Congestion Pricing is Important

Yesterday, the New York congestion

pricing deal was big news. A long

list of notables lined up to praise it, and the NYT’s City Room blog published

over 1,450

words of detail on it. Today, it seems to be an afterthought, at least as

far as the NYT is concerned. The paper’s headline is "New

York Deal Tightens Limits on Election Cash", and even the subheds,

in the paper, make no mention of congestion pricing, which is finally mentioned,

en passant, seven paragraphs into the story:

The compromise also tied together other issues, in classic Albany style.

It would set up a commission to study Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s plan

for “congestion pricing” and alternatives that are intended to

ease New York City traffic, but it put off action on any measure until March.

After announcing the deal, Governor Spitzer also indicated that he was inclined

to grant lawmakers a long-sought pay raise as a reward for, as he put it,

going “a very long way toward enacting the reform agenda that I laid


Yes, they really put scare quotes around "congestion pricing", as

if burying the story wasn’t enough.

The plan reappears at the very end of the article, if anybody ever gets that


The agreement would also establish a 17-member commission to come up with

a final plan to reduce traffic congestion in Manhattan, subject to approval

by the City Council and the Legislature, by next March.

Though the compromise on reducing congestion appeared very similar to a plan

that the mayor criticized earlier this week, Mr. Bloomberg, in a statement

on Thursday, called the plan “a victory.” But the final measure

is fairly modest. Among other provisions, it would require that any program

expire in 2012, effectively turning any plan for “congestion pricing”

into a kind of pilot program

Still, the mayor said he would seek as much as $500 million from the federal

Department of Transportation to pay for the plan. The department has announced

it would make $1.2 billion available to cities that undertake traffic reduction


This is just weird. The expiry date is no big deal, since the legislature can

repeal congestion pricing at any time anyway. And of course the scheme

would be a pilot program: it’s the first of its kind. (It always had an expiry

date, from day one.) That makes it more important, not less. On one

of the most important developments to affect its readers’ daily lives in the

foreseeable future, the New York Times has been comprehensively beaten by not

only the WSJ, which has a long

article looking at the experience in London, but also by the New

York Post.

Both supporters and opponents of congestion pricing deserve better coverage

than this – so we can certainly be thankful that the likes of Streetsblog

are there to fill the gaps.

Among the opponents of the deal one should count commenter tinbox, who wrote

in response to yesterday’s post on the subject that all manner of nasty things

might happen in the wake of the plan’s introduction. Congestion prices might

rise, as they have in London; the scheme might be privatized; New Jersey motorists

might be upset. All of which seem like good things to me. And in any case the

congestion charge for NJ motorists is going to be all of $2, since the $6 tunnel

toll is deductible from the proposed charge.

I hesitate to draw too much of a causal relationship, but the highest office

rents in the world for the past few years have been in London’s Mayfair, right

in the congestion-pricing zone, and they’ve been rising stratospherically. The

congestion charge there has made London a much more pleasant city to live and

work, and it’s helped to solidify London’s status as a global financial center.

New York City – and New Yorkers – can and should be allowed to compete

on a level playing field, without unhelpful interference from Albany.

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