New York Congestion Pricing - History

History

Mayor Bloomberg's goals for long-term sustainability through the year 2030 were first announced on December 12, 2006. On April 22, 2007 (Earth Day), PlaNYC 2030 was unveiled. Along with transportation initiatives, the plan outlined steps to clean up brownfields, create affordable housing, utilize open spaces, provide cleaner and more reliable and efficient energy sources, improve water quality and infrastructure, achieve cleaner air quality, and address climate change issues. The transportation initiatives support greater use of mass transit through various improvements and additions to transit infrastructure and services. In addition, the initiatives also include increased use of cycling, expanded ferry services, increased traffic violation enforcement, and installations of Muni Meters and an intelligent transportation system.

Of the 16 proposed transportation initiatives in PlaNYC, the congestion pricing program is the only component that has to be approved by the New York State Legislature with financial support from the State; the remainder is within New York City's or its regional jurisdiction and is to be funded by a new Sustainable Mobility and Regional Transportation Financing Authority, which would also take in revenue from the congestion fees, estimated at $380 million.

New York City applied to be part of the United States Department of Transportation's Urban Partnership Program, which would allocate money to cities that were willing to fight urban traffic congestion through tolling programs, express bus services or bus rapid transit, telecommuting, or technologies designed for the purpose. In June 2007, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Mary Peters said that out of the nine finalist cities applying for the program, New York City was the farthest along in its traffic reduction planning and the city was eligible for up to $500 million for funding the congestion pricing plan. Since the final funding decision would be announced in August, Peters wrote in a letter to Governor Eliot Spitzer that if state approval was not met by July 16, "it is unlikely that New York City would be selected." Although a commitment was not established by that date, on July 19, the State legislature approved the creation of a 17-member commission that will study different plans to reduce traffic in the city, including congestion pricing. Signed by Spitzer on July 27, the bill authorized New York to apply for at least $200 million in federal funds.

On August 14, 2007, the U.S. Department of Transportation awarded from the Urban Partnership program $354 million to New York City. It was the largest of the five grants awarded to cities, which included San Francisco, King County, Washington (Seattle), the Minneapolis area, and Miami. Only $10.4 million is allocated for launching the congestion pricing program and $2 million for research. The rest of the grant will fund transportation infrastructure and services: $213.6 million to improve and build new bus depots, $112.7 million to develop bus rapid transit routes, and $15.8 million for expanded ferry services.

The idea of congestion pricing was endorsed by the then Governor Spitzer, Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, and other New York City politicians, such as City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, and Representative Joseph Crowley of Queens and the Bronx, as well as the U.S. Department of Transportation. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and other politicians expressed skepticism about the plan, raising several questions about its viability, its environmental effects on neighborhoods bordering the congestion zone, the lack of state control in Bloomberg's proposal, and the imposition of a regressive tax on some commuters.

On January 31, 2008, the New York City Traffic Congestion Mitigation Commission approved a plan for congestion pricing, which was passed by a vote of 13 to 2. Some changes over Mayor Bloomberg's original proposal were introduced, such as reducing the congestion zone, no charges for vehicles which stay within the zone, and a discount for low-emission trucks. The commission estimated that revenues from the congestion charge will generate $491 million a year, which would be committed to improve and expand the region's mass transit. The proposal was approved by the New York City Council on March 31, 2008 by a vote of 30 to 20. Another alternative considered by the commission, and promoted by Assemblyman Richard Brodsky, was to restrict access into the congestion zone one day a week based on the last digits of the license plates. This sort of road space rationing system is currently practiced in two of the world's Top 10 megacities, São Paulo and Mexico City. Bloomberg's plan was endorsed by the then new Governor David Paterson, whose support was considered key to approve the bill in Albany.

The deadline to approve the plan by the State Assembly was April 7, 2008, for the city to be eligible to receive US$ 354 million in federal assistance for traffic congestion relief and mass transit improvements. On April 7, 2008, after a closed-door meeting, the Democratic Conference of the State Assembly decided not to vote on the proposal, "...the opposition was so overwhelming,...that he would not hold an open vote of the full Assembly," Sheldon Silver, the Assembly Speaker said. Afterwards, the USDOT announced that they will seek to allocate those funds to relief traffic congestion in other cities.

Ironically, by July 2008, gasoline prices of over $4.00 a gallon caused a dramatic 5 percent drop in vehicle trips into lower Manhattan, realizing goals that Bloomberg had envisioned for his congestion pricing scheme. This finding vindicated the plan's premise that higher driving costs would in fact reduce congestion, while at the same time rendering the plan completely unnecessary, at least while fuel prices stayed high.

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