NYC eyes toll as snarl takes toll

Man­hat­tan work­ing on de­tails to charge driv­ers, a first in U.S.

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - MARYLAND - By Deepti Ha­jela

NEW YORK — New York City is set to be­come the first Amer­i­can me­trop­o­lis that seeks to ease traf­fic con­ges­tion, cut pol­lu­tion and boost mass tran­sit by charg­ing mo­torists a hefty toll for the priv­i­lege of driv­ing into its most crammed ar­eas. So can it work?

If the ex­pe­ri­ence of other cities around the world that have tried it is any in­di­ca­tion, the answer ap­pears to be yes. Lon­don, Singapore and Stock­holm have all re­ported that “con­ges­tion pric­ing” sys­tems sim­i­lar to the one now be­ing planned for Man­hat­tan led to ini­tial re­duc­tions in traf­fic and im­prove­ments in air qual­ity, while cre­at­ing a steady stream of rev­enue to sup­port pub­lic tran­sit and other in­fra­struc­ture.

“New York is a prime ex­am­ple of cities where it tends to work, which is very high den­sity, with rel­a­tively good pub­lic trans­porta­tion” or at least the skele­ton of a good sys­tem, said John Ren­nie Short, pro­fes­sor of pub­lic pol­icy at the Uni­ver­sity of Mary­land Bal­ti­more County.

But crit­i­cal ques­tions still to be re­solved that could de­ter­mine what the ex­per­i­ment ul­ti­mately looks like and whether it is suc­cess­ful, ex­perts said.

New York has to work out de­tails of the plan, which would use a net­work of li­cense plate read­ers to bill ve­hi­cles for us­ing sur­face roads any­where in Man­hat­tan south of Cen­tral Park. That in­cludes the cost of the toll, which is likely to be more than $10.

Will the tolls raise enough money to make the city’s strained mass tran­sit sys­tem re­li­able? Is there enough al­ter­na­tive trans­porta­tion for com­muters who de­cide to give up their cars? How will the tolling sys­tem af­fect the de­liv­ery trucks, taxis and ride-shar­ing ve­hi­cles that now com­prise a big pro­por­tion of Man­hat­tan traf­fic? And will so many ve­hi­cles be made ex­empt from the tolls that the ef­fect on travel pat­terns is min­i­mal?

Mitchell Moss, direc­tor of the Rudin Cen­ter for Trans­porta­tion Pol­icy and Man­age­ment at New York Uni­ver­sity, pre­dicted that in the end the city might see only a mod­est de­cline in traf­fic, as peo­ple ei­ther ab­sorb the cost and keep driv­ing, or switch to ser­vices like Uber and Lyft.

“We’re not go­ing to see peo­ple aban­don their cars to get into the sub­way,” he said.

Pri­mar­ily, he said, the sys­tem is likely to ben­e­fit the pub­lic trans­porta­tion sys­tem, which now has a new source of rev­enue for much-needed re­pairs and up­grades.

New York state leg­is­la­tors ap­proved a con­cep­tual plan Mon­day for the tolling sys­tem, which would sup­ple­ment an ex­ist­ing net­work of bridge and tun­nel tolls that charge $9.50 to $15 for ve­hi­cles com­ing into Man­hat­tan via seven of the 20 bridges and tun­nels lead­ing onto the is­land.

A panel will now be con­vened to set the toll prices — one re­cent pro­posal sug­gested around $12 for pas­sen­ger ve­hi­cles — and cre­ate pos­si­ble ex­emp­tions or cred­its for some driv­ers. That could in­clude dis­counts for mo­torists al­ready pay­ing a toll to en­ter Man­hat­tan. The ear­li­est the tolls could be­gin is Dec. 31, 2020.

One model for the sys­tem has ex­isted since 2003 in Lon­don, which of­fers ev­i­dence that the sys­tem could work — and a cau­tion­ary note for how it may need to adapt over time.

Ini­tially, Lon­don charged driv­ers 5 pounds, or about $6.50, to come into the cen­tral part of the city dur­ing the work­week.

The toll ini­tially had a con­sid­er­able ef­fect. In its first year, con­ges­tion dropped 30 per­cent, buses got 6 per­cent faster and there was a 12 per­cent re­duc­tion in emis­sions.

In re­cent years, how­ever, con­ges­tion has dra­mat­i­cally wors­ened, de­spite the fee ris­ing to 11.50 pounds, about $15, per day. Of­fi­cials say that was due in large part to the flood of app-based forhire ve­hi­cles like Uber, which were ini­tially ex­empt from the tolls. As a re­sult, the city is lift­ing the ex­emp­tion start­ing Mon­day.

In Stock­holm, a pi­lot pro­gram that was put in place with less-than-en­thu­si­as­tic pub­lic sup­port in 2006 be­came much more pop­u­lar as peo­ple saw im­me­di­ate drops in con­ges­tion and air pol­lu­tion, so much so that res­i­dents voted to make it per­ma­nent in 2007.

Singapore’s sys­tem has been around since the 1970s.

About 717,000 ve­hi­cles a day en­ter the Man­hat­tan zone con­sid­ered for the pro­gram, a re­cent city study said. One es­ti­mate said a con­ges­tion pric­ing plan with an $11.52 toll could re­duce traf­fic by 13 per­cent and raise gross rev­enues of $1.1 bil­lion per year, much of which would go to sup­port trains and buses af­ter ex­penses.

“Even a small re­duc­tion in traf­fic can have a sub­stan­tial im­pact on the larger traf­fic net­work,” said Kate Slevin, se­nior vice pres­i­dent of state pro­grams and ad­vo­cacy at Re­gional Plan As­so­ci­a­tion, an ad­vo­cacy or­ga­ni­za­tion that sup­ports the con­ges­tion toll.

Asked about con­cerns over whether such a be­lea­guered tran­sit sys­tem could even han­dle more rid­ers if peo­ple de­cided not to drive into Man­hat­tan, Slevin pointed out that tran­sit of­fi­cials have al­most two years to take steps that will help, like re­do­ing bus routes.

“The good news is there’s go­ing to be a cou­ple of years be­fore the con­ges­tion toll is turned on,” she said.


About 717,000 ve­hi­cles a day en­ter the Man­hat­tan zone tar­geted for a con­ges­tion toll, ac­cord­ing to a re­cent city study.

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