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Thread: A New Toll? No, It's Just Value Pricing

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    Default A New Toll? No, It's Just Value Pricing

    NEW YORK TIMES

    February 19, 2002

    A New Toll? No, It's Just Value Pricing

    By JOHN TIERNEY

    CITY officials, afraid of angering drivers and politicians in Brooklyn and Queens, are reluctant to admit that they're considering tolls on the city-controlled East River bridges. But the tolls would actually be a huge favor to most drivers, not to mention everyone else in the city.

    The news of the tolls was buried in the city budget plan, which projects $800 million in new revenue by 2006 from "congestion pricing" and "E-ZPass initiatives." The only obvious way to get that money is from tolls on the East River, which traffic engineers have been urging for decades. When the budget was released last week, that $800 million figure set off rejoicing among an international array of traffic experts that happened to be in town for a conference sponsored by the Manhattan Institute's Center for Civic Innovation.

    The conference, devised to explore New York's traffic problems, was dedicated to William Vickrey, the Columbia University professor who solved the problem of traffic jams a half century ago. He proposed that drivers pay more to use popular roads at peak times. Shortly before his death, in 1996, he won the Nobel Prize in economics, and today his theory of road pricing is conventional wisdom among traffic experts.

    The only problem is convincing politicians and drivers who like to believe there's such a thing as a free bridge. To make Vickrey's idea sound more palatable, today's traffic engineers have changed the term from "congestion pricing" to "value pricing," the idea being that drivers are paying to get something of value.

    The costs of the East River tolls, the experts at the conference predicted, would be vastly outweighed by the benefits of rapidly moving traffic: less time wasted, less fuel burned, less air pollution, more economic activity. The experts cited estimates that traffic congestion currently costs the New York metropolitan region $10 billion. Gridlock is not good for business unless you're a squeegeeman.

    The traffic planners swapped success stories of cities that used tolls to decrease congestion and increase carpooling. Seoul eased bottlenecks in its tunnels and tripled the level of car-pooling by charging high tolls at rush hour. Singapore, by charging drivers to enter the central business district, sharply reduced traffic congestion even while employment was increasing. Most drivers in central Rome have to pay for the privilege of being there, but there are exemptions for people transporting the handicapped ó with a predictable result.

    THERE'S been an enormous rise in compassion for the disabled in Rome," reported Peter Samuel, the editor of Toll Roads Newsletter. He hailed the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey for its new policy last year of charging higher tolls at peak times, a policy that has reduced some congestion at rush hour. But traffic would flow more smoothly, he said, if politicians in New Jersey and New York would give the Port Authority the leeway to experiment with a greater range of tolls.

    The experts at the conference spent a lot of time about the politics of tolls. They're used to lonely fights. They have recently been joined by a few environmentalists ó during the fight over the Hudson River tolls, Environmental Defense supported value pricing as a way to reduce pollution from idling cars ó but most people and politicians instinctively oppose new tolls.

    The city's budget crisis, though, could be just the right moment for tolls, said Samuel I. Schwartz, who coined the term "gridlock" when he was chief engineer of the city's Department of Transportation. In the keynote address at the conference, he proposed emulating Singapore by charging a fee for driving in Manhattan's central business district. He also proposed tolls on the East River bridges, and suggested having higher-priced express lanes in which drivers would be guaranteed a three- minute crossing or their money back.

    The tolls could be used to ease the city's cash woes, subsidize mass transit and restore the dilapidated bridges to their former glory, Mr. Schwartz said. He suggested that Brooklyn and Queens drivers compare their four "free" bridges with the toll crossings of the East and Hudson Rivers.

    "There were times, over the past two decades, that as many as half of the 30 lanes on the four East River bridges were closed due to emergencies and construction," Mr. Schwartz said. "The culprit: corrosion from lack of maintenance from lack of dedicated funds. There has never been a full or even significant emergency shutdown at any of the neighboring tolled facilities." Sooner or later, you pay to cross the East River.

  2. #2

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    East River bridge tolls are back in political debate.

    Republicans Look to Trade Payroll Tax for Bridge Tolls

    by David King
    28 Apr 2011

    A proposal by some upstate state senators would allow the City Council to place tolls on the Brooklyn Bridge and other East River crossings.

    The Metropolitan Transportation Authority has been conspicuously absent from the Albany debate this year. But as the session winds down slowly, the MTA and its issues are creeping back to the forefront, thanks to a group of upstate and Long Island Republican senators who want to drastically cut back the payroll tax that helps pay for mass transit and commuter rail. At the same time, they would pave the way for tolls on the East River bridges, an idea that has been touted as a solution to both the MTA's chronic fiscal woes and Manhattan's traffic congestion. This time around though, even some supporters of the tolls have their doubts.

    The Tax

    In 2009, with the MTA facing a huge budget gap, the state government enacted a tax in the city and counties serviced by the MTA including Putnam, Westchester, Rockland, Orange, Suffolk, Dutchess and Nassau. The tax as it stands raises $1.34 billion annually for the MTA. Although it amounts to only 0.33 cents on every $100 dollars paid by employers, many politicians from these areas have opposed it, saying the MTA provides limited service in their districts and most of the businesses in their counties don't benefit from it.

    Sen. John Bonacic, whose district encompasses Delaware County, Sullivan County and parts of Ulster County and Orange County, has introduced a bill that would do away with the payroll tax in all counties except New York City. To make up the revenue he would allow -- but not require -- the New York City Council to set tolls on the East River Bridges: the Brooklyn Bridge, the Manhattan Bridge, the Williamsburg Bridge and the Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge. The charge could be between $2.50 and $5. This idea has been frequently proposed before -- most recently in 2009-- and has always failed.

    Bonacic has the support of fellow upstate Republican Sens. Gregory Ball, William Larkin, Stephen Saland and Lee Zeldin. The bill does not have a sponsor in the Assembly as of this writing, although Bonacic has reached out to possible sponsors and notes that a number of Assembly Democrats y voted against the payroll tax in 2009.

    Time for Tolls?

    Although some transit advocates have supported tolls or charging people to drive into Manhattan in the past, they expressed reservation about Bonacic's plan.

    Advocates like New York Public Interest Research Group's Gene Russianoff say there are simply too many variables that could leave the MTA with a gaping financial shortfall. If the council decided not to implement tolls or implemented very low tolls the MTA would end up losing money. "The bill does not set a toll rate," says Russianoff. "It only allows the council to implement them." He added that some studies concluded that a $3 toll, such as one previously recommended by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, "would cost us money."

    Neysa Pranger of the Regional Plan Association says that the MTA's finances are not particularly strong especially when it comes to its capital plan. "We need to be looking for new sources of funding not getting rid of them," she said.

    Bonacic, however, thinks the tolls would provide more than enough money. He says that the payroll tax in the suburbs is supposed to generate $343 million a year, while the tolls could generate as much as $533 million annually. "I think the revenue stream from tolls would generate about a $200 million surplus. It's a revenue enhancer they can spend as they see fit." Bonacic did not say how much he thought motorists should be tolled.

    The debate revives talk of congestion pricing, which many transportation advocates, including Russianoff, favor. Mayor Michael Bloomberg has reportedly been working on a revamped version of congestion pricing called "traffic pricing" as a way to better fund the MTA and perhaps reduce fares. Bloomberg's plan, however, supposedly would not roll back the payroll tax. Bloomberg recently talked about funding mass transit through "pilot technology and pricing based mechanisms," while introducing his environmental plan earlier this month.

    The City vs. The Suburbs

    For Bonacic the debate comes down to one of usage and services. He says train service in the small part of Orange County that he represents has not improved since the tax was implemented. He describes the situation as, "taxation without transportation."

    At the same time, Bonacic says the payroll tax hurts not-for-profits and businesses. "This stunts job creation," he said. He said that the payroll tax raises $18 million per year in Orange County where only 2 percent of resident use MTA services. "The legislature implemented this when everything was controlled by Democrats from New York City. The passion against it has not subsided," he said.

    But Russianoff disagrees. "People may say, 'Well, I don't take the train,' but the people who go to the florist may come up on one, the people pushing the shopping carts may have gotten there thanks to MetroNorth or the subway or bus."

    Russianoff described the situation as a slippery slope. "If they think it isnít worth paying for the service then what about the other MTA taxes, like the sales tax? I donít think it would be fair for subway and bus riders. I think in the end it would cost the MTA funding."

    Pro and Con

    Meanwhile, city legislators say that tolls on the East River bridges would hurt their middle class constituents. Sens. Tony Avella and Toby Ann Staviskyissued a press release slamming the plan. "Tolls are a tax, and middle class families canít afford to keep paying more while getting less in return. The legislation proposed by Long Island and upstate Senate Republicans to place tolls on the East River bridges will adversely affect commuters, small businesses and working families in outer-borough communities who have very limited access to public transportation," it said.

    Bonacic is trying to sell the plan as environmentally friendly. His arguments for the tolls are similar to the ones made for congestion pricing. "Everyone who goes into New York should pay their fair share. It would reduce traffic and be better for the environment if people started using public transportation more."

    But the truth is any bill that features bridge tolls faces an uphill battle in Albany, and Bonacic does not yet have bipartisan support on the bill, although the first supporter he wants to bag is a big one. "I need [Gov. Andrew] Cuomo to get behind this, because he has said he doesn't like the payroll tax. But this is just the beginning," the senator said.

    During a visit to Poughkeepsie in January Cuomo called the levy on payrolls "a very onerous tax.' He went on to tell reporters, "It's not just in this area; people are complaining about it on Long Island, the entire metropolitan region. ... I understand the need to finance the system. If we can find a better way to do it, Iím open."

    The Independent Democratic Conference, made up of Sens. Diane Savino, David Carlucci, David Valesky and Jeff Klein, also has made repealing the payroll tax part of its agenda. Klein, the leader of the breakaway group, listed the payroll tax as one of the biggest mistakes the Democrats made while they were in the majority. However, Savino and Valesky voted for the tax in 2009.

    It's not clear if the four would support tolls. The group has said it blames gross mismanagement" for a third of MTAís current fiscal debt." In its agenda, they say, "Our goal is to conduct a comprehensive forensic audit of the MTA to find areas of waste and corruption and determine the need and the efficacy of the current MTA tax."

    Whether or not his bill gains traction, Bonacic expects the next two months will see more legislation that will propose other ways to fund the MTA and do away with the payroll tax on upstate counties. "There are enough upstate legislators who recognize this is simply unfair," he said.

    Russianoff also anticipates major debate over how to fund the MTA before the end of the session. As for Bonacic's bill, he said, "We don't support it, but I think it raises an interesting question about what would it take to get the legislature to seriously consider bridge tolls, whether they were connected to payroll tax or not."


    Gotham Gazette is brought to you by Citizens Union Foundation.

  3. #3

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    So, the city might finally get tolls on the East River bridges (and hopefully the Harlem River bridges), but the city will ultimately become the only area to continue paying the payroll tax? Although I would accept this compromise because putting tolls on those bridges is something that just needs doing, I don't like the idea of shrinking the payroll tax area to just NYC. Why shouldn't neighboring counties pay their 0.34% tax to help provide for one o the defining elements of the region's core? To help maintain the possibility of congestion with movement?

  4. #4

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    Every time the city gets in any kind of budget crunch, they trot out this old loser. I hasn't been implement before. It isn't going to now. There are just too many drivers in the city who'll give their council critters (and state legiscritters) too much crap about it for it to actually happen.

    Not only is it dead, it's rotted down to its skeleton.

  5. #5

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    I wouldn't say it's coming soon, but I wouldn't discount the possibility of tolls someday coming to the bridges along Manhattan's eastern edge. The automotive lobby does tend to have an out-sized voice in the city, but sooner or later, Albany and City Hall will acquiesce. Only about 27% of New Yorkers get around via car (including commuting by taxi) and, more relevantly, less than 5% of commute trips actually involve driving into (and occasionally out of) Manhattan over the East River. Even if recreational trips to Manhattan are included, the auto share is still less than 10%. Those small percentages, in a city the size of New York, do represent a lot of potentially angry letters and phone calls to those in elected office, but considering the regional importance of maintaining the city's transit infrastructure and the pressing need to find a funding mechanism for said system, I can't see the politicians forever shunning the silent majority.
    I remember that one of the objections to East River tolls was the fear of congestion and air-quality concerns due to the toll gates. Now that the Henry Hudson Bridge has gateless tolling, finally bringing to the city and public conscious a great technological solution, there's one less argument standing in the way of tolling.
    Last edited by marnegator; May 22nd, 2011 at 07:43 PM. Reason: fact check

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    Chief Antagonist Ninjahedge's Avatar
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    Sinple solution, but not easily implimented is this:

    Toll the bridges, but only have them staffed and charging during peak hours. IOW, 7am-9am weekdays and 4pm-7pm weekdays.

    The biggest cost to one of these programs is usually staffing. Also, if your primary goal is income (coupled with congestion reduction) you put them in place when they will have the biggest effect in both.

    Now, IN ADDITION to this, keep the damn payroll tax. I am so tired of all these programs coming out saynig "Oh we could earn as much as blah de blah dollars with this". They NEVER "earn" that much.

    They need to KEEP the tax where it is, add the tolls, and then USE THOSE TOLLS TO DIRECTLY PAY OFF THE DEBT.

    Once the debt is paid, the service/interest charges dissappear and our budget is shrunk. THEN you can talk about cutting taxes.

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    Crabby airline hostess - stache's Avatar
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    7 AM to 7 PM would have to be two shifts. You might as well charge toll the whole time 7A to 7P for the same payroll requirement.

  8. #8

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    You've been proven wrong experimentally. This has been attempted since the '70's, and it's never gotten any real traction. There are enough drivers in the city that would see this as an afront to keep it blocked.

    Quote Originally Posted by marnegator View Post
    I wouldn't say it's coming soon, but I wouldn't discount the possibility of tolls someday coming to the bridges along Manhattan's eastern edge. The automotive lobby does tend to have an out-sized voice in the city, but sooner or later, Albany and City Hall will acquiesce. Only about 27% of New Yorkers get around via car (including commuting by taxi) and, more relevantly, less than 5% of commute trips actually involve driving into (and occasionally out of) Manhattan over the East River. Even if recreational trips to Manhattan are included, the auto share is still less than 10%. Those small percentages, in a city the size of New York, do represent a lot of potentially angry letters and phone calls to those in elected office, but considering the regional importance of maintaining the city's transit infrastructure and the pressing need to find a funding mechanism for said system, I can't see the politicians forever shunning the silent majority.
    I remember that one of the objections to East River tolls was the fear of congestion and air-quality concerns due to the toll gates. Now that the Henry Hudson Bridge has gateless tolling, finally bringing to the city and public conscious a great technological solution, there's one less argument standing in the way of tolling.

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    Chief Antagonist Ninjahedge's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by stache View Post
    7 AM to 7 PM would have to be two shifts. You might as well charge toll the whole time 7A to 7P for the same payroll requirement.
    That is where you would have to start looking for loopholes in the contract.

    There is NO reason to have that kind of thing happening, if you need to have full timers, then you give them a BIG "lunch break" in between and work 4/4/4.

    The main problem we have with many of these devices (see GSP) is that they become self-sustaining, providing little actual service.....

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    Chief Antagonist Ninjahedge's Avatar
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    No, there isn't BBMW.

    There are enough politicians with cars that do not want to have to take mass transit, or pay more, like the rest of us.

    The other problem is a classic. You only hear from the people that complain about something, you almost never see a bunch of straphangers or city pededtrians coming out and SUPPORTING the possibility of higher tolls or other regulations. It is only when it hits that minority that the slightes "honk" from the minority of people strongly against this that you get the penny pinching (in their own interest) politicians say "no".

  11. #11

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ninjahedge View Post
    Toll the bridges, but only have them staffed and charging during peak hours. IOW, 7am-9am weekdays and 4pm-7pm weekdays.

    The biggest cost to one of these programs is usually staffing.
    Quote Originally Posted by stache View Post
    7 AM to 7 PM would have to be two shifts. You might as well charge toll the whole time 7A to 7P for the same payroll requirement.
    No need for manned shifts: fully electric tolling would be a matter of of transponders / cameras being disabled between peak hours. As I mentioned above, gateless tolling has recently been introduced in the city at the Henry Hudson Bridge. The Garden State Parkway, NY Thruway, NJ Turnpike, and the congestion zone in London, among others, have been using this solution for at least the last couple years. Since we're talking new tolling areas, there shouldn't be an issue with union negotiations.

    Quote Originally Posted by BBMW View Post
    You've been proven wrong experimentally. This has been attempted since the '70's, and it's never gotten any real traction. There are enough drivers in the city that would see this as an afront to keep it blocked.
    Just like how numerous celebrities, Greenwich Village and the rest of Community Board 2 lost against the proposed sanitation garage at Spring Street? Things change, just give it time.
    Last edited by marnegator; May 23rd, 2011 at 11:55 AM. Reason: posting time

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    Crabby airline hostess - stache's Avatar
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    Split shifts went out with 8 track tape.

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    Chief Antagonist Ninjahedge's Avatar
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    Meh, 8 track would come back if it earned enough cash.

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    I've been hearing about this for decades, going back the the seventies financial crunch. You're going against a lot of history if you think this is a done deal.

    Also, it's probably a stupid idea to base the MTA's finances on this. If it really works, it's will cut down bridge use and that revenue will go down. And those riders going onto transit won't help much financially either, because the MTA runs it's services at a loss. If the city and state really want to keep fares below the cost of running the system, then they need to bite the bullet and properly subsidize it out of their revenues. If they're not willing to do that, bite the other bullet, and charge a fare that's high enough to adequately fund the system. Maybe go to a zoned fare system, if necessary.

    Quote Originally Posted by marnegator View Post
    Just like how numerous celebrities, Greenwich Village and the rest of Community Board 2 lost against the proposed sanitation garage at Spring Street? Things change, just give it time.

  15. #15
    Chief Antagonist Ninjahedge's Avatar
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    Zoned fare is needed.

    It is done on most systems.

    The biggest problem with that is simple: Implementation and Enforcement.

    The very act of doing this would make it so that there would be a need for more staff and infrastructure to get the job done, so the cost would go up even further.

    Bottom line is still that someone travelingthe subway for 2 stops in midtown should not have to pay the same as someone going from 125th street to Jamaica Queens.

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