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Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Congestion Pricing Passes in NYC!

posted by on April 1 at 10:23 AM

And yes, like Clark, I am inordinately excited:

Moments before 6 p.m., a City Council committee approved the measure, known as a home-rule request, which was needed before the State Legislature can act on the plan, whose fate in Albany is uncertain.

The congestion pricing plan, as approved by a 17-member state commission that voted at the end of January, would charge drivers with an E-ZPass $8 a day to enter Manhattan below 60th Street on weekdays from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Those drivers would also receive a credit for bridge or tunnel tolls they paid on the same day. Drivers without an E-ZPass would pay $9 and would not receive credit for tolls.

The plan is similar to one proposed by Mayor Bloomberg last April but that plan would have established a northern boundary at 86th Street and included a $4 charge for car trips within the congestion zone.

The mayor has noted that the city will qualify for $354 million in federal grants for mass transit improvements if congestion pricing is approved.

Congestion pricing isn‘t exactly what’s planned for this region. With commutes spread out all over the place (unlike New York, most commutes aren’t from the suburbs to downtown Seattle, so drawing a ring around downtown doesn’t make as much sense), the closest thing we can do is toll the two bridges over Lake Washington. However, I think that within ten years, we can expect to see tolls not just across the bridge, but throughout the whole regional highway system—and high time, too.

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I had forgotten about the toll on the Tacoma Bridge, until I was hit with hit a couple weekends ago. The whole ordeal wasn't NEARLY as bad as I expected -- I had no cash on me but I just handed the person my debit card and twenty seconds later I was on my way. The toll lady was friendly, too.

Posted by Katelyn | April 1, 2008 10:29 AM

Congestion pricing & bridge tolls are bullshit. If you want to cost people out of cars, tax the hell out of the gasoline. Why invent new bureaucracies who have their own mouths to feed, and which will collect data on our comings-and-goings?

Posted by Karlheinz Arschbomber | April 1, 2008 10:30 AM

Well, with the tolling on I-5, SR-520 bridge, I-90 bridge, and SR-99 Viaduct, and it being variable tolling based on congestion ...

Yeah, we'll have that.

I especially like the new Eyman tax which puts a 200 percent surcharge on all people who file more than two state initiatives that are declared unconstitutional. Now that was a sweet touch ...

Posted by Will in Seattle | April 1, 2008 10:36 AM

while i don't want new bureaucracies, the "congestion" tax isn't meant to discourage all driving, just driving in areas where this is... congestion. a gasoline tax doesn't really fit that bill (unless it is only charged in areas of congestion, which gets weird).

Posted by infrequent | April 1, 2008 10:46 AM

Before any Congestion Pricing scheme is instituted (or at the very least simultaneous with), wholesale improvements in transit services must be provided in those corridors -- otherwise, we will just overload the parallel arterials, which were never designed to accommodate spillover traffic from urban freeways (I know; I live on one).

Posted by Transit Voter | April 1, 2008 10:51 AM

Instead of taxing congested areas, let's tax drivers who clog traffic for hours while trying to turn left. Seriously. Left-hand-turners are the bane of my commute.

Posted by Katelyn | April 1, 2008 10:53 AM


Especially the ones who are making an illegal fucking turn. I swear at least half the congestion on Denny is the fault of those bastards.

Posted by keshmeshi | April 1, 2008 10:56 AM

@2: Because people prefer tolling, as a number of polls have recently shown.

Several other reasons are:

1.) Because of the Prius effect, gas tax revenue needed for maintenance is projected to drop. You could keep bumping up the gas tax, but Americans really fight this.

2.) Burning gas doesn't wear out roads -- miles driven does. With tolls, price is more directly tied to maintenance costs.

3.) Tolls are a much more geographically precise tool. You price a specific congested corridor; taxes get spread all over the state.

4.) Gas taxes are not time sensitive. In urban areas, highway costs are driven by peak daily capacity; charging more to drive at peak times is another way to tie the cost of driving directly to the cost of the infrastructure that makes driving possible.

Posted by scotto | April 1, 2008 11:05 AM

Hmm..what do NYC and London have that Seattle doesnt? A rapid mass transit system that actually works and gives people an alternative to driving. That has to be in place FIRST if tolling ever is going to work without killing your economy. A slow bus system just doesnt cut it. If tolling all highways in the region is approved as a measure here, I will seriously either consider moving out of the area, or drive on residential streets and arterials all day long to get to where I need to go and I know I'm not the only one.

Posted by Brian in Seattle | April 1, 2008 11:06 AM

I doubt that in New York, most commutes are from the suburbs to downtown. I imagine the percentage is similar to here; New York is a vast conurbation. What's different is just the sheer volume and concentration of commuters trying to enter Midtown and Wall Street, but there are loads of people driving around Brooklyn, Queens, Long Island, New Jersey, etc. who don't work in the southern tip of Manhattan.

This kind of sucks for people who live and/or work in (relatively) uncongested parts of Manhattan, between the two belts of skyscrapers -- or does it give you a pass if your car never LEAVES the zone?

Posted by Fnarf | April 1, 2008 11:19 AM

and tolls are soooooo fair to the poor!!

give me a motherfucking you really think a $5 or $8 or $10 toll is going to force the hordes of SUV driving eastsiders into a mass transit system that isn't sufficiently developed to support a huge surge in ridership?

no. a few, maybe, but not that many and meanwhile the poor schmoes who earn less than $40k a year and can't afford to buy or rent in the city, are going to take another hit to their wallet.

Posted by michael strangeways | April 1, 2008 11:25 AM

Fuck tolls.

Posted by Mr. X | April 1, 2008 11:25 AM


Except for that it ends at 60th street and it is the northern parts of Manhattan that are the least busy.

Posted by Josh | April 1, 2008 11:29 AM

@10: Hey Fnarf--

They way I understand it, you won't be charged if you start within the congestion zone (island of Manhattan south of 60th). It also only applies between 6am to 6pm weekdays.

The Wikipedia article seems to be pretty accurate on this:

Posted by Dawgson | April 1, 2008 11:36 AM

I was surprised at the commuter numbers for Manhattan. I would have thought many more commuters come in to Manhattan from Jersey. However, what I didn't see is the commuter numbers between the other boroughs and surrounding New Jersey communities. Also, I suspect traffic in and around Newark is a beast all its own.

At any rate, to echo what others were saying, this plan really couldn't be effectively applied to Seattle without a lot of other transit groundwork being laid.

Posted by laterite | April 1, 2008 11:45 AM

there is so much resistance to transit locally that introducing the congestion tax might finally encourage people to support the transit groundwork being laid.

Posted by infrequent | April 1, 2008 11:50 AM

#5 do you have a map of the parallel arterials to I-90 and 520?

Posted by McG | April 1, 2008 11:50 AM

@10 - yeah, that's why they don't have commuter trains from New Jersey and Connecticut and ...

oh, wait, they do.


Posted by Will in Seattle | April 1, 2008 11:57 AM


... and Long Island and the Hudson River Valley and...

Posted by Dawgson | April 1, 2008 12:05 PM

The "transit before road pricing" argument traps you in a chicken-and-egg nightmare. It ignores the immense adaptability of the people in this region responding to change. Our transit system serves enough people today to handle the offload, and we can pretty quickly add buses in response to demand. No, it won't get everybody where they need to be. Those people under-served by transit can drive, and as a bonus to them, they'll get there faster. The effects of carpooling and combining trips to avoid paying the tax will eliminate a number of trips that happen today. A toll is a more predictable obstacle than traffic, and it is easier to plan around.

Weird but true: When you apply a sufficiently high congestion price to a congested arterial, the number of vehicle miles traveled along that arterial increases. What sucks is that the price has to be high enough to hurt, otherwise there's no change in behavior. But it's a tax with nice positive externalities (increasing roadway throughput, reducing CO2 emissions, shorter trip times for both 1OVs and transit), so I'm in favor in a big way.

Anybody who's skeptical about congestion pricing must read Anthony Downs' "Still Stuck In Traffic: Coping with Peak-Hour Traffic Congestion".

PS Fnarf wins points for using my very favorite word: conurbation.

Posted by nbc | April 1, 2008 12:28 PM

@11: You may not have noticed, but the increase in gas prices has significantly increased ridership on bus routes (both those coming into Seattle and the large numbers commuting the other way). Many buses that used to be half-empty are now standing room.

So yes, a toll of $5 or more will indeed have a dramatic effect on bridge volume. No, it won't hurt the rich, but I'm not sure we can solve the rich-poor divide in this country in a transit solution.

Posted by BobH | April 1, 2008 12:42 PM

So let's just screw poor and working class folks anyway?

No thanks.

Posted by Mr. X | April 1, 2008 12:52 PM

@22, It takes no imagination at all to see how congestion pricing can ease the burden on the poor.

The best way is to use road pricing money to build more transit, which is overwhelmingly used by people who make less money. It's a direct cash transfer from Lexus drivers to bus riders. If that's not good enough for you, we could implement a tax credit, as is planned for in the NYC congestion pricing scheme. Or we could subsidize dense housing close to jobs.

Or any number of other obvious alternatives.

Posted by scotto | April 1, 2008 1:19 PM

@22- Tolls are not necessarily regressive- if you're poor and/or working class, it's in your best interest anyways to reduce the cost of your commute: being a solo driver is not a good way to do this. Rather, you carpool, or use public transit. With either of these solutions, the cost per person goes up nominally (if at all) for those who make that effort when congestion charges are introduced.

Posted by Tdub | April 1, 2008 1:22 PM

As usual Will in Seattle completely misses the point. See, when I said "Brooklyn, Queens, Long Island, New Jersey", he automatically assumed that I was talking about commuting from those places into Midtown downtown Manhattan. This, despite the fact that I EXPLICITLY SAID I WASN'T.

What I meant was, people who live in those places AND WORK IN THOSE PLACES. Commuter rail from ANYWHERE to Penn Station or Grand Central won't help you get from your house in Teaneck to your job in Secaucus -- or Tuckahoe.

That was in fact my point -- even in New York, where more people commute to downtown than anywhere else, most people don't commute downtown.

Posted by Fnarf | April 1, 2008 1:32 PM

@25 - no, it's just my uncle rides those commuter trains and only a n00b thinks of a transit system as being "bus-only" unless you live in a fairly small town.

My brother walks to work in NYC, FWIW.

Posted by Will in Seattle | April 1, 2008 1:45 PM

@23 and 24,

Classic urban elitism at its worst - telling people how they ought to live rather than dealing with the reality of how they actually live (as in - given the choice between driving alone or spending 4 hours a day on the bus getting to and from work, most people in the region have chosen the former - and punitive tolls imposed by would-be utopian social engineers won't change their situation, except to take some grocery money out of their wallets).

Posted by Mr. X | April 1, 2008 1:46 PM

@27, Several people have already refuted the arguments you are trying to make. Please read them and try to come up with something better than namecalling.

Posted by scotto | April 1, 2008 2:03 PM


Real poor people live south of Seattle nowadays. They're not driving over the lake.

Posted by keshmeshi | April 1, 2008 2:06 PM

@ 29 - so they won't be caught up in the schemes to impose I-5 congestion pricing that ECB is so fond of, then?

@ 28 - nonsense - discussing a theoretical framework in which there may be some future increase in transit frequency and reliability in no way obviates (or ameliorates) the real-world consequences these pricing schemes would have on real people in the real world right now.

Calling someone who tells people how they ought to live an elitist isn't name-calling, it's a statement of fact.

Posted by Mr. X | April 1, 2008 2:32 PM

mr x: who cares if it's elitist or not, it's still just a different solution to the current reality. yes, people would rather drive. no, we cannot support everyone driving. we can make it more expensive to drive to either weed out some and to provide the extra funds necessary to have a system of infrastructure that works.

Posted by infrequent | April 1, 2008 2:40 PM

that, by the way, is a solution. it's not making people do something for no good reason because of some "elite" or "absolutely correct" reason.

Posted by infrequent | April 1, 2008 2:44 PM

@31 and 32,

Your willingness to impose this "solution" on the backs of those least able to afford it is most definitely elitist, but it's nice of you to own that, I suppose.

Shall we try the same solution to the problems of scarcity with health insurance? Oh wait...

Posted by Mr. X | April 1, 2008 2:51 PM

mr x, i don't get either of your latest points.

Posted by infrequent | April 1, 2008 3:00 PM

@29 - of course not, most people drive over bridges, unless they have floating cars.

But you bring up a good point @30 - most people driving from Kent or Tukwilla to Seattle won't pay tolls, at least until we toll I-5 and SR-99 at the Viaduct (no, not a joke).

Posted by Will in Seattle | April 1, 2008 3:23 PM

#34 - you telling people of modest means who need to drive that they should just "take the bus" is basically tantamount to GW Bush telling people w/o insurance that they can just "go to the emergency room." If you can't pay, you don't get to play.

And the next time you hear the loathsome Bill O'Reilly talking about what elitists the Democrats are, do me a favor and look yourself in the mirror and pat yourself on the back for proving him right.

There's a reason Frank Chopp doesn't apparently care much about what the Stranger and its readers think - both are demonstrably out of touch with the day-to-day lives of the vast majority of voting Democrats Countywide - let alone across the state.

Posted by Mr. X | April 1, 2008 3:30 PM

i'm sorry, i still don't get it... are you calling bush an elitist?

Posted by infrequent | April 1, 2008 3:44 PM

mr x, i'd like to discuss this with you, but you make absolutely no sense.

we have growing congestion couple with deteriorating roads and increasing gasoline prices. these a current, indisputable problems.

how would you suggest we fix these problems? where i am forcing anyone to take a bus (any more than the present system)? how am i suggesting the poor bear the brunt of it? are you telling me you think the rich should pay more? if so, how do you think that should be done? if not, how do you think it should be done?

all you do is call us elitists, regurgitate some previous, already rebutted arguments, then make strange comparisons to bush while talking about some tv show i'm not sure i've ever seen.

please make sense, and then we can continue this conversation.

maybe start by explaining how congestion pricing -- as explained in this thread -- is a plan that willimpose this "solution" on the backs of those least able to afford it. or maybe tell me who should take the bus.

Posted by infrequent | April 1, 2008 3:53 PM

@37, actually, no - I am calling you AND Bush elitists.

Infrequent, I was initially referring to ECB's post - which extols the virtues of congestion pricing in NYC and ponders how we can go about imposing it systemwide here - despite the incontrovertible fact that we won't have effective mass transit alternatives in place for decades and despite the hardship it will impose on real people now.

I neglected to state that her post is inaccurate, insofar as congestion pricing on I-5 and most other regional roadways is most definitely on the to-do list of the Puget Sound Regional Council and a host of other local mucky-mucks (there is ample documentation of this if you'd care to google it up).

I suppose my real issue is with ECB's enthusiasm for soaking the proles, but since so many posters on the thread (including you) have leapt to her defense, I don't feel the need to retract a thing I have written.

Asserting that you have rebutted a point (stating that toll revenue could be applied to some future transit system - Constitutional and other legal prohibitions notwithstanding - to help people of modest means get around) is not the same thing as doing so (ie - dealing with what happens for the next 20 years while we wait for that to happen).

Let them eat cake wasn't good politics or policy in the 18th Century, and it isn't now. An elitist by any other name...

Posted by Mr. X | April 1, 2008 4:19 PM

people have to pay for roads, mr x. there is nothing elitist about that. i'm sick and tired of regressive taxing -- which is far worse than being elitist.

this is the most substantive sentence i could find in your last post: despite the incontrovertible fact that we won't have effective mass transit alternatives in place for decades and despite the hardship it will impose on real people now.

so i will deal with it. what is the hardship you believe will happen? and why is that worse than whatever alternate plan you have yet to endorse?

you make it sound like you are the guardian of the downtrodden. but mass transit helps lower income workers, so you should encourage it. otherwise, more cars will just make travel conditions worsen.

Posted by infrequent | April 1, 2008 4:46 PM

Uh, Will? 'only a n00b thinks of a transit system as being "bus-only"'? Who's talking about buses? You are, but nobody else. You're not making sense again. And "n00b" doesn't mean what you apparently think it means.

Posted by Fnarf | April 1, 2008 4:48 PM


Believe it or not, $5/day (at the very least) x 5 workdays a week will make a REAL difference in the lives of tens of thousands of people who have no alternative but to drive (for the most part - it will likely come out of their food budgets, given that rent and utility costs are fixed).

Forcing lower-income people to spend many additional hours on the bus making their commutes will have a REAL effect on the quality of their lives (and yes, I know improving transit will help those low-income people who are able use it, but it won't do much for those people who can now get from point A to point B in a reasonable amount of time who will see their commute times literally double or triple if they are priced off of public roads).

I'm sorry if the real world is hard to deal with for you, but these are the kind of choices your rather cavalier attitude would impose on lots and lots of people.

Sound Transit won't get to the center of the U-District until at least 2016 - 20 years after voters approved it. How long do you think it will take to get a useful mass transit system to deal with the other 95% of the population who doesn't need to get from Downtown to the UD (or the UD to the Airport, if you want to put a finer point on it)?

The only thing I can imagine taking longer any longer would be holding out for the progressive new State Tax structure you cite as a justification for soaking middle-class taxpayers with tolls. Good luck with that.

In re how to fund roads - here's a start: Take the $900 million proposed to put unncecessary new interchanges on SR 99 by the stadiums (which also sucked lots of money out of our transportation system when brand new freeway on/off ramps were funded for them) and retrofit the Viaduct, and then put the balance of $2.8 billion in committed funds awaiting some solution to that conundrum into other more worthy projects (such as the South Park and Magnolia Bridges, or SR 520 - provided some plan is proposed that won't rape the Arboretum or unduly clog I-5 and the surrounding arterials).

That'd be a nice start, wouldn't it?

Posted by Mr. X | April 1, 2008 5:19 PM

@40, thank you for proposing some kind of funding mechanism.

It's pure science fiction, of course, but at least you're getting closer to earth. The viaduct retrofit will cost $2.3B -- 80% of the cost building a brand new replacement that would last twice as long. I agree that the stadiums were a waste of money, but I doubt you'll be successful in making them and their traffic jams vanish. I also suspect that transit users and working people at the Ports will not agree with you that the SR99 interchanges are unnecessary. But supposing your wishes materialize, you're still short by about a billion on 520 alone; Gregoire's tolling plan provides about $2B.

You don't have a realistic finance plan for a bridge we must fix even if traffic stays constant; it is probably expecting too much to ask for your plan for accomodating the 40% population increase we're expecting in the next 30 or so years.

And, I have totally lost hope that you will answer the question of who, exactly, should ride transit.

Posted by scotto | April 1, 2008 8:48 PM

Ooops. I meant Mr. X @42

Posted by scotto | April 1, 2008 9:48 PM

Scotto uses a figure of $2.8B to retrofit the Viaduct to a 2500 year event earthquake standard- even though I suspect he knows quite well that Victor Grey (the former head State highway engineer) has repeatedly made a credible case that it can be retrofitted to a 500 year standard (you know, the one WSDOT would usually have used if they hadn't spent 10 years pushing various tunnel schemes and needed a straw man to knock down?) for a fraction of that. There would be plenty of money left over after a prudent retrofit, though I will grant not enough to entirely do 520.

The "Edgar Martinez Boulevard" overpass/interchange as it is now configured was basically squashed in there awkwardly (if not immediately) to meet the development needs of Paul Allen's company First and Goal. But that was an emergency, really.

As it happens, I'm generally in favor of grade-separation projects. It's telling that the Mayor has come up with yet another dubious financing scheme to fund an at-grade landscaped $200 million Mercer Street scheme (another Allen plan, as it happens, and one that will actually make through-traffic worse) by deferring the long overdue retrofit/expansion of the Spokane Street Viaduct. Priorities.

Posted by Mr. X | April 2, 2008 12:29 AM

Oh yeah, and I'm also glad to see that the Stranger and the Discovery Institute have finally found something they agree on.

Posted by Mr. X | April 2, 2008 12:34 AM

@45 - oops - it's the Lander St. overcrossing that's being delayed rather than Spokane Street Viaduct.

Posted by Mr. X | April 2, 2008 12:45 AM

mr. x,

i'm far from a expert, but, so your proposal is to spend more money on existing roads, such as the viaduct. but not as much as is expected -- because those estimates are wrong. so with the extra money have we can spend that on roads too. for instance, making 520 wider but of course without affecting the arboretum.

so your proposal calls for more money -- though you don't say where it comes from. magical inexpensive and publicly supported changes to the viaduct -- which will add no new lanes. not expanding 520 in a meaningful way (you can barely get an extra lane without causing harm to the arboretum, so you either want no transit or no change in road conditions).

basically, you want the status quo. you want more roads, but don't want to pay for them, and don't consider the increased traffic. that does not address the concerns. we need more money to make the current necessary road repairs. we have increased traffic that we need to manage better. we have poor transit options that are not getting the public support required.

even in a capitalist system, the rich pay for a service.

i'm tired of subsidizing commuters. rich or poor, that cost needs to be paid by those who make that choice -- regardless of transit opportunities. however, i am also in favor of increasing transit, and for a progressive commuting tax.

Posted by infrequent | April 2, 2008 10:22 AM

As a driver, I wish we had region-wide tolling right now. I don't use the interstate or state highways much, but I would gladly pony up the cash for a toll.

Posted by Deacon Seattle | April 2, 2008 5:59 PM

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