a mechanism to promote driving patterns that utilize limited road space and car-related infrastructure in heavily urbanized areas more efficiently. This is often met with outrage. And despite the potential benefits of such measures, some of this outrage is understandable. When people have to pay for something, they like to know what it is they’re paying for. Congestion pricing struggles to convince people it needs to exist. For as much as everyone likes to complain about traffic, they have trouble accepting that they are part of the problem, instead embracing solutions that only apply to everyone else.
This equation changes slightly when applied outside of car-saturated first world countries. A recent congestion pricing project in Santiago, Chile, calls for pay centres placed to cover all vehicle entrances to the business district on the eastern side of the city, and charge a nominal fee to all vehicles entering the district that don’t belong to residents or workers (see this write up [es] for more information).
A similar thought process is being applied on the other side of the Andes, where the government of Buenos Aires, Argentina has proposed higher tolls on the City’s freeway system during rush hour. Although this has been proposed to help raise funds for the freeway system, Buenos Aires’s Chief of Government Mauricio Macri has stated explicitly that the program is also intended to reduce traffic during rush hour [es].
What was the reaction to these proposals? The Chilean proposal has yet to get beyond simply being a nifty set of photoshopped Google maps, and if it goes any further the reaction is likely to be along the lines of what transit specialist Louis de Grange predicts [es]:
Though congestion pricing may well be, in specific cases, a useful tool to manage traffic, to think that it is the solution for Santiago’s congestion problem is probably erroneous. In fact there are various cases in which it simply isn’t convenient to implement such a system, since the social benefits that it generates are less noticeable than the costs of implementing and managing it. Moreover, congestion pricing does not eliminate congestion; it only reduces it, hopefully to a socially optimal level.
In Argentina, plans for the new toll structure quickly turned into something of a political football (or perhaps, fútbol, since this is Argentina). The proposal was attacked by supporters of Marci’s chief political opponent, President Cristina Kirchner, who complained it was an unnecessary burden on middle class users of the freeway system, neglecting to consider how to encourage middle class users to use the transit system. Macri, quick to tout his business background, doubled down on the “government should act like a business” aspect of the plan. Lost in the debate was any attempt to find a solution that was anything more than a plank in either side’s political platform.
What is the main difference between the debate over congestion pricing in countries like England or the US versus countries like Chile or Argentina? Quite simply, congestion pricing in Chile or Argentina is shunned because people feel that they should be driving much more than they currently are. Driving is, of course, a symbol of progress, and anything that gets in the way of this keeps countries from clawing their way upward on the world stage and hurts politicians’ re-election chances. This doesn’t happen as much in England or the US since it would be difficult for people to drive any more than they already do. In these countries, congestion pricing measures are opposed because people see free access to highways as the norm, and any attempt to encourage use of other forms of transit or even a more strategic use of the same mode of transit is seen as a strike against the middle class or worse, an attempt to “make us act poor”.
The unfortunate part of this is that in South American countries, where the 1920s era dream of “a chicken in every pot and a car in every garage” was never acted on with the same immense government spending as in the more industrialized countries, there is a greater opportunity for sustainable urban reform since car-based infrastructure, political blocs, and social patterns aren’t as well established. Unfortunately, trends in these countries seem to be going in the opposite direction.
Time will tell if congestion pricing in some form will take hold in Latin American countries. Until then, they can take heart in the fact that they’ve been able to challenge the first world in an area where until now it’s always had a monopoly: complaining about tolls.
Drew Reed is an online media producer and community activist specializing in sustainable transportation. He lives in Buenos Aires.
This post originally appeared in This Big City.
Tuesday, June 12, 2012
This morning's New York Times science section reported on a Stanford experiment on getting drivers to use the roads on its Palo Alto campus at off-peak times: allow them to enter a lottery to win $50 if they avoid rush hour.
Stanford reports huge success, and so do drivers, who say their commutes have been reduced by as much as 18 minutes, from 25 down to seven.
Here's how the story begins:
"Balaji Prabhakar, a professor of computer science at Stanford University, thinks he has a better way.
A few years ago, trapped in an unending traffic jam in Bangalore, India, he reflected that there was more than one way to get drivers to change their behavior. Congestion charges are sticks; why not try a carrot?"
So, we wondered, could a carrot reduce congestion in a big city, like New York, and not just on Palo Alto's bucolic, palm-lined campus?
Not much enthusiasm for that idea. "How do you pay for it?" wondered Kathryn Wylde, president and CEO of the Partnership for New York City, in an email. Wylde has been a big booster of congestion pricing to reduce traffic in midtown Manhattan. Also, she notes, there's "no net reduction in carbon footprint."
Paul Steely White, president of Transportation Alternatives and Wylde's partner in the failed attempt to bring congestion charging to New York, said he tended to agree with transportation expert Charles Komanoff, who was quoted in the article as saying: “'The incentives will be far too small. You really do need big disincentives (big sticks). Little carrots won’t do the job of changing drivers’ decisions' in New York or in San Francisco."
But White said a pilot "would be great."
Rachel Weinberger, a University of Pennsylvania professor and expert in everything having to do with driving, says there's evidence on both sides. If a woman can reduce her commute by 18 minutes, Weinberger muses, no matter what happens in the lottery, she would have "won" back at least $50 in a month of that kind of time savings.
"It makes me wonder, if as a matter of public policy, we really need to be so concerned about the 'cost' of congestion. In terms of paying people to 'behave the way we want them to' it seems that every time I drive in earlier than the congestion charge takes effect I'm paying myself the charge. "
Weinberger describes a Seattle experiment where people were given an account and then drew down on it according to when they drove -- off-peak was cheaper than peak. In the experiment, they could keep what was left at the end. There was a 5-10 percent drop in driving.
"So there's some evidence that people behave irrationally and some that suggests they behave rationally after all."
Tuesday, April 24, 2012
By Kate Hinds
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo hasn't changed his mind about congestion pricing. Cuomo said there's isn't "political support" to pass it.
Also Tuesday Cuomo was asked the last time he'd ridden the subway. Cuomo said it was before he became Governor. By contrast, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg rides the subway most days. Cuomo grew up in a suburban neighborhood in Queens and now lives in Westchester.
At an event Tuesday in lower Manhattan to highlight the state's efforts to curb distracted driving, WNYC asked the governor if he supported an iteration of a congestion pricing plan.
Former New York City traffic commissioner Sam Schwartz is touting a plan that would toll the East River Bridges while lowering tolls on other, non-Manhattan bound spans in an effort to both reduce congestion and give the city's transit system a funding boost. It's gotten support from some corners -- but New York's politicians are wary.
Here's the exchange:
Q: Have you seen Sam Schwartz’s revised congestion pricing plan? Do you support it?
A: I have not seen it. We’ve talked about congestion pricing for many years. We’ve tried to pass it in the past. It hasn’t passed. I don’t know that anything has happened to change that dynamic. I just don’t know if you have the political support to pass it.
That position is virtually unchanged from his position as a candidate for governor, detailed here.
On the subway, the Governor said:
"Our subway service our bus service is a tremendous asset for the city and the state. It works extraordinary well. It’s a great investment. It’s one we want to continue and grow. We can always make it safer. We can always make it faster. We can always make it cleaner. But it’s a great service."
(with reporting from WNYC's Brigid Bergin)
Wednesday, March 28, 2012
By Jim O'Grady
(New York, NY - WNYC) Rejoicing. Also dread. That's the response from transportation advocates to the latest funding vote from the leadership of New York's transit system.
The board of the NY MTA has approved $13.1 billion to fund the next three years of its capital plan. It will be financed mostly by debt: $7 billion from bonds and $2 billion in low-cost federal loans.
This means the agency is sticking with ambitious projects like the Second Avenue Subway (rejoice!) but a debt crisis looms if the agency doesn't find new sources of revenue soon (dread!).
And that's why money-making transportation ideas will not die, even if they're sure to face serious opposition, like the plan to put tolls on the historically free bridges spanning the East River. Such tolls would produce a dedicated revenue stream for the NY MTA, and that would reduce the political brinkmanship and deficit spending that characterize the funding agreements behind the authority's five-year capital budgets.
The latest version of the tolling plan, promoted by former NYC traffic commissioner Sam Schwartz, would bring in an estimated $1.2 billion a year, two-thirds of which would go to the NY MTA. (Go here for details on how that money would be raised, and here for a PowerPoint version of the plan itself.)
After today's NY MTA board meeting, chairman Joe Lhota was asked whether he'd discussed the plan with elected officials. "I have not talked to anyone other than Sam Schwartz directly on the plan," he said. "So I don't know where it's going."
Then Lhota gently nudged the idea into the debate over long-term transportation funding. "I do believe that people are focused on this," he said. "It'll probably be a very big item during the mayoral race next year."
It's hard to know whether his prediction will come true but it's easy to see why he would want it to be so. The Schwartz plan envisions $8 billion a year in transit capital and $400 million for maintenance projects to keep the system in a "state of good repair." Being able to count on that money would make the planning side of Lhota's job a lot easier. And after all, smoothly functioning subways, buses and commuter trains are essential to the New York City economy. Why shouldn't mayoral candidates be discussing a plan that could stabilize their financing?
But the fate of any tolling scheme ultimately rests with the state. "I have not had any conversations with the governor... regarding Sam Schwartz's plan on congestion pricing," Lhota said later in the day. A spokesman added that, officially, Lhota “has taken no position on the plan."
Of course that doesn't mean he's not rooting for it, at least a little. Governor Andrew Cuomo's office did not immediately respond with a comment on the issue.
Monday, March 05, 2012
By Kate Hinds
New York Times columnist Bill Keller (and former editor-in-chief) put congestion pricing squarely back in the public eye today, with his column backing a plan by noted transportation expert Sam Schwartz.
Schwartz -- known to the masses as "Gridlock Sam"-- is a former New York City traffic commissioner who has long advocated congestion pricing.
Schwartz's plan -- which he's been showing around the city to private groups -- would reduce the costs of some tolls and raise others. That would make driving outside of Manhattan easier and driving into Manhattan south of 60th Street much more costly.
The East River Bridges -- Brooklyn, Ed Koch/Queensboro, Manhattan, and Williamsburg, would have a $7 cash toll, and an $5 EZPass toll. Other bridges -- like the Verrazano, the RFK, and the Bronx Whitestone Bridge would be cheaper.
These tolls and other fees (like ending a parking tax rebate for Manhattanites and adding a taxi surcharge on cab rides south of 86th Street) could raise as much as $1.2 billion annually, Schwartz argues -- money that would then be spent on improving transit and roads.
Schwartz would then target that money to reduce transit fares and to launch new transit lines -- particularly bus rapid transit -- in the outer boroughs where transit service is poor.
Schwartz would also like to see three new pedestrian/bicycle bridges built. One would go from downtown Brooklyn, go through Governors Island and lead to the financial district; another would connect Greenpoint/Long Island City to Manhattan's East Side, and a third would go from Hoboken/Jersey City to Manhattan's West Side.
It's not clear how much political support a plan like this could garner. City Council member Peter Vallone Jr., who represents Astoria, is blunt: "I don't support tolling the East River Bridges," he says. "There are ways to influence congestion without increasing costs to motorists." He'd like to see tolls increase during peak times, but decrease off-hours.
But Kathryn Wylde, the president of the Partnership for New York City says congestion pricing is "something that New York City is going to have to turn to." She adds: "I think that Sam has put forward a very practical approach to mobilizing political support" for it. She says part of the stumbling block in the past has been "you didn’t have any obvious concurrent benefits...that you could point to." This version of the plan -- with its attendant toll reductions and outer borough transit improvements -- "give people a reason to be for it, not simply to be against it."
It's a parity issue, adds Transportation Alternatives head Paul Steely White, who's endorsing the plan. "What you have is a situation where some drivers are paying as much as $11 to take a round trip in their own neighborhoods," he says, "whereas other drivers aren't paying a cent."
The fallout from that is evident in places like downtown Brooklyn, which is inundated with drivers seeking to avoid the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel and its $6.50 toll (or $4.80 for EZPass users) in favor of the free Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges. Tolling those bridges, White says, would make the system "more rational so drivers aren't toll shopping and driving out of their way for a free bridge or tunnel."
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg pushed for congestion pricing in 2007. Although it passed City Council, it died in Albany.
City Hall may like this plan, too. New York City deputy press secretary Marc LaVorgna says of the Schwartz proposal: “The Mayor put forward a comprehensive and bold transportation vision that would have provided billions to create the mass transit system our city needs. But Albany said no, and the MTA continues to struggle.”
But the biggest kick for the plan comes from today's Times Op-Ed page, one of the loudest megaphones you can have.
"You do not have to be an engineer to appreciate the logic," Keller wrote. "The scheme puts the heaviest onus on the solo driver who has ready access to a train, and lowers the cost for drivers who have no alternative. Unlike earlier plans that amounted to a punishing tax on commuters from outlying communities, the Schwartz plan has more affluent neighborhoods (like the plusher parts of Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens) pay a fair share."
TN MOVING STORIES: California's Governor Says Cap-and-Trade Will Fund Bullet Trains, Lots of Christie Loyalists Work at Port Authority
Monday, January 30, 2012
By Kate Hinds
Top stories on TN: House Republicans intend to use their upcoming highway and infrastructure bill to push for approval of the Keystone XL oil sands pipeline. Congressman John Mica says he will unveil a major five-year transportation bill to allow more public private partnerships to expand the capacity of interstate highways. Transportation Nation got a fan-composed jingle. Florida's SunRail commuter line broke ground. And: everything you ever wanted to know about biking in the Bay Area.
Patronage at the Port Authority? Dozens of people with ties to NJ Governor Christie have been hired at the agency. (The Record)
California governor Jerry Brown calls $100 billion high-speed rail estimates "way off," and says cap-and-trade will help fund the program. (Sacramento Bee)
California's low-carbon fuel rule has become embroiled in a fierce public battle and has been barred from being enforced. (Washington Post)
Streetcars will roll out once again in DC in 2013 -- so it's time for a look back at the District's system, 50 years ago. (Washington Post)
San Francisco has removed public seating from almost the entire city to discourage the homeless from using it. (Bay Citizen)
A rail transit hub in downtown Minneapolis that officials want to begin building this year will go up for public review this week. (Star Tribune)
Trading places: London police are running safety events which give bicyclists the chance to experience exactly what a truck driver can -- and can't -- see. (The Guardian)
In New Jersey, toll cheat violations have dropped from 9 percent to 3 percent since photo enforcement began to target scofflaws in the exact change lanes on the Garden State Parkway. (AP via NJ.com)
A Basque company wants to manufacture an electric car that folds upward when parked. (The Economist)
Is President Obama's 2005 Chrysler worth $1 million? (The Takeaway)
A journalist whose bike was stolen -- twice -- puts technology to use for a sting operation. (Outside)
Trouble Finding A Parking Space In San Francisco? There's An App For That -- And It's Changing Parking Meter Prices
Thursday, September 01, 2011
By Casey Miner
(San Francisco – KALW) The city of San Francisco is making its first round of changes to parking meter costs based on data gathered from its street sensors around town. The idea is for meter and garage rates to be based on demand – so popular blocks will cost more, less crowded ones will be cheaper, and everyone will spend a little less time circling the block. How's it working?
According to Jay Primus, the manager of the program, "it’s a little bit like the Goldilocks principle. We don’t want it too hot, we don’t want it too cold – we want it just right. In this case, prices not too high or too low, but just right for the demand we see."
You can hear the whole story over at KALW.
Wednesday, July 20, 2011
By Jim O'Grady
(New York, NY - WNYC) In the summery glare of a July morning, transportation advocates drove antique cars to a wooden toll booth they'd set up on the Manhattan side of the Williamsburg Bridge. Among them, in bow tie and straw hat, was former New York City traffic commissioner Sam Schwartz. He eased his roadster to the booth, stopped and pointedly proffered a dime to pay a toll that had been abolished 100 years ago to the day.
They said eliminating the tolls has cost the city $31 billion in inflation-adjusted revenue, part of which could've been used to maintain the Williamsburg Bridge.
"Every one of those steel beams is new," Schwartz said, gesturing toward the bridge, which underwent a top-to-bottom renovation lasting more than a decade and finishing not long ago.
Those new beams on the Williamsburg Bridge replaced old ones that had become so corroded by the 1980s, the city closed the bridge down. At the same time, the Manhattan Bridge was shaky enough that trains were prevented from crossing it. On the Brooklyn Bridge, a cable snapped and killed a tourist.
It was only then that the city paid for repairs to all of the East River Bridges.
Schwartz says if bridge tolls hadn't been discontinued by Mayor William Gaynor in 1911, who thought the dime payment was too much of a burden, the city would have had enough money for bridge maintenance and major infrastructure projects like the Second Avenue subway.
East River Bridge tolls met their most recent defeat in 2009, when then Lt. Governor Richard Ravitch proposed a bailout plan for the financially strapped NY MTA that included East River bridge tolls and a tax on employers in the suburban counties surrounding New York. Ravitch argued that it makes no sense that some East River's crossings collect tolls--like the Midtown Tunnel and the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge (formerly the Triborough Bridge)--while the Queensboro, Willamsburg, Brooklyn, and Manhattan Bridges do not.
But his plan met stiff opposition in the then-Democratically-controlled State Senate. Rather than bailing out the MTA, senators argued that the MTA was too wasteful to justify a bridge toll hike. In the end, the legislature rejected Ravitch's toll proposal, much as it rejected congestion-pricing a year earlier. Elected officials, like Mayor Gaynor a century before them, saw no reason to burden drivers.
Governor Andrew Cuomo has shown little predilection to support additional fees for drivers (check out his remarks against congestion pricing during the campaign) and the Republican State Senate hasn't either. The see as their constituency men like the driver of a dark blue late-model American car, who was in too much of a hurry to give his name as he waited for the light to turn and cross the Williamsburg Bridge to Brooklyn. Through his rolled-down window, he said: "No, no, no, no. No tolls. None. None whatsoever."
He was feet away from the vintage automobiles and advocates demonstrating for a return of the tolls. But on policy, as befits the divide between drivers and transit riders, he was miles apart.
Tuesday, July 19, 2011
By Jim O'Grady
Transportation advocates drove antique cars to a wooden toll booth they had set up on the Manhattan side of the Williamsburg Bridge Tuesday morning — lamenting the loss of East River tolls that some groups say has cost the city $31 billion in inflation-adjusted revenue.
Friday, April 22, 2011
The irony is that we have congestion pricing in New York City, in that we pay, according to a study by the Partnership for New York, $13 billion a year in terms of time wasted in traffic, in terms of delayed delivery of goods, the fuel we just spend idling...But the joke is on us, because that $13 billion is not being used to improve the transit system, or for better infrastructure; it's going up in smoke.
— David Bragdon, director of New York City's Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability, on The Brian Lehrer Show.
Tuesday, February 08, 2011
Michael Bloomberg came to Albany on Monday asking for money, and painting a grim picture of what New York City would look like if he didn’t get it.
One third of all senior centers, shuttered; thousands of public school teachers, laid off. city government, inefficiently down-sized.
Monday, February 07, 2011
(Albany, New York--Azi Paybarah, WNYC) New York City Mayor Bloomberg was once an advocate for congestion pricing in his city, but since his plan to ease city traffic was never approved by the state, he's never formally tried again to pass it. (Though when asked, he's consistently said he thinks its a good idea.)
Today, he told state lawmakers it’s up to them to push for congestion pricing, or whatever alternative they can come up with. Because he won’t.
During the mayor’s testimony in Albany about the governor’s budget, Bloomberg was asked what he thought about congestion pricing this year. The bill, which he heavily lobbied for in 2007, was narrowly passed in the New York City Council, and was sent up to Albany.
It died in the Assembly when the Democratic conference decided not to let the bill out of committee. (It’s unclear if there were enough votes for it to pass the Republican-controlled State Senate).
“I’m not going to come back and fight that battle,” said Bloomberg, citing the political risk City Council members took in supporting it, only to see it die in Albany without a vote.
Later, when asked if congestion pricing as a “dead” issue, Bloomberg told reporters it’s up to state lawmakers to come up with a way to fund the state’s mass transit’s needs, saying, he is “not going to stand up and campaign for it.”
For more NY politics coverage, visit WNYC's Empire blog.
Monday, February 07, 2011
By Azi Paybarah
Mayor Bloomberg told state lawmakers it's up to them to push for congestion pricing, or whatever alternative they can come up with. Because he won't.
During the mayor's testimony in Albany about the governor's budget, Bloomberg was asked what he thought about congestion pricing this year. The bill, which he heavily lobbied for in 2007, was narrowly passed in the New York City Council, and was sent up to Albany.
It died in the Assembly when the Democratic conference decided not to let the bill out of committee. (It's unclear if there were enough votes for it to pass the Republican-controlled State Senate).
"I'm not going to come back and fight that battle," said Bloomberg, citing the political risk City Council members took in supporting it, only to see it die in Albany without a vote.
Later, when asked if congestion pricing as a "dead" issue, Bloomberg told reporters it's up to state lawmakers to come up with a way to fund the state's mass transit's needs, saying, he is "not going to stand up and campaign for it."
Sunday, February 06, 2011
Opponents of congestion pricing are worried it's about to stage a comeback. Although confident that it would be dead on arrival in Albany, Queens Assemblyman David Weprin voiced concern about a possible resurrection.