Beginning in 2007, NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg tried - and failed - to implement the first traffic congestion fee program in the United States. Modeled after successful programs in London, Singapore, and Stockholm, the plan would have charged an entrance fee to any private vehicle entering downtown Manhattan and revenue from the program would be directed toward the region’s mass transit system. By looking back at the program’s eventual defeat, we can see the complex interaction of local, state, and national politics.
|NYC Traffic Data Viewer, displaying average daily traffic volumes. It's hard to see, but interactive! Click to explore.|
Road congestion is severe in NYC. The 2012 TTI Urban Mobility Report ranks the New York metro area as the 4th most congested very large city, with the average auto commuter encountering 59 hours of delay each year. The NYC congestion fee was an attempt to address this problem by charging a daily fee (minus any bridge tolls already paid) for any private auto entering the downtown Manhattan area between 6 am and 6 pm. Because the fee area included state-owned roads and the program used state funds, approval from the New York State legislature in Albany was required for implementation.
Part of the funding for the project was to come from the USDOT’s Urban Partnership competitive grant program. NYC was selected as one of the finalists, and offered $354 million in funding including $10 million for the congestion fee program.
Support, and Opposition
The plan received the support of diverse stakeholders including the Governor and many elected officials. New York City residents generally supported the proposal, with some surveys finding over 60% support (depending on how it's explained). However, the plan also met significant opposition, especially from the outer boroughs. The Bronx, particularly, relies on routes through Manhattan to reach the mainland. Other reasons for opposition included concern that neighborhoods on the outside edge of the fee zone would become a “parking lot” for drivers looking to avoid the fee, and concerns that the plan was a regressive burden on low and middle-income families.
Death by Inaction
Though the New York City Council approved the plan, it was never brought to a vote in Albany because of perceived opposition. Because the federal funding package was contingent on the plan receiving approval from Albany before a deadline of April 2008, the money was redirected to other congestion reduction projects in LA and Chicago.
What do you think?
Should the congestion fee plan have been brought to a state-wide vote? Are congestion fees a good way to reduce congestion, or is there a better alternative? Were the concerns of the opposition valid, and could they have been avoided?
Thanks to Brett Lezon for providing editorial services to this post.
An in-depth review of how Stockholm residents voted to make a trial congestion pricing plan permanent (link prompts pdx log in):
Hårsman, B. and Quigley, J. M. (2010), Political and public acceptability of congestion pricing: Ideology and self-interest. J. Pol. Anal. Manage., 29: 854–874. doi: 10.1002/pam.20529
The NYCDOT retrospective review of the congestion pricing experience and implications:
Schaller, B (2010). New York City’s Congestion Pricing Experience and the Implication for Road Pricing Acceptance in the United States. Transport Policy 17 (2010) 266-273