Thursday, June 21, 2007

The Congestion Tax

There's been a lot of talk in New York City recently about a plan put forward by Mayor Bloomberg to create an electronic vehicle entry fee for cars and trucks entering Manhattan below 86th Street - $8 per day for cars and $21 per day for trucks from 6 am to 6 pm, Monday through Friday. Certain vehicles, like taxicabs, would be exempt. The idea is that traffic congestion will be eased because fewer vehicles will enter the city.

Now here is a subject that I can rightfully proclaim myself to be an expert in. There are subjects that I pretend to be an expert in - like baseball and Humphrey Bogart movies - but after 29 years of navigating the streets of New York City, this one is my baby. Hell, I could sell my services as a consultant here. Sit down, Mayor Bloomberg. I am the man.

Now you might expect me to be in favor of this thing because it wouldn't affect me personally and it might relieve the traffic jams I am stuck in. But I'm not. I am against the plan. Here's why...

1. It won't work. When I am sitting in traffic in Midtown, I look around and what do I see? Other taxicabs, other for-hire vehicles, buses, trucks, and some private cars, pretty much in that order. The cabs, buses, and for-hire vehicles are exempt, so nothing is affected there. The trucks will pass along any cost-of-doing-business increases along to the consumer, thus making the plan inflationary. And the private cars for the most part are already paying a fortune in parking fees, so another $8 is not likely to make much of a dent in their numbers.

2. It's elitist. Big companies and individual fat cats wouldn't notice this tax any more than they would notice the price of a bottle of Dom Perignon going up a few dollars. But the "little guy" would. It would be the small business owner and middle-class Joes who would suffer from it and, don't forget, it is this class of people who are providing services to those who have the wherewithal to live in Manhattan below 86th Street. You need the service people to be able to get to you.

Let me tell you something. Since 1977 I have been listening to suggestions from frustrated passengers on how to ease traffic congestion in Manhattan. Some of my favorites:

*** Ban trucks except at night. (A common sentiment.)

*** Ban private cars altogether. (Hear it all the time.)

*** Ban pedestrians. (All right, that's my own idea. I hate pedestrians!)

*** Build cement walls in the Lincoln and Holland Tunnels when nobody's looking to get rid of all the New Jersey drivers.

*** Parking tickets are not enough. Bring back the pillories and water dunking to publicly humiliate offenders.

*** Pay really mean-looking people to stand at the bridge and tunnel entrances and give the finger to motorists bringing their private cars into the city.

*** Bring in the National Guard. Or the Marines. Or the Mob. Or Guiliani.

*** Just make Joe Torre the traffic commissioner.

All kidding aside, here are my own thoughts about easing traffic congestion in Manhattan. These would not make as much money as a congestion tax, but they would work.

a) Make it absolutely unthinkable to double-park in Midtown. A double-parked vehicle takes up a what should be a moving lane and slows down everything behind it. All the enforcement resources available should make this particular offense their number one target, and a massive public relations campaign is needed to educate the public on this. Hey, once it was socially acceptable not to clean up after your dog. Now that is a total faux pas and there's no dog shit in the streets. The same should be true about double-parking. A crime against humanity!

b) Make ferry service abundant and cheap. You want fewer vehicles on the island of Manhattan? Make municipal ferry service the obvious way to go. That means enormous parking lots in Brooklyn and Queens and frequent ferries across the East River and frequent buses greeting passengers on the Manhattan side. And it must be so cheap that traveling this way would be a no-brainer. The NY Waterway, which runs ferries from Weehawken, New Jersey, to the west side of Manhattan is a great idea but it's run by an individual for profit and is expensive. Ferry service must be super cheap and run by the city itself.

c) Put enough traffic cops on the streets to eliminate gridlock. People who are stuck in traffic love to blame a traffic cop if they see one. I disagree. These guys and gals are needed at every key intersection - especially on all the streets leading to the bridges and tunnels, like Canal Street - to do one thing: prevent gridlock. But there aren't nearly enough of them. Here's an idea. Take some of the people who spend their time writing tickets on illegally parked cars and redeploy them to directing traffic. Or (since that would never happen) use the funds derived from tickets on illegally parked cars to hire more traffic cops who actually do direct traffic. What an idea.

d) For God's sake, get rid of the street fairs! Okay, this is a weekend problem, not a Monday to Friday problem. But it is a problem and one that is totally created by the city itself and could easily be eliminated. These so-called "street" fairs shut down traffic on major avenues every weekend once the weather is warm and cause massive congestion. And what are they? Nothing more than flea markets selling schlocky merchandise. Hundreds of thousands of people are inconvenienced for the benefit of a very few. They must go!

So there it is, an educated opinion. We'll see how this thing goes. It should be interesting.


NYC taxi photo said...

very nice post, i can imagine the public being very educated by it. I like your alternative ideas. Here is another one (and i'm serious) how about ban parking! just get rid of parking in manhattan all together. we would finally be able to pull over to pick up and drop off. Yes commercial vehicles would still retain unloading privilages.

However i still feel that the congestion plan is a good idea. The commercial trucks are the biggest problem, from bottlenecking, and overcrowding our streets. if this congestion plan goes into effect which it probably won't. perhaps more deliveries WOULD happen after hours. trader joe's and whole foods already imploy people around the clock to take in shipments when the stores are closed.

sam shwartz the former traffic commisioner, has a few more ideas:
1.make transit authority prices lower in the far regions of the city.
2.get rid of tolls in uncongested areas, while adding tolls in congestion zones. eg, take out the verrazanno, the marine bridge in queens, and the throgs neck, while adding at the brroklyn, manhattan and willi b.

3 the ferry idea is great, i think there should be more ferries too, or a better add campaign for that aswell.

i'm starting to realize the value in traffic cops too. i call 311 now and ask for one, when i think one should be deployed.

Paradise Driver said...

I am confused. This "Fee". How is it going to be collected? I can see putting up "inbound" toll booths on the various bridges and tunnels that enter Manhattan below 86th but what about vehicles that exit from the perimeter highways or traverse the surface streets from above 86th? How will their fees be collected?

As far as double parking, How about just having a huge fleet of tow trucks cruising Manhattan, immediately towing any double parked vehicle. Take a picture of the illegally parked car and then the wayward vehicle is taken to a car crusher. The registered and legal owners are delivered a copy of the citation (summons) by mail, with a copy of the picture attached and also an image of the little cube it has become. The city sells the scrap and the owner is fined for double parking, towing and conversion.

True, very draconian, but it would be effective.

Anonymous said...

That sucks why is New York so over regulated I would hate to have to pay money like that just to drive into the city of course if you have ever been to down town cleveland there are no traffic jams or gridlock its pritty easy driving. (MJ06)

Eugene Salomon said...

Foreman - Ban parking! Actually, you know, in Midtown that has basically already happened. Almost all the curb space is either reserved for trucks, buses, or taxis. My opinion is that drastic measures to eliminate double-parking would handle the truck congestion. I like your use of 311. Do you think it's gotten a response? Another thing - can you think of any intersections where a new left-turn arrow should be added? I would like to see them on 67th and CPW, in both directions.

Wil - the fees would be registered electronically, Big Brother style, when vehicles pass south of 86th Street. It's the same technology as what is called EZ Pass here when cars go through a toll booth. It is automatically recorded. If the vehicle doesn't have the device a picture is taken of the license plate and the bill shows up in the mail. As far as your enforcement idea is concerned, all I can say is you may have the makings of a Great Leader!

MJ - I have driven a car in downtown Cleveland. It was like a jaunt on a country road.

NYC taxi photo said...

wow yeah, 67th and cpw makes sense, and makes me think about 65th and 72nd. all just more reason for me not to drive week(days), so much car and pedestrian traffic. oh and york and 60's maybe, i dunno.

Mike S said...

Stole my tow truck comment, but added the crusher part. The cost of lawsuits from "crushed owners" would be prohibitive. The ferry idea is good, the cops as well. Maybe a whole traffic police entity with nothing but traffic cops?

Paradise Driver said...

The "E-Z Pass" would only work for autos with NY plates. The city can send out the summons to out of state cars but, since it would be a misdemeanor at best, there could be no enforcement action against the vehicles owners. True a warrant might be issued for non-payment but, unless the offending vehicle is apprehended within the confines of NYC or New York State, no out-of-state law enforcement agency is going to make an arrest.

States will only extradite for felonies.

Eugene Salomon said...

Mike - NYC actually does already have a separate traffic police entity in the Traffic Dept. These are the guys who write parking tickets and direct traffic, although regualar NYPD sometimes do that as well. Only the NYPD gives moving violation tickets, however.

Wil - I could be wrong but I believe there is reciprocity with other states regarding paying parking fines and tolls. I believe the cooperating state won't issue a new registration until the tickets are settled. In any case, the mayor and his planners apparently have confidence that the technology exists to do this all electronically. No one is suggesting puttting up toll booths at 86th Street!

Paradise Driver said...

G.S. the way the law works (I know from experience) is that no penalty can be transmitted to another State unless there is a conviction. A warrant for arrest will not be honored unless it is for a felony. I stopped a guy once who had over 300 outstanding parking tickets. We contacted NYPD and they refused to extradite. Kicked the guy loose.

What people think and how the law actually works is often in conflict.

As far as the crushing of cars, California already has a law like that for street racers. Not only is the driver arrested but so is the vehicle. This has also been the practice re vehicles used to transport narcotics for sale.

The arresting agency gets the vehicle on remand from the court, after conviction, and may do with it as it sees fit.

Pretty kewl to see a grown man bawl as his new Lexus or Beamer is turned into scrap. :)

Roy, Dublin Taxi Driver said...

Here in Dublin they have banned 5 axle vehicles from the centre, it has relieved congestion a little, the next step is to charge a congestion fee to private cars entering the centre, It's worked in London and that seems to be the template for the rest of the planet.

Anonymous said...

You have some really good ideas there. how can we get Mayor Blumberg to read them?
Handsome Harry

Anonymous said...

I think Mayor Nanny Bloomie is a very arrogant man. I also highly doubt he rides the subway that much. He's the mayor, I want someone driving him around so he can work and make calls and stuff. New Yorkers shouldn't want him wasting all that time on the subway.

We all have to wonder what Bloomberg is really thinking of with this congestion pricing tax scheme. Maybe he mostly just wants a new tax. Just wrap it up in ‘concern for the environment’, and then people can just demonize those who oppose it.

If he cares so much about traffic jams, congestion and air pollution, why does he let Park Avenue be blocked off? Why doesn’t he do anything about that?

It's true, Pershing Square Restaurant blocks Park Avenue going South at 42nd St. for about 12 hours a day/5 months of the year! This Causes Massive Congestion and Air Pollution!

But apparently it does not bother NYC’s Nanny-in-Chief Mike “Congestion Pricing Tax” Bloomberg?

It certainly supports his claim that the city is hugely congested.

Check out the map!

Check it out!


Little Blue PD


Eugene Salomon said...

LBPD - I think it's simply that - just another tax in sheep's clothing. Your point about the Pershing Square restaurant is spot on. It is outrageous that a private enterprise has been granted the use of a key mid-city street for their own use, causing vehicles to drive all the way to 2nd Avenue before 7 pm in order to make a right turn!

Anonymous said...

G.S. - Cool, I'm glad you agree, most people seem to think it outrageous when they hear about it. But it is actually "OPEN 11AM- 11PM DAILY". So thanks for spreading the word on this, I figure if enough people know about this then the MSM will have to write about it.

Hopefully this will be another example of 'News' emerging from blogs.

Imagine let's say, a person in a wheelchair taking a cab from Madison and 42nd pointing east, and they want to go to Park and 41st. Look how easy it should be just going one crosstown and one downtown block, and then look at the route the cab would have to take with the obstruction:

Go East on 42nd from Madison past Park to Lexington, down Lexington to 39th, west on 39th to Madison, uptown to 41st, and back east to 41st and Park.

That of course is just one example of the absurd routes that drivers are forced to take, and that Taxi passengers have to sit in traffic and pay for; it's a scandal just waiting to break.



Eugene Salomon said...

LBPD - actually, it's worse than that! You can't turn right on Lexington from 42nd Street until 7 pm, M -F. So in your hypothetical route, the taxi would have to drive all the way to 2nd Avenue!

Anonymous said...

Yes! Excellent! I wasn't sure about that. That makes it even worse. Thanks for pointing that out.

Anonymous said...

hya,,,you think new york's bad,you ought to see bridlington,,east riding of yorkshire,england not far from old york,,,,,the town road planners have virtualy turned the town center into one big taffic jam with their anti car policies,,,
were is new york by thw way,,is it in alabama
well av a good day'
christopher taylor,,,,,,:-)