What is it about Manhattan traffic which makes clever people come up with decidedly
silly ideas? Back in 1999, for instance, James Surowiecki wrote
a column headlined "Deregulate
New York City", in which he said that New York should deregulate the taxi
market, allowing yellow cabs to compete with each other on price.
Aesterday, Robert Frank wrote a New York Times column explaining
that although congestion pricing is a good idea, it would be an even better
idea if it didn’t
actually cost people much money to drive into Manhattan:
Every worker in Manhattan could be given transferable vouchers that could
be used to defray some portion of the new fees. This would protect low-income
people who sometimes have no choice but to drive into the city during peak
hours. Those who could avoid such trips could sell some or all of their vouchers
to others. All New Yorkers could thus enjoy the benefits of cleaner air and
reduced traffic congestion without imposing a burden on low-income families.
None of this makes any sense. For one thing, you’d need to determine who counted
as a "worker in Manhattan" – would a self-employed blogger working
from home count? Would a light-industrial manufacturer in Queens needing to
visit a client in Midtown count? Then, you’d flood the market with transferable
vouchers, since the vast majority of workers in Manhattan never dream of commuting
by car. Hell, most of them probably don’t even own a car. So the cost
of a voucher allowing people to drive into Manhattan would plunge, traffic into
Manhattan wouldn’t go down, and you wouldn’t get any of the benefits of cleaner
air or reduced congestion.
The whole point of a congestion charge is that it has to be expensive enough
to hurt, at least a little bit. If you defray the cost, you defeat the purpose.
London mayor Ken Livingstone has a much better idea: charge
high-emissions vehicles $400 to enter the congestion zone. The congestion
charge should be higher, not lower. (Hat tip to the excellent Streetsblog
for picking up on this.)
As for the political problems associated with low-income New York City car-owners
who regularly drive into Manhattan, first you’ll need to persuade me that such
people exist. Maybe we could just pay both of them a couple of hundred bucks,
and be done.