Failure to Launch: New York City and Congestion PricingMay 18th, 2012 | By Marisa O'Donnell
Transport Policy. 2010.
People are selfish. Well, at least according to Bruce Schaller of the New York City Department of Transportation. In “New York City’s congestion pricing experience and implications for road pricing acceptance in the United States,” Schaller discusses the importance of public opinion as a major barrier to “road pricing,” a system of charges based on road usage. He argues that, in addition to gaining widespread public support, individual motorists must see their best interest reflected in order to accept a new form of road pricing.
Schaller begins by highlighting key insights from a failed road pricing initiative in Manhattan. In 2006, city leaders came together to write a 25-year sustainability plan for the city called PlaNYC. The sustainability plan aimed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent and reduce the nearly $13 billion costs of road congestion.
A key facet of Bloomberg’s PlaNYC was a road pricing initiative that would have charged an eight dollar fee to cars travelling into the Manhattan core on weekdays between 6am and 6pm. The plan would have used the net proceeds (estimated to be about $31 billion) for transportation improvements, such as better train and bus systems.
Federal funding was available to support the initiative, pending state approval. Though the New York City Council adopted a version of the plan, State Assembly Democrats, many of whom represented the boroughs whose residents were most affected by the initiative, blocked the vote as the federal deadline approached. When the deadline passed, the proposal died and the funds were directed to Los Angeles and Chicago.
Schaller reminds us that we can learn something as we encounter similar road pricing plans in the future. He points out that showing motorists how they will benefit directly from such measures is crucially important. For example, when proceeds from congestion pricing go towards general transportation improvements such as buses and trains, it is difficult for motorists to see any direct benefits. Using at least part of the proceeds for road improvements, Schaller argues, will help motorists connect with the benefits of reduced congestion directly.
Showcasing direct individual benefits may be the key to passing road congestion bills and overcoming opposition from motorists.