July 19, 2007

NYC Congestion Charge: Dead for 2007?

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's plan to reduce traffic congestion in the city by charging a steep toll for drivers to enter the core of Manhattan may not be quite dead for the year-- but it's pretty close. The New York Times has the story.

State Assembly members who opposed the plan said Bloomberg didn't make enough of an effort to explain it to them:
[L]egislators complained that he had failed to answer basic questions about the proposal, which has never been tried on a broad scale in any American city.
But Bloomberg was having none of this:
In a tense meeting on Monday, testy exchanges erupted between the mayor and the Democratic state senators he was trying to win over. At one point, according to several people present, Mr. Bloomberg told the senators that his administration had sent plenty of information about his plan in the mail, and that it was not his fault if they had not read it....The mayor moved from meeting to meeting in the Capitol, his expression grim, and he declined to take questions from reporters. He did take a shot at his critics on WROW-AM radio in Albany on Monday morning, saying, “Anybody that says we didn’t have enough time to look at this is ridiculous.
“They don’t read the mail or they don’t read the newspapers,” he said, adding that it would be difficult “to not know about congestion pricing if you can read.”
Which is both true and not true. The basic 411 on the Bloomberg plan has been all over the papers-- everyone knows commuters would get dinged to the tune of $8 every time they drive into the city during peak hours. But the all-important details remain a bit fuzzy, at least to this distant observer.
But the Times article hints that this is a red herring: the real reason for the congestion pricing flap is that elected officials on both sides are thinking politically. The perception is that Bloomberg is in a hurry to push this plan through in time to burnish his credentials as a green-friendly presidential candidate in 2008:
Democrats in both chambers blamed the mayor for trying to rush a complex plan through the Legislature — the proposal was first mentioned in April, in an Earth Day address by Mr. Bloomberg.
And some Dems in the legislature are seeking payback for Bloomberg's backing their opposition in the last election:
Senate Democrats were particularly upset when the mayor, who recently left the Republican Party, told them he was “not political.” Several tartly asked him why he had then supported their Republican opponents.
All of which is too bad. As we've noted before, there are definitely reasons to like (and to dislike) Bloomberg's plan. Politics should not be among them.


At 5:04 AM, Blogger Andrew Oh-Willeke said...

Wouldn't it be cheaper and easier administratively, and produce a very similar effect, to simply tax parking spaces or increase parking charges in cases where the parking space is owned by the city?

The only people who don't have to park are cabs, and they are indirectly taxed through the licensing process.

At 9:09 AM, Blogger Matt G said...

Taxing parking spaces is an interesting alternative, but I can think of a couple of problems:
1) Plenty of parking spaces aren't public and can't be easily monitored. An underground garage in a small NYC condo (or in a private home) could be completely off the grid. Ditto for backyards, to the (minor) extent they exist in NYC. The price of illicit parking spots would skyrocket.
2) Simply taxing parking spots makes it more expensive to keep a car in NYC, but the price wouldn't vary depending on how often you use it. I know NYC residents who keep a garaged car in the city who use it maybe once every two weeks. Would the weekly/monthly/yearly tax on their parking space be the same as the tax on a public parking lot space that turns over every day? If not, you'd need a mechanism to monitor usage, which gets you right back where we started with the actual Bloomberg proposal.


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