Plan to re­lieve Man­hat­tan grid­lock with tolls gains mo­men­tum

The Citizens' Voice - - Nation - By FRANK ELT­MAN

NEW YORK — Bumper-to bumper, horn-honk­ing traf­fic through Man­hat­tan streets is about as New York as bagels and Broad­way. A plan to ease that prob­lem is tap­ping into another main­stay of city life: high driv­ing tolls.

The idea, called “con­ges­tion pric­ing,” in­volves us­ing elec­tronic tolling tech­nol­ogy to charge fees to ve­hi­cles en­ter­ing the most heav­ily traf­ficked parts of town dur­ing cer­tain hours.

Some big cities al­ready do it, in­clud­ing Sin­ga­pore, Stock­holm and Lon­don, where it can cost more than $15 to drive into the city cen­ter dur­ing peak pe­ri­ods.

Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg pro­posed it for New York a decade ago and got a firm re­jec­tion from law­mak­ers who said driv­ers headed into Man­hat­tan al­ready get slammed enough by bridge and high­way tolls and high park­ing fees.

But with the city’s sub­way sys­tem de­te­ri­o­rat­ing, and politi­cians look­ing for ways to pay for a fix, the con­cept has got­ten new life.

Gov. An­drew Cuomo, a Demo­crat who said last sum­mer that “con­ges­tion pric­ing” is an idea whose time has come, could un­veil a plan to im­ple­ment a sys­tem as early as next week. A spokesman for the gover­nor said a com­mit­tee, called FixNY, is fi­nal­iz­ing rec­om­men­da­tions.

Alex Matthiessen, di­rec­tor of the MoveNY cam­paign — the most vo­cal ad­vo­cate for con­ges­tion pric­ing — says New York would be­come the first city in the United States to charge driv­ers un­der such a sys­tem, but said oth­ers like San Fran­cisco, Bos­ton, Chicago and Los An­ge­les are pay­ing close at­ten­tion.

“We have a full-blown cri­sis,” Matthiessen said. “Our sub­way sys­tem is se­verely un­der­funded; it is quite un­re­li­able, there are de­lays and over­crowd­ing and the sit­u­a­tion is po­ten­tially dan­ger­ous. No other idea has the twin ben­e­fit of also tack­ling a very se­vere traf­fic prob­lem.”

There are still plenty of road­blocks.

Demo­cratic New York City Mayor Bill de Bla­sio said he likes the idea of get­ting cars off the street but isn’t con­vinced high tolls is the way to do it.

“I think there are se­ri­ous fair­ness is­sues when it comes to con­ges­tion pric­ing,” he said at a re­cent news con­fer­ence, cit­ing the fi­nan­cial bur­den on driv­ers who can’t af­ford tolls as eas­ily as the many mil­lion­aires who call Man­hat­tan home. De Bla­sio has said he prefers deal­ing with the sub­way’s fi­nan­cial prob­lems by im­pos­ing higher in­come taxes on the rich.

Key de­tails, like how much it might cost, or where, ex­actly, driv­ers might get hit with the tolls have yet to be un­veiled. Bloomberg’s plan would have charged $8 to drive south of 60th Street, or roughly the south­ern end of Cen­tral Park.

Adam Glass­man, a Lyn­brook, Long Is­land-based at­tor­ney, spoke in mid­town Man­hat­tan be­fore get­ting into his car to go home.

“It is im­pos­si­ble to get into the city,” said Glass­man, who is fa­mil­iar with Bloomberg’s pro­posed plan years ago. He com­mutes into Man­hat­tan twice a week.

He’s in fa­vor of pos­si­ble tolls. “I’d be will­ing to suck it up.”

Al­though no spe­cific con­ges­tion pric­ing plan has been for­mally an­nounced, many agree that any sys­tem would be likely to cre­ate sur­charges for ride-hail­ing ser­vices like Uber and Lyft. That’s OK with Uber, which is be­hind a pub­lic re­la­tions cam­paign back­ing con­ges­tion pric­ing.

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