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.