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Congestion Pricing: Short-Sighted Solution or Necessary Innovation?

Updated: Jun 18

Introduction to New York City's Congestion Pricing Initiative

Our Industry is focusing on the new program of “Congestion Pricing” planned to roll out in New York City this spring. The program is designed to reduce the number of cars using the streets and parking of a major metropolitan area and is similar to “Demand Based Pricing.” Congestion Pricing will cover all of Manhattan south of 60th. If you drive into that area between 5am-9pm on weekdays or 9am-9pm on weekends, then a license plate reader will grab your license plate and you will receive a bill for at least $15. 

 

Impact of Extended Congestion Pricing Hours on NYC's Economy and Infrastructure

We thought it interesting that congestion pricing extends to 9pm as if it is designed to hit the high-demand times for the theater, restaurants, and other nighttime entertainment, as well as daily business commuters. It is expected to raise about $1 billion annually and will fund maintenance on roads, rails, and bus services; what is left will go to upgrading mass transit so the drivers of the displaced cars may have a train to ride. 


Projected Impact of Congestion Pricing on Traffic and Transit in Manhattan 

Additionally, the program will boost tolls by 25 percent during so-called gridlock alert days, holiday season days, and UN General Assembly. MTA (the transit people in NYC) officials anticipate Congestion Pricing will cut the number of daily vehicles entering the district by as much as 20 percent, which is about 150,000 cars. The new toll to enter Manhattan could be as much as $23 during peak hours and higher rates for vehicles without the easy pass. A rush-hour commuter from New Jersey to central Manhattan already pays roughly $30 tolls round trip to use in New Jersey Turnpike, plus the cost of parking. It must be said that alongside these projected numbers, there is no method to measure the number of commuters who will stop driving and start using a mass transit system. Do the mass transit systems already in place have the capacity to support an additional 150,000 daily commuters? 


Advocating for Long-Term Solutions in Transportation Policy 

We want to make it clear that we are not against anything that helps improve our day-to-day working, social, and family lives, but we are against changes that are shortsighted solutions to big problems, like this “Congestion Pricing” program. Discounting planes, cars represent 87 percent of the methods used to move people around. That’s 87 percent of American commuters who require parking! Our Industry is a support service to the 87 percent, and until we have a better alternative, we must continue to do an excellent job providing for our community. 

 

What is the projected impact of the Congested Pricing Program?


So, here we are with a program designed to reduce the number of cars coming into the city. When you examine the human impact of congestion pricing, it seems hard to reconcile the gain with the loss. In this program, people will have to pay $15-36 per day to drive to work; in 2024, there will be 261 working days, so this amounts to $3,915 a year in Congestion Pricing fees for every school teacher, business associate, and barber. This financial burden on individuals and families will cause a financial domino effect on the city by increasing the loss in parking and entertainment revenue for the city’s shopping districts. 


The city will gain revenue from the program’s fees and enjoy more breathing room from the decreased traffic. Ideally, the revenue will improve the mass transit programs, which would benefit everyone. However, during the pandemic, there was a large drop in the number of commuters using mass transit, and here we are in 2024 and the numbers are still way down. You must ask the question: is congestion pricing a method to reduce traffic or is it just a user fee generator that harms a large number of people and businesses? 

 

The Remaining Issue


When we talk about taking steps like congestion pricing to reduce the number of cars, we must take the other step that seems to be almost impossible. The number of motor vehicle commuters has remained at 87 percent since the 1950s and the number of people who take mass transit or bike, walk, or something has remained at 13 percent. Those numbers should, at least, begin to form an understanding that mass transit over the years has not met the challenge. Yet we are taking these big steps betting that for some reason we will move people out of cars and into a broken mass transit system. If we are taking the position that mass transit is the only method to reduce the number of cars thus reducing driving lanes, improving commute times, reducing climate change and failing to build affordable housing, then we have to take seriously the 87 percent/13 percent rule. 


Rethinking Transportation Priorities: Enhancing Mass Transit for Urban Mobility


Instead of attacking how many parking spaces we have and the never-ending demand for expanding roadways, we should be allocating our time and money towards the mass transit system. Why do people not use the mass transit system that is already in place? What improvements could be made to improve their reliability and attractiveness? We seem to be at a point where we have lost our ability to solve the problem by traditional means. 


Again, the percentage of commuters who use mobility means other than cars has been sitting at about 13 percent since the 1950s. So, the transportation industry is receiving a 13 percent return on its mass transit product. At some point, you must look at the data and ask the question, why? Why is our participation rate only 13 percent versus 87 percent of people who drive cars? From a pure business perspective, congestion pricing is an attempt to force people unwillingly into your failed product.


Reimagining Urban Transport: Moving Towards Sustainable Solutions


When you look at the bigger problem, supporting our communities and cities is a transportation network designed in the 50s and 60s that was a tremendous success up until now. The transportation network of the past is not a program that can carry us to the future. To try to understand how to keep our communities healthy it seemed that we needed some major innovation and expansion of mass transit. This is difficult for a parking person to say but it is the reality if we want to continue with healthy cities. 


The transportation engineer that I’m listening to right now discusses why traffic is so bad in Los Angeles. He proposed adding a toll to reduce traffic by just 5 percent to allow commuters to travel and arrive at their destinations faster. But he made this kind of statement without any regard for the reality or consequences of the lost 5 percent. The goal should be to improve and increase demand in our communities, businesses, retail, entertainment, and medical services! We should be making changes and rearranging funds to get everyone to their destination!

 

Improve Mass Transit


The Obama administration produced a 230-page report titled “Beyond Traffic 2045” with the understanding that by 2045, the traffic problem would be solved. The quick summary was that spending more money on a mass transit system to be built and maintained would move people out of cars, protect the climate, and build affordable housing. This article is not a place to summarize this large report, but we can pull out a couple of numbers that jumped off the pages. 

In LA, the Metrorail extends the Purple line from downtown through Beverly Hills then to UCLA and ending at the VA Medical Center on Wilshire Blvd and the 405 freeway. A total of 9.4 miles for $2.1 Billion, which is $223 million per mile. The planned time to complete this project was 6 to 7 years. (Note: We built 2,000 miles of the intercontinental railway in 1853 in 7 years.) In another city, the plan was for a 14-mile extension at $2 Billion or $142.8 million per mile. Not included in the Beyond Traffic study was some information on plans to build high-speed rail from LA to San Francisco and from Houston to Dallas. Eight years ago, the cost was proposed as $20 million per mile. Now 8 years later for both projects, the costs have jumped to over $120 million per mile. As you can see, the costs are staggering.

 

In conclusion, New York City’s Congestion Pricing program is yet another attempt for politicians to burden individuals and families of their beautiful city while providing them with no benefits or real solutions to the real problems. Beware all: this buzzword program will spread and come to a city near you!

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