Yesterday, Mayor Bloomberg presented PlaNYC: A Greener, Greater New York, his administration's thinking about what the city needs to do by the year 2030 in order meet sustainability goals. The plan involves 127 initiatives under the areas of Brownfield Remediation, Housing, Open Space, Transportation, Energy, the Water Network, Water Quality, Air Quality and Climate Change, but the big topic was congestion pricing. After much speculation, Mayor Bloomberg even acknowledged that congestion pricing was the "elephant in the room" and explained that the city would ask the state to embark on a 3-year pilot program:
I’ve thought about [the congestion pricing] question a lot. And I understand the hesitation about charging a fee. I was a skeptic myself. But I looked at the facts, and that’s what I’m asking New Yorkers to do. And the fact is in cities like London and Singapore, fees succeeded in reducing congestion and improving air quality. Many people are already paying to drive into Manhattan – there are tolls on most bridges and the four tunnels. But to avoid those tolls, many people drive through neighborhood streets. That not only clogs the streets, it increases air pollution – and asthma rates...
In setting the fee, there’s no magic number, but it has to be high enough to encourage more people to switch to mass transit and low enough not to break the bank – for businesses and for those who have to drive. Based on thorough analysis and the experience of other cities, we believe that an $8 charge would achieve these goals. There are many different ways that this system could work in New York...
Cars traveling south of 86th Street would be charged $8 but those who travel only within the zone would pay half price. Most New Yorkers would not be affected at all – and not just because the vast majority don’t drive to work. We believe a fee should apply only weekdays – from 6 A.M. to 6 P.M. If you drive into Manhattan during the other twelve hours, or on a weekend, there would be no charge. And if you live below 86th Street, rest assured: you’re not going to pay for the great privilege of moving your car across the street in the morning.
The Mayor said that the studies showed that "Of the New Yorkers who work in Manhattan, only five percent commute by car," which is why he believes "that city drivers will pay only a little more than half of these congestion pricing fees. Drivers from outside the city will pay the balance." Interesting! And if you've been wondering how one would pay a congestion pricing toll, drivers would use either EZ Pass type technology or the license plates would be photographed and drivers would be invoiced - we wonder what the clearance rate on toll invoices would be! Oh, and check this out: Trucks would be charged $21! Mayor Mike also mentioned developing more express bus service to help serve people where mass transit options are not as plentiful.
Governor Spitzer says he's looking forward to reviewing the plan, but there's a lot of skepticism. Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion tells the Times, "I wonder if it is another hidden tax on working people." And Assembly member Catherine Nolan tells the News, "I don't see how anyone from Brooklyn or Queens could support it." The Post reports State Senator John Sabini as saying, "It pits parts of the city against each other. I don't see politically how, if we can't get a commuter tax [that this will happen]. I think there's other things we can do." It'll be interesting to see what will actually happen - the Sun points out that 40% of the initiatives need Legislature or non-city agency approval.
The NY Times' editorial loves the Mayor's plan: "New Yorkers are fortunate to have a mayor willing to expend his energy and political clout to make their home a more livable city." The Post acknowledges that it's unpopular but writes, "The mayor and his staff take a coordinated, deeply coherent approach to achieve a practical - if politically challenging - outline for where the city should be 23 years hence, and beyond." The Sun compares the Mayor to Pigou and the News is supportive of the plan and says, "If elected officials, including those who would be mayor after Bloomberg, have better ideas for keeping the city livable, let's hear them."