In a bold political initiative, at first given impossible odds, Mayor Bloomberg's Congestion Pricing scheme has picked up unexpected momentum over the past several weeks. The idea is to charge vehicles, $8 initially,to enter Manhattan at any point in Manhattan below 86th Street. The goal is to reduce traffic congestion and thereby emissions throughout Manhattan. The question is, how would this work in reality versus theory, and who will this actually impact?
Given that I live below 86th Street and those of us who do would be exempt, my initial reaction was, great, less traffic and less competition for parking spots. Ideally, I figured that traffic would be reduced somewhere along the lines of 20% or more and I saw myself effortlessly breezing around the city as if it were my own. At the same time, I recognized that if I lived on 87th Street or higher I would probably be Congestion Pricing's most vocal opponent. Imagine having a camera recording your license plate number and automatically charging you $8 for crossing a street on the border. What if you live on 87th and always find parking on 85th? Obviously, an invisible wall would form. Not only would you not cross 86th Street, suddenly you'd have competition for parking with every yocal coming to town that didn't want to spring the $8. In effect, traffic would likely increase dramatically in the areas right outside the zone and make parking in those areas an absolute nightmare. I'm sensing some serious inequalities developing and the "Haves" would be South of 86th Street and the "Have-Nots" would be north of 86th Street and in the outer boroughs.
Secondly, who are we penalizing and who will actually be discouraged from driving? Unfortunately, in practice, I believe that those most advesly affected will be New York's hard working lower and middle classes, while tourists, wealthy New Yorkers, and tri-state visitors will be rewarded. The signal sent around the world by adopting Congestion Pricing in Manhattan will be that driving in Manhattan will be more managable. For a tourist or tri-state visitor who is used to paying $400/night for a hotel room or $40 for an hour of midtown parking, what's $8 in the sceme of things? That $8 is reduced further under the plan for people using the bridges and tunnels because the toll paid would be deducted from the $8. On the other hand, there is no doubt that those making a living wage or less are far less likely to enter the zone. So, in effect, wouldn't we be replacing low income drivers with people from outside the city that have difficulty driving and clog up traffic in the first place? Is this really fair to all New Yorkers? Hardly!
So what can be done? Here are some ideas:
1- If you do implement congestion pricing, exempt all taxpayers with a registration inside city limits and do not allow out of town vistors to deduct tolls from the $8 price.
2- Limit truck deliveries between 6 am and 7pm. Trucks double parking for deliveries are the single biggest cause of traffic in the city. Just drive up 3rd Avenue in the 70's any day of the week and witness double parking on both sides of the street. Trucks entering Manhattan should either come between 8pm and 6 am, or pay a stiff fee to enter, perhaps $40 or more per day.
3- Dedicate 60 feet of truck delivery parking on each Avenue block in the city. Something along the size of a bus stop on the opposite side of the street would allow trucks to delivery without clogging up traffic.
4- Strictly enforce and increase penalties for double parking.
5- Encourage mass transit by keeping fares where they are.
6- Increase the amount and safety of bike lanes and give every New Yorker a tax deduction of $200 if they use it to buy a bike.
It will be interesting to see how this plan pans out. Mayor Bloomberg has garnered support by offering new train stations in lesser served communities and the plan looks like it has a chance. I urge the Mayor to consider his plan's impact on New York's working class and to consider additional and/or additional measures to curb congestion in the city.