Traveling on New York Citys streets and highways
normally takes 5075% longer at rush hour than
under uncongested conditions. The value of time wasted
from traffic congestion is about $8 billion annually.
Congestion also increases the cost of doing business
in New York and leaves drivers and bus riders stressed
from clogged streets and unpredictable travel times.
Cities from London to Singapore to San Diego have shown
that road pricing measures such as fees to enter a portion
of the city or to use a highway lane are powerful tools
in reducing traffic congestion. Yet most road pricing
proposals stumble on the political toxicity of fees
and tolls, which the public often views as tantamount
to taxes aimed at drivers. With advances in toll collection
technology, public acceptability is clearly the major
barrier to adopting pricing measures.
This study tested the public acceptability of three
well-known and widely discussed pricing policies:
- Congestion pricing in which vehicles driving in
the Manhattan business district on weekdays would
pay a fee
- Express lanes on highways for solo drivers
who pay a toll as well as buses and high-occupancy
- Increases in the cost of on-street parking.
The first two measures are aimed at reducing congestion
on streets and highways. Increased parking fees are
intended to increase turnover of parking spaces, reduce
double parking, and make finding a parking spot easier.
In a series of focus groups held with a cross-section
of New Yorkers, the express lane concept won broad support,
particularly among auto users and owners of retail establishments,
restaurants, and delivery companies. There is thus clearly
an opportunity to use certain forms of road pricing
to improve transportation in New York.
Congestion pricing produced mixed reactions, consistent
with public opinion polls showing New Yorkers to be
evenly split on the issue. To attract widespread public
support, congestion pricing should be targeted to the
most congested streets and highways throughout New York
City. Congestion fees should also be adjusted by time
of day so that the highest charges are during the most
Reaction to increases in the cost of on-street parking
depended on the details of implementation.
A plan that combines a targeted form of congestion
pricing, express lanes on selected highways, and a pilot
parking-fee program is detailed in the report. The plan
includes fees for vehicles entering and exiting the
Manhattan Central Business District (CBDbelow
60th Street) during the morning and afternoon peak periods.
The plan also includes a fee for driving in the CBD
during midday, when congestion is worst. Revenue from
fees and tolls should be used for improving public transportation
and for other measures to reduce traffic congestion.
These could include greater traffic enforcement and
designated truck-loading areas.
This plan responds to the publics demand that
pricing policies solve transportation problems and enhance
travel choices. The targeted nature of the plan will
demonstrate that the impetus of the program is traffic
reduction and that the program will not unfairly penalize
drivers who do not contribute to the congestion problem,
thus addressing fairness and equity concerns.
A final and important finding of the research is that
a pricing program should be preceded by non-pricing
measures that improve transportation in the city. Such
measures should include greater frequency and reliability
of public transportation service, less crowding on trains
and buses, park-and-ride lots and express buses that
cater to neighborhoods where most CBD-bound auto users
live, and steps to better accommodate truck deliveries
and relieve pedestrian/vehicular conflicts that stymie
traffic. These non-pricing measures would enhance travel
choices, increase the perceived fairness of pricing
policies, and show that policymakers understand that
no one measure is sufficient to solve the varied transportation
problems in New York.
Bruce Schaller, Principal of Schaller Consulting,
is a nationally recognized expert in transportation
policy. His New York City work includes reports on:
why people drive into Manhattan; East River bridge tolls;
bus rapid transit; suburban commuter access to Lower
Manhattan; transit fare policy; taxicab regulation,
transportation operations for special events; and transportation
financing. His consulting clients have included the
Metropolitan Transportation Authority, City of New York,
Federal Transportation Research Board, Regional Plan
Association, New York Metropolitan Transportation Council,
NYPIRG Straphangers Campaign and Transportation Alternatives.
Mr. Schaller is also a Visiting Practitioner at the
Rudin Center for Transportation Policy and Management
at New York Universitys Robert F. Wagner Graduate
School of Public Service, and writes the monthly transportation
topic page in GothamGazette.com. Prior to establishing
his consulting practice in 1998, Mr. Schaller was Deputy
Director of Marketing Research and Analysis at New York
City Transit and worked at several New York City agencies.
Mr. Schaller has a Masters in Public Policy from the
University of California at Berkeley and a B.A. from
Bart Robbett, Partner of Robbett Advocacy
Media, LLC and an award-winning creator of public
affairs advertising, assisted in the project. Mr.
Robbett developed the message statements tested in
the focus groups and their implications for communication
The newest symbol of New York City is the condominium
tower rising on a vacant parcel of land previously used
as a parking lot. New condominiums epitomize the citys
growing population and attractiveness to high-income
professionals. Condo developments also point to the
consequences of growth: more traffic, crowded sidewalks,
less parking, increased pollution, and, overall, more
stress in New Yorkers daily lives.
As new condos and other commercial and residential
developments rise around the city, an increasingly key
issue for New Yorkers is: How can the city cope with
success? The implications for transportation are foremost
on peoples minds. The majority of New York City
residents consider traffic jams to be a major
problem. Traffic is a
key issue throughout the city, from the development
of Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn and the West Side of Manhattan
to asthma rates in East Harlem and the Bronx to population
growth on Staten Island. In another sign of the potency
of transportation issues, a recent forum on transportation
sponsored by Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer
attracted more than 500 participants on a Thursday morning.
New Yorkers also feel that the city is not doing a
very good job about the problem. By a two to one margin,
New York City residents give the city administration
a negative review of its job performance on reducing
traffic delays. The public thinks
more highly of the city administrations performance
on education and crime, historically among the most
important issues in the city, than of its performance
on traffic congestion.
What is the solution to traffic congestion in New York
City? One option that virtually no one believes is a
solution is to expand the highway network. New York
hasnt built a new highway since the opening of
the West Shore Expressway on Staten Island in 1976,
and there is no discussion of venturing in that direction.
In recent years, various forms of road pricing have
been proposed to combat traffic congestion. Potential
measures have included East River bridge tolls and,
more recently, congestion pricing. While the technological
feasibility of these measures has progressed with the
advance of toll collection technology, road pricing
measures have repeatedly been derided as politically
unpalatable. Elected officials ranging from Mayor Michael
Bloomberg to Nassau County Executive Thomas Suozzi have
backed away from initial discussions of congestion pricing
or bridge or highway tolls after negative political
reaction. The major barrier to adopting pricing-based
policies is thus public acceptability.
Yet road pricing can achieve a number of highly desirable
objectives: reducing congestion; generating revenues
to improve roads and public transportation; reducing
vehicle emissions and gasoline consumption; and improving
the efficiency of the citys economy. Addressing
these issues is vital to Mayor Bloombergs strategic
land-use planning effort aimed at accommodating a projected
1 million more New York City inhabitants over the next
New York has arrived at an important moment to give
consideration to road pricing. The cumulative impacts
of longer-term trends are becoming acute: pressures
from population and employment growth in the city; competition
among metropolitan areas to attract the so-called creative
classes; increased public awareness of the need to address
energy and environmental issues; and a broad-based consensus
of the need to both encourage the use of public transportation
and to make the most efficient use of highway and street
space. These longer-term trends now come together with
the opportunity presented by the election of a new governor
and by city halls commitment to developing a citywide
The purpose of this study is to examine the role that
road pricing might play in improving transportation
in New York City. The study is based on a review of
the literature on road pricing and eight focus groups.
Focus group participants reflected a range of New Yorkersbusiness
owners and residents, auto and transit users, residents
of all five boroughs, as well as suburbanites who regularly
drive into Manhattan. The focus groups, held in September
2006, discussed road pricing concepts and other ways
to improve transportation in New York City. See Appendix
A for details of the research methodology.
This study focuses on the public acceptability of three
forms of road pricing: congestion pricing in which drivers
would be charged a fee in the Manhattan central business
district; express lanes on highways that would charge
a toll for solo drivers; and higher metered fees for
on-street parking. The results of this research show
what a publicly acceptable and sensible road pricing
plan should include, and how such a plan should be developed.
Much additional work is required to move from the conclusions
of this research to a fully developed plan for road
pricing in New York. The value of this research is in
pointing the way to developing a plan that is not only
workable and effective, but also adoptable.
The Costs of Congestion
Todays interest in road pricing stems from the
severity of congestion in New York City and the demonstrated
effectiveness of road pricing in unknotting traffic
in other major cities. Even with the countrys
largest public transportation system, New Yorks
traffic congestion is as severe as most other major
metropolitan areas. The region is ranked eighth among
major metropolitan areas in traffic delay per trip,
only slightly below the notoriously congested Houston
and Atlanta metro areas. Within Manhattan, traffic speeds
average 11 mph on arterials and 8 mph on local streets
in the morning and afternoon commute periods.
As shown on the maps in Appendix B, speeds often fall
below these averages in Manhattan as well as the other
The cost of congestion can be measured in several ways.
One cost is the value of time lost to travel delay.
Trips in New York City normally take 5075% longer
at rush hour than they would under free-flow travel
conditions, not even counting delays from traffic accidents
and other incidents. The economic value of this time
is estimated at over $4 billion a year, according to
the New York Metropolitan Transportation Council (NYMTC),
the transportation planning agency for downstate New
York. The total cost of delay,
when incident delay is included, is about $8 billion
Congestion costs are borne by businesses as well as
individuals. Freight shipment costs in the metropolitan
area are double those of the national average. These
costs make the region less economically competitive
and result in higher prices for goods and services.
There are also nonmonetary impacts from traffic congestion.
Even at the risk of inflicting havoc with sleep and
family schedules, many motorists choose to travel at
less congested times to avoid delay. A survey of trans-Hudson
motorists found that 22% choose their travel times to
avoid congestion. Travel delays
spawned by congestion also limit New Yorkers accessibility
to jobs, shopping, and entertainment. As the road network
becomes ever more saturated with traffic, people may
limit the overall amount they travel, thus limiting
the economic potential of the city economy.
Potential Benefits of Road Pricing
Road pricing has the clear potential to reduce congestion,
traffic delay, and the unpredictability of travel times.
As discussed in the next section, congestion pricing
programs in London and Stockholm have reduced traffic
volumes in the central city by up to 16% and traffic
delays by as much as 26%. Congestion charging in Singapore
maintains targeted speeds that maximize traffic flow.
A combination of toll and high-occupancy vehicle lanes
on highways in the San Diego and Los Angeles areas also
maintains uncongested speeds.
These experiences show that road pricing is far more
effective in reducing congestion and speeding trips
than any measures currently planned or likely to be
contemplated in New York City. The most ambitious and
costly improvements to transportation currently being
undertaken in New York City are rail expansions, which,
while not primarily focused on reducing traffic, are
indicative of the level of traffic impacts of non-pricing
measures. Transportation improvements that are planned
to be completed by 2030which include the Second
Avenue subway, connecting the Long Island Rail Road
to Grand Central Terminal, and a new rail tunnel from
New Jersey into Penn Stationwill reduce traffic
volumes in Manhattan by 5% compared with traffic volumes
without the improvements, according to the regional
travel model developed for NYMTC.
Road Pricing in New York
The New York metropolitan area has a long and noteworthy
history of road pricing. In the nineteenth century,
New York State led the nation in the number of dirt
toll roads. One-third of the tolled highways joining
the interstate system when it was established in the
mid-1950s were in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut.9
Currently, these three states account for 40% of all
toll revenue collected in the United States.
Transportation agencies in the New York region have
been prominent innovators in toll collection and toll
structure. They were key players in developing E-ZPass,
ensuring that the same tags could be used throughout
the I-95 corridor from Maine to Virginia. More recently,
high-speed E-ZPass lanes that do not require drivers
to slow down to pay the toll were installed at some
Port Authority and New Jersey Turnpike toll facilities.
In addition, the New York State Thruway Authority began
selling prepackaged $25 E-ZPass tags through participating
retailers. Motorists can use the tags immediately rather
than having to sign up in advance. (Tag registration
is required within two days of purchase.)
Several New York area agencies have also implemented
variable pricing, a key component of many modern road
pricing programs. The objective of variable pricing
is to encourage drivers to travel during less congested
times by charging them higher tolls during peak periods.
Variable tolls have been implemented since 2000 on the
Hudson River crossings, the New Jersey Turnpike, and,
for commercial vehicles, the Tappan Zee Bridge. The
$1 peak to off-peak differential for E-ZPass users on
the Hudson River crossings produced a 7% shift away
from A.M. peak hours at the Holland and Lincoln Tunnels.
Variable pricing also slowed the rate of traffic growth
during peak hours on the New Jersey Turnpike.
Within New York City, the Department of Transportation
(NYCDOT) implemented parking fees at truck-loading zones
to encourage turnover. Using an escalating price structure,
the parking fees at commercial spaces in midtown Manhattan
are $2 for one hour, $5 for two hours, and $9 for three
hours. Payment can be made at Muni-Meters in cash or
by credit card. NYCDOT reports quicker turnover and
more availability of parking as a result of this program.
Road Pricing in Other Major Cities
Road pricing can extend well beyond the variable pricing
and escalating parking-fee measures that have been
implemented in the New York region. As summarized
in Figure 1, road pricing encompasses cordon
tolls, area pricing, and tolled express lanes. Each
of these has been implemented in other major cities
with successful results.
1. The Different Types of road Pricing
traditional means of collecting revenue. Typically
uniform tolls for all passenger vehicles passing
through a toll facility or traveling a specified
highway tolls: tolls vary by time of day
to encourage travel at less congested times.
tolls: system of toll charges that apply
to any vehicle entering a specified geographic
area. Vehicles are charged each time they cross
the cordon line. Stockholm and Singapore are
examples. May use variable toll schedule.
pricing: fee for vehicles traveling within
a geographic area. Vehicles are charged whether
or not they cross the boundary. Vehicles are
charged once daily. London is an example.
toll (HOT) lanes (also referred to as express
lanes with tolls in this report): specified
lane(s) on a highway that can be used by buses
and private vehicles with at least a certain
number of occupants (typically 2+ or 3+). Vehicles
with one occupant pay a toll to use the HOT
lanes. General-purpose lanes remain untolled
but are more congested. U.S. examples are in
the San Diego, Houston, Minnesota, and Los Angeles
areas and being planned in the Washington, D.C.
area. May use variable toll schedule.
One of the best-known schemes is Londons congestion
fee, paid by vehicles traveling in central London
between 6:30 A.M. and 6:30 P.M. The charge applies
once per day and applies whether vehicles cross into
the charging zone or stay entirely within the zone.
Initially set at £5 in 2003 (about $8 at the
time), congestion charging reduced the number of automobiles
entering central London by 37% between 2002 (pre-implementation)
and the spring of 2005. Despite increases in the number
of buses and taxis in central London, overall traffic
levels declined by 16%, and congestion-induced traffic
delays fell by 26%. The fee
was increased to £8 in the fall of 2005 (about
$15 at current exchange rates), leading to additional
reductions in traffic and congestion.
Other cities have adopted charges that apply each time
that vehicles cross a cordon line. In some cases, fees
vary by time of day to encourage drivers to travel during
less congested times. In a six-month trial program earlier
this year in Stockholm, vehicles entering the central
city were charged a fee that varied by time of day up
to $2.70 during rush hour. Vehicle entries into Stockholm
fell by 2025%, traffic volumes in the central
city declined by 10%, and vehicle emissions fell by
Singapores congestion fee program, which was
started in 1975, currently charges motorists entering
the central part of the city and at fourteen congested
points on highways and major roads outside the central
city. The charges range from $0.30 to $2.00 (at current
exchange rates) and are charged each time a vehicle
passes a toll gantry. Fees are periodically adjusted
to maintain traffic speeds of 20 to 30 kph (1219
mph) in the business district and 45 to 65 kph (2841
mph) on expressways. These targets were chosen as the
speeds that maximize the carrying capacity of the roadway.
(When the number of vehicles entering a roadway exceeds
the maximum carrying capacity, the result is a breakdown
in the traffic flow and, ultimately, stop-and-go traffic.)
In the United States, road pricing innovation has focused
on high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes. The pioneering effort
was on I-15 in the San Diego area, where reversible
HOT lanes operate in the peak commuter direction. The
lanes are reserved for buses, high-occupancy vehicles,
and, since 1996, cars paying a toll. Tolls generally
range from $0.50 to $4.00 and are adjusted every six
minutes in response to real-time traffic volumes to
maintain free-flow speeds. The I-15 lanes are slated
for expansion from eight miles to twenty miles in length
and from two lanes to four lanes. Similar tolled express
lanes have been implemented in the Los Angeles, Houston,
Minneapolis, and Denver areas
and are planned or under consideration in other metropolitan
Road Pricing and Public Acceptability
In the wake of the introduction of congestion pricing
and HOT lanes in major European and American cities,
interest in road pricing has intensified in New York
City. In the early part of this decade, the focus was
on East River bridge tolls. The Bloomberg administration
put an $800 million revenue line item in a 2003 budget
plan for Regional Transportation Initiatives
that would include tolling East River bridges. Due to
the political reaction to bridge tolls, combined with
the inability of the city to complete the planning and
approval process in time to close budget gaps, the administration
dropped the idea.
More recently, the focus has shifted to London-style
congestion pricing in the Manhattan CBD. The Partnership
for New York City, an influential group representing
some of the citys largest businesses, is nearing
completion of a major study on the economic impacts
of congestion pricing. The Regional Plan Association
released a study of congestion pricing options in 2003
and will release a report in 2007 assessing technology
options for use in a congestion pricing program for
New York City.
There has also been increased interest in road pricing
from city and state governments. The New York State
Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) is beginning a
feasibility study in January of managed lanes.
The study is expected to include an assessment of HOT
lanes as a means of better utilizing the highway network
and improving mobility. NYSDOT is also studying managed
lane concepts for a new Tappan Zee Bridge. Finally,
there has been speculation that the mayors strategic
plan will consider congestion pricing options.
Despite the evident success of various forms of road
pricing, attracting public support for road pricing
measures is difficult. Before congestion pricing was
implemented, polls showed that a bare majority of Londoners
supported the idea. Opposition
in Stockholm led the city to approve pricing for a six-month
trial period, followed by a public referendum. Stockholm
voters endorsed the plan (although suburban voters registered
opposition). Recent press reports indicate that the
government has decided to proceed with permanent implementation.
HOT lanes in the United States were adopted only after
extensive public education and careful study and were
almost always championed by a major political leader.
Polls in New York City have shown considerable opposition
to tolls and fees. No prominent elected official has
come out in favor of road pricing measures. A poll conducted
earlier this year for the Tri-State Transportation Campaign
found New Yorkers evenly divided on congestion pricing
in the Manhattan CBD, with 44% saying it is a good
idea and 45% saying congestion pricing is a bad
idea. The remainder had
no opinion. A 2003 Quinnipiac University poll found
that a 2:1 majority of New York City residents opposed
tolls on the free East River bridges and, by the same
margin, charging single-passenger cars a fee to drive
into Manhattan. When pitted
against other ways to balance the city budget, such
as taxes and increased subway and bus fares, however,
East River bridge tolls gain broad support.
These results suggest that depending on the purpose
of road pricing and how revenues are used, it may be
possible to gain public acceptance and support for road
pricing, as results from the focus groups conducted
from this study showed.
Focus Group Results: Overall Reaction to Congestion
Fees and Tolled Express Lanes
Because focus group respondents reaction to congestion
pricing and tolled express lanes shared many of the
same themes, findings on these two concepts are discussed
jointly in this section, followed by findings on parking
Overall, congestion pricing and express lane concepts
received a mixed reaction from focus group participants.
Opinion ranged from strongly positive to strongly negative.
As might be expected, most auto users and delivery-company
owners opposed congestion pricing, while congestion
pricing gained support among many transit users. The
lineup of reaction to express lanes differed from that
for congestion pricing. Auto users and retail, restaurant,
and delivery-company owners generally supported express
lanes while transit users were mixed. Whether pro or
con, transit users who rarely drive on outer-borough
highways tended not to have strong opinions about express
Primary reasons for supporting these concepts were
reducing congestion and using revenues to improve roads
and public transportation. Improved air quality, reduced
noise, and overall bettering of the quality of life
were also important reasons for supporting pricing policies.
The underlying basis for opposition to pricing concepts
was a negative reaction to fees and tolls. Respondents
felt that fees and tolls amount to a tax, and they are
strongly against tax increases. Once the discussion
focused on the fee and toll aspect of the concepts,
it was difficult for respondents to give consideration
to possible benefits such as congestion reduction and
transit improvements. They viewed the concepts in entirely
negative terms as a tax on drivers.
Opinion on the two concepts differed by concept, sometimes
in surprising ways. While the focus groups are not a
statistically representative sample of the population,
it was notable that about one-third of auto users in
the groups favored congestion pricing after reading
the concept statement. Transit-user groups, which might
be expected to be strongly supportive, were almost evenly
divided in their initial reaction to congestion pricing.
These results from the focus groups are consistent with
results from public opinion polling released in November
Differences of opinion within each segment (auto user
and transit user) emerge partly from differences in
individual situations and experiences. A driver who
lives and works in Manhattan is affected by congestion
pricing differently from someone driving into Manhattan
from Bayside, Queens. Manhattan drivers have more transit
options and are more inclined to consider the benefits
of congestion pricing. Queens commuters are strongly
attached to the comfort and convenience of their cars
and are more likely to strongly oppose congestion pricing.
Opinions also reflected the fact that respondents evaluated
congestion pricing on a range of criteria, not simply
the impact of fees on them personally. Respondents considered
the likely effectiveness of the concept in reducing
congestion and issues of fairness, equity, and workability.
These considerations are discussed in the next section.
The general point to be made is that the evaluative
process is fairly complex and often quite sophisticated.
Simple expectations about who will support or oppose
the concepts are, as a result, not borne out by the
Retail and restaurant owners had mixed opinions about
congestion pricing. Their views were largely based on
their personal reactions rather than their reactions
as businesspeople. They generally expected that congestion
pricing would have little impact on their businesses.
Neighborhood bar owners, for example, viewed their clientele
as primarily either local residents or transit users.
Business owners would be concerned if the overall number
of people coming into Manhattan shrank, but felt this
was unlikely. In support of this view, one respondent
cited the continued health of the restaurant industry
after the mayors smoking ban.
In contrast to retail and restaurant owners, delivery
businesses viewed congestion pricing largely in light
of its impact on their businesses. They strongly opposed
congestion pricing because they felt they would either
have to absorb the cost or pass it on to customers.
In either case, they expected that a congestion fee
would be harmful to their businesses. They already feel
burdened by fees and taxes and strongly oppose any additional
costs imposed by government.
While auto users tended to oppose congestion pricing,
most supported the concept of tolled express lanes.
As discussed below, the element of choice in the express
lane concept sharply differentiated express lanes from
congestion pricing. Retail, restaurant, and delivery
companies also supported tolled express lanes. Transit-user
groups were mixed on this concept.
Factors Underlying Opinions on Congestion Pricing
and Tolled Express Lanes
What leads some people to support road pricing? What
leads others to oppose these concepts? Are there approaches
that would attract broad support as sensible and effective
ways to improve transportation in New York City?
The opinions of focus group participants hinged on
considerations ranging from effectiveness to workability.
These considerations can be distilled into six key questions
that respondents sought to answer as they evaluated
1. Will the concept be effective in achieving the goal
of reducing congestion and improving the transportation
2. Will the concept solve problems that I experience
in moving about the city?
3. Does the concept improve my transportation choices
4. Is the concept fair and equitable?
5. Will the concept work as intended?
6. Is the policy environment supportive of success
for this plan?
Affirmative answers lead respondents to support the
concepts while negative answers swayed respondents
toward opposing the concepts. (See summary in Figure
Figure 2. Summary of factors underlying Opinions
on Congestion Pricing and Tolled Express lanes
of Supporters of Fees/Tolls
of Opponents of Fees/Tolls
in reducing traffic congestion
Cost will induce fewer drivers to
Express lanes encourage carpooling
(although may be skeptical of how many people
will actually carpool).
Drivers will pay the fee or toll
and continue driving.
Few people carpool in existing HOV
lanes; carpooling is an ineffective strategy.
Less congestion means faster bus
Increased funding for public transportation
will benefit bus and subway riders.
Reduced congestion will benefit drivers.
Drivers will not benefit because fees
tolls will not reduce congestion.
Improved choices for both driving
and public transportation.
Public transportation is too crowded,
unreliable, dirty to be considered a
Drivers are either cross-section
of population or upper income.
Driving is personal choice for comfort
Will hurt the working person.
Must guarantee use of revenues to
How will express lanes be enforced?
As with Lotto, revenue will be diverted
to other uses.
Will funds be left after paying program
supportive of plan
Should encourage people to use public
transportation by improving and expanding
Need non-pricing policies to deal
with impacts on traffic from commercial
vehicles, deliveries, taxis and pedestrians
crossing the street.
Cannot count on improvements to transit;
read about MTA service cuts.
Non-pricing measures preferred.
A basic condition for supporting road pricing is the
belief that it will, in fact, reduce congestion. The
core of this issue is whether some drivers will drive
less when faced with fees or tolls.
Supporters believe that some people would drive less,
primarily by switching to public transportation. Many
in this group use transit themselves every day. Although
they may have criticisms of the transit system, they
view public transportation as a viable option. Fees
and tolls will nudge drivers toward transit. Other drivers
will reduce the number of unnecessary or
random trips, leaving a core of economically
important trips that will benefit from reduced congestion.
Those opposing congestion pricing and express lanes
believe that people will continue driving even if they
have to pay a fee or toll. Driving is more comfortable
and convenient and offers privacy and control. In their
view, public transportation is crowded, dirty, unreliable,
and uncomfortable. They also tended to feel that the
problem of congestion stemmed from a broad range of
factors, not simply too many cars. Vehicles such as
trucks, commercial vans, and taxis have to be
here. Congestion from these vehicles and from
street closures for the U.N. and other events are important
impediments to traffic that respondents felt congestion
pricing would not alleviate.
Opponents of congestion pricing and express lanes thus
felt that fees and tolls would simply be a way to extract
money from drivers without reducing congestion. Opposition
to fees and tolls was most intense among auto users
who did not want to consider using public transportation.
Auto users who considered public transportation to be
a viable option for their own travel were much more
open to the congestion pricing concept.
Many participants found it difficult to predict how
drivers would react to increased costs of driving. Some
participants projected their personal reaction; thus
if they would switch modes, they expected that others
would do so as well, and vice versa. Some pointed to
continuing congestion even in the face of bridge and
tunnel toll increases and gasoline prices that exceeded
$3 a gallon. Others reasoned by analogy: the perceived
effectiveness or ineffectiveness of cigarette taxes
on smoking levels was mentioned, for example.
The different views of the likely effectiveness of
fees and tolls in reducing congestion stems in part
from different expectations about fee and toll levels.
Those opposing fees and tolls generally envisioned lower
charges, in part because they resisted thinking about
paying a burdensome fee level. Among participants who
thought that congestion pricing is a good idea,
the fee would be too high to be acceptable
at $10 (median), compared with $5.50 among those who
thought that congestion pricing is not a good
idea. For express lanes, a toll would be too
high to be acceptable at $10, compared with $7
among those who thought that congestion pricing is not
a good idea.
The congestion pricing concept statement mentioned
that Londons charge has reduced congestion and
improved bus speeds and service reliability. Although
some focus group participants cited Londons experience
favorably, Londons experience did not convince
others that pricing would benefit New York. Some participants
have visited or lived in London and felt that while
congestion has been reduced, traffic is still heavy.
Participants also cited differences between London and
New York: fewer residents in central London; a less
dense cluster of office buildings; and cultural differences.
As an example of the last, a respondent who had lived
in London cited the British willingness to pay a monthly
fee for over-the-air television stations. Overall, analogies
to the behavior of New Yorkers appeared more convincing
than analogies to the behavior of residents of other
cities, London included.
Solving Problems Personally Experienced
Road pricing tended to be more compelling to respondents
who felt it would alleviate their own personal everyday
transportation problems. Express bus users, for example,
felt that congestion pricing would relieve the problem
of buses stuck in traffic in Manhattan and on highways
on the way home to Staten Island, Brooklyn, and Queens.
They also saw revenues from congestion fees as increasing
the frequency, reliability, and comfort of the buses.
They would thus benefit from congestion pricing in direct
and obvious ways.
Subway riders were less enthused about congestion pricing
if they felt it would not alleviate the overcrowded
and unreliable subway service they experience. In fact,
if drivers switched to the subway, these problems might
be exacerbated. Some bus riders saw congestion as caused
by trucks, taxis, and double parking by all types of
vehiclesproblems that would not be addressed by
pricing. Without a direct benefit to the speed or comfort
of their trips, considerations of equity and practicality
moved some subway and bus riders toward opposition.
Auto users who supported pricing felt that it would
reduce congestion and improve public transportation.
They viewed transit either as a viable alternative currently,
or that it would become more attractive with increased
funding. Congestion pricing and tolled express lanes
would thus offer them improvements whether they continued
to drive or took transit. They viewed the fees as reasonable,
given the benefits.
Auto users who opposed road pricing did so for a combination
of considerations involving solving problems, effectiveness,
and their basic aversion to paying fees or tolls. Since
they did not think that road pricing would reduce congestion,
pricing would not solve the problem of too many cars
on the streets and highways. Road pricing also does
not address the lack of parking, a problem that many
view as equal to or more acute than congestion. With
these views, fees and tolls simply represent a way to
pull money out of peoples pockets.
Auto users also tended to feel that they could avoid
heavy traffic congestion without having to accept a
fee. They can travel off-peak and they can use public
transportation once they are in Manhattan. Asked whether
the car is a good way to get around, auto users said
that the answer depends on when and where you are traveling.
As much as possible, they use their cars when it is
a good way to travel, given their needs and traffic
conditions, and they switch to public transportation
when traffic and lack of parking make the car a poor
transportation choice. As much as congestion is a problem
generally, they can minimize its personal impact.
The focus group composed of delivery-company owners
and managers very strongly felt that they would not
benefit from congestion fees. They believed that very
little congestion is attributable to drivers of personal
automobiles, who would be most responsive to pricing
incentives. Commercial vehicles, taxis, and particularly
pedestrians who block turning movements are the main
sources of congestion and would not be reduced by congestion
pricing. Congestion fees would thus be an added cost
of doing business without any benefit.
In discussions of express lanes, personal benefits
were naturally of most interest to drivers who regularly
use highways in the outer boroughs. They tended to support
the concept, seeing themselves as benefiting directly
from the availability of an express lane when they needed
a faster trip.
Improving Transportation Choices
The presence of various types of choices was a critical
factor in attracting support for road pricing. Auto
users who felt that public transportation offers a viable
choice favored congestion fees and express lane tolls
more than auto users who would not consider public transportation
as an attractive option. Similarly, transit users who
felt that drivers have a viable transit option were
more likely to view road pricing as fair.
Choice was a key reason for auto users who opposed congestion
pricing to support tolled express lanes. Express lanes
offer a choice between congested general-purpose lanes
that they now use and paying a toll to use an uncongested
option. The fact that they would not pay unless they
chose to do so was a very positive difference from congestion
pricing and freed them to consider the possible benefits
of express lanes.
Choice also played a role in differentiating incentives
from tolls or fees. Incentives such as improvements
to public transportation and HOV lanes, which encourage
carpooling, were attractive across all focus group segments
because they enhance choices. Fees and tolls are less
attractive because they are perceived as penalizing
people and restricting choice.
The lack of choice was a primary reason that delivery
companies opposed congestion pricing. They felt that
they would have no choice but to pay the fee, which
then represents an additional cost to their businesses,
their customers, or both.
Fairness and Equity
Fees and tolls have the potential to be regarded as
unfair and possibly inequitable to drivers. Tolls and
fees are potentially unfair if they single out drivers
for no good reason. Road charges are particularly likely
to be seen as unfair if they are seen as unlikely to
reduce congestionthe charges become just
a tax applied only to drivers. This feeling is
intensified for those who believe that drivers cannot
avoid paying the charges. Equity is a somewhat different
issue, usually related to differential effects across
income groups. Charges that are disproportionately paid
by lower-income persons would be considered inequitable.
In considering the fairness and equity of road pricing,
respondents think about the impact on specific types
of people: the working person, parents dropping kids
off at school, the elderly going to medical appointments,
commuters who lack viable transit options because they
travel very early or very late, and commuters who lives
in areas not well served by transit, such as Rockland
County. Respondents often know particular people in
these groups or at least can visualize such persons.
Respondents who are not personally affected by fees
and tolls empathize with people who are affected. Fairness
and equity can be important reasons to oppose road pricing,
especially for transit users who would not themselves
pay a charge.
Fairness considerations moved respondents who favor
pricing measures toward advocating targeted use of pricing
so that fees or tolls would be charged only at the times
and places where congestion is worst. In that way, no
one would have to pay the fee except when there is a
strong rationale. This targeting of congestion fees
also seems likely to increase the opportunity for drivers
to avoid paying the fee if they could not afford itfor
example, by traveling early in the morning.
Fairness and equity considerations raise the factual
issue of who drives in Manhattan, and why. Is it higher-income
persons, lower-income persons, or a cross-section? Do
auto users need to drive, or do they drive for the convenience
and comfort? How would the charges affect those who
would be paying, and how would those who avoid paying
be affected? These were important but often unanswered
questions in the discussions, particularly among transit
users who do not themselves drive.24
Fairness and equity raised strong concerns about congestion
pricing, where the fee would be mandatory for drivers
traveling in the CBD during the charging hours. Fairness
is less of an issue for express lanes, since there is
inherently a free alternative to paying the toll.
Across the board, respondents expressed concern about
the cost of fee collection, compliance by those who
should pay, and use of fee and toll revenues. Some respondents
expected that the cost of collecting a congestion fee
would leave little or no revenues to improve public
transportation or road or street conditions. Participants
also wanted to be assured about driver compliance. Compliance
with the HOV option for express lanes was a major concern
for those familiar with the HOV lanes on the Staten
Island Expressway. Some felt that enforcement is very
weak, though others pointed out that enforcement may
be greater than one perceives if violators may be sent
summonses in the mail.
Another major aspect of workability concerns the distribution
of fee and toll revenue. Many participants were skeptical
that revenues would be used to improve public transportation
or road conditions. They perceived that lottery revenues
have been diverted from education, despite promises.
There was also doubt that the MTA uses current revenues
efficiently, some mentioning the charge in 2003 that
the MTA kept two sets of books. There is strong desire
for a guarantee that additional funds raised by pricing
will go toward transportation improvements.
Supportive Policy Environment
Another area of broad agreement was the need to encourage
the use of public transportation through improvements
to subway and bus service. Desired improvements include
more frequent and reliable subway and bus service;
park-and-ride facilities in the outer boroughs; express
bus services; timely information about transit delays;
and traffic enforcement. (See Figure 3 for
the variety of transportation improvements suggested
3. Desired Transportation Improvements
traffic phase so that the traffic is frozen
in all directions while all pedestrians cross
Big fines for blocking the box
Bike lanes on avenues and streets
Construction at night
Designated areas for commercial vehicles
Enforce requirement that taxis pick up
and drop off at the curb
Express lane for ambulances and fire
Improved bus service
More parking spaces
Multilevel parking garages at the end
of subway lines
No cell phones while driving
One lane for taxis, one lane for buses,
and the middle lane for carseveryone has
to stay in the lane
Park-and-rides with shuttle buses
Reduce crowding on the subway
Restrict cars from certain streets in
Synchronized traffic lights
Traffic agents not blocking active lanes
Respondents made these suggestions in response to being
asked what they would recommend to the mayor to improve
transportation in the city.
Transit improvements should be made before fees or
tolls are instituted so that drivers have a viable
transit alternative and to alleviate the potential
for exacerbating transit overcrowding. Steps such
as plans for bus rapid transit made respondents feel
that the transit system was headed in the right direction.
Recent press reports about possible service cuts,
on the other hand, fed negative perceptions regarding
the management of the transit system.
* * *
The importance and interplay of these questions can
be seen in participants responses to particular
issues. In discussing congestion pricing, participants
were asked whether the FDR Drive and West Street should
be excluded from the charging area. Those who favored
excluding the FDR and West Street thought that drivers
using these roads were not contributing to Manhattan
congestion and may lack viable transit alternatives
or alternate routes around the charging area. Others
thought that without a fee, the FDR and West Street
would continue to be traffic-choked, perhaps even more
so than currently, as drivers avoid the charging zone.
The issue of the charging zone boundaries thus involves
considerations of effectiveness, choice, and fairness.
Respondents also discussed whether taxicabs and commercial
vehicles should be exempt from a congestion fee. There
was universal agreement that taxicabs should be exempt
since they will be in Manhattan with or without a fee.
Taxis are seen as part of the public transportation
system. There was also support for exempting commercial
vehicles on the same basis, although some felt that
everyone should pay, including commercial
vehicles. Whether or not respondents thought that commercial
vehicles should pay the fee, they supported other measures
to combat traffic congestion that would be helpful to
commercial vehicles, such as the commercial parking
program and better enforcement of traffic rules.
The question of discounts for CBD residents raised
considerations of fairness and effectiveness. Some thought
that CBD residents use their cars primarily to leave
Manhattan and thus do not contribute to the congestion
problem. They thought that residents should be given
a discount or exemption because, unlike those living
elsewhere, they have no choice but to drive in Manhattan
when leaving home. Proponents of discounts or exemptions
for residents also cited privileges enjoyed by residents
living elsewhere, such as discounts for bridge tolls
for Staten Island residents and beach access rights
enjoyed by residents of coastal towns.
On the other side was the argument that everyone
should pay and a concern that exemptions or discounts
would undermine the effectiveness of a congestion fee.
* * *
The bottom line to this discussion is that to be acceptable,
pricing measures need to improve New Yorkers day-to-day
transportation experiences and strengthen the range
and attractiveness of their transportation choices.
Although discussions of transportation policy can easily
become focused on the specifics of congestion, crowding,
speed of travel, costs, and so forth, from the publics
perspective the discussion is really about the quality
of life. A program of road pricing and other measures
that improve transportation experiences and transportation
choices will enhance the quality of life, reduce stress,
and encourage people to enjoy the good things that New
Pricing of On-Street Parking
Although most of the focus group time was spent discussing
congestion pricing and express lanes, the topic of parking
was of high importance to many respondents. Auto users,
in particular, placed lack of parking, along with traffic
congestion, as a major problem.
Two somewhat different concept statements on the topic
of on-street parking fees were presented to focus group
participants. (See Appendix A.) Both concepts involved
higher parking fees for the purpose of encouraging turnover
and making it easier to find an open space. The concept
statement shown to the latter five groups included the
concept of Muni-Meters for noncommercial on-street parking
that would enable payment by credit card as well as
Reaction to the parking concepts was mixed. As with
congestion pricing and tolled express lanes, the varied
reaction stemmed in part from different expectations
as to how motorists would respond to higher fees. Some
respondents felt that people would pay higher parking
fees, with no impact on parking behavior. Negative reaction
was also based on resistance to paying higher costs.
Some felt that off-street parking garages would raise
their prices due to increased demand.
Higher on-street parking fees raised equity issues.
Some respondents thought that the higher fees would
be unfair to working people shopping for school supplies
and doing other necessary errands. Some also thought
that higher parking fees would attract wealthy drivers
while unfairly penalizing less wealthy shoppers.
Supporters of the parking concepts felt that with higher
parking fees, it would be easier to find a parking space,
there would be less double parking, and less stress
looking for a parking space. Muni-Meters offer very
attractive advantages. With the option of paying using
a Muni card or potentially a credit card, drivers would
not need not to stock up on quarters. Blocks with Muni-Meters
do not have individual parking places drawn on the street,
with the result that more cars can squeeze into a given
block. Respondents were also attracted to the idea that
parking revenues could be used to improve street and
sidewalk conditions and improve public transportation.
Across the board, respondents felt that no level of
parking fees would be effective without additional enforcement.
Respondents were also attracted to the idea of paying
only for the time that they are actually parked. Motorists
do not like having to guess how long their shopping
or other errands will take. A system in which they would
pay only for the time they use was highly attractive.
Reaction to the parking concepts was similar across
the different focus group segments--retail and restaurant
owners, transit and auto users. The importance of turnover
to local business owners was widely recognized. Business
owners and others also acknowledged that employees at
local stores park at meters and feed the meters throughout
the day. Business owners recognized the benefit to them
of having parking spaces available while also recognizing
their employees desire to use these parking spaces.
Delivery-company owners and managers were highly aware
of the citys commercial parking program, and they
thought that it worked well.
Response to Messages about Road Pricing
After discussing each of the three concepts, focus
group participants were asked to indicate their level
of agreement or disagreement with messages about congestion
fees, tolled express lanes, and parking fees, and to
indicate which of the statements they felt most strongly
about. Respondents reactions to these messages
provides further insight into public opinion on road
Overall, participants felt most strongly about three
messages related to congestion fees. Respondents strongly
agreed with these messages, and the level of agreement
was remarkably uniform across the different focus group
segments and between respondents who favored and respondents
who opposed congestion pricing. These messages thus
provide a broad foundation for discussions of road pricing:
- We should encourage people to take public
transportation by making it always less expensive
Strong agreement with this statement underscored respondents
feeling that use of public transportation should be
encouraged. The emphasis on lower cost for public
transportation rather than raising costs for driving
helped attract broad agreement.
- When ambulances and fire trucks cant
get through the gridlock then its time to reduce
the amount of cars in the most crowded areas of the
Participants felt that this message conveys the need
to do something about traffic congestion and highlights
the serious public safety implications of congestion
that go beyond issues of convenience or wasted time.
Those who support congestion fees saw this message
as supporting the concept. The message did not change
the views of those who opposed congestion fees; they
thought that steps short of congestion pricing should
be taken to reduce congestion.
- Given our energy and environmental problems,
any plan that gets people out of their cars and into
mass transit sounds like a good idea.
Linking environmental and energy issues contributed
to the strength of this statement. Helping to drive
the concern is public awareness of the relationship
between, on the one hand, energy/environmental aspects
and, on the other hand, foreign oil dependence, Iraq,
global warming, the economy, and jobs.
The depth and breadth of agreement shows that there
is public consensus that something needs to be done
about congestion because of its impact on travel and
the environment and that the core solution to congestion
is to emphasize the use of public transportation.
Participants who supported congestion pricing also
strongly agreed with the statement:
- Nobody wants to pay to drive into Manhattan,
but if it relieves traffic congestion, a fee would
still be a good idea.
This statement balances an acknowledgment of the distastefulness
of fees with support for fees based on the benefit
of reducing congestion.
Those opposing congestion pricing strongly agreed with
two other statements that formed the basis of their
opposition, and offset their areas of agreement with
supporters of the concept. These messages were:
- Drivers already pay too much for gas, tolls
and taxes. Congestion can be reduced through better
traffic enforcement and technology like high-tech
This statement summarized opponents feeling
that fees would pose an unacceptable financial penalty
on drivers and that traffic congestion should be reduced
through non-pricing means.
- Fees for drivers are unfair for working-class
people who cant afford to pay.
Participants in the retail/restaurant owner groups
felt most strongly about this statement, whereas it
received a more muted response from the auto-commuter
Two additional statements also elicited broad agreement
although they were not regarded as among the strongest
messages. These messages underscore participants
conviction that something needs to be done about traffic
congestion and that incremental reductions in traffic
can be highly effective in reducing congestion.
- With all the new apartment buildings going
up and new people moving to the city, we have to work
even harder to reduce traffic congestion.
- Getting even a few cars off the road can
make a big difference to reducing traffic. You see
on minor holidays like Presidents Day when rush hour
traffic flows smoothly.
While there were fewer strong feelings about messages
on tolled express lanes, two statements scored highest
in respondent ratings and strength of message. These
messages acknowledge the need to use highways as efficiently
as possible and the benefit of offering drivers a choice
of paying for a faster trip:
- Since they arent going to be building
more highways in the metropolitan area, we should
use what we have most efficiently by encouraging use
of buses and carpools.
- Even if free lanes are more congested than
before, express lanes are a good idea because they
give drivers the option of a faster trip.
None of the statements regarding parking pricing gained
as strong a response either in terms of agreement levels
or in perceived strength of the statement.
In developing the message to communicate and advocate
for a specific pricing plan, a few general observations
can be drawn from the reactions of the focus group participants:
- There is the need to communicate certain messages
early in the process that build awareness and trust
and involve input from the people.
- People need choices. They will readily accept incentives
but will strongly resist what are perceived as punitive
- When people take some ownership of the problem,
much of their resistance to the solutions goes away.
- Whenever the dialogue is primarily about money,
the benefits become lost. The focus needs to be kept
on improvements. In order for that to work, people
need a level of trust that revenues are dedicated
- Any discussion involving money should include the
discussion of how much money congestion is currently
Road pricing measures can go a long way toward improving
the citys transportation system. Road pricing
has a far greater potential to reduce traffic in congested
areas of the city than other measures. Unlike other
measures, road pricing would also generate revenue that
can be used to improve roads, highways, and public transportation
Yet road pricing faces substantial barriers to obtaining
public acceptance and support. Public discussion of
congestion pricing, highway tolls, or higher parking
fees ignites the publics deep-seated aversion
to fees and taxes. Road pricing also raises concerns
about the fairness of imposing costs on people who may
have no choice but to pay. Road pricing proposals must
allay these concerns if the public is to give these
proposals serious consideration.
Although there are substantial obstacles to public
acceptance, the current transportation situation creates
an opportunity to gain support for pricing strategies.
New Yorkers believe that something should be done about
traffic congestion. They also want to see improvements
in the citys public transportation system. Population
and employment growth observable throughout the city
strengthens the publics belief that something
needs to be done. Intensifying concern about environmental
and energy issues further bolsters this feeling.
This research shows that there are opportunities to
use pricing to improve transportation in New York City.
The research also shows how to shape a publicly acceptable
and sensible road pricing program for New York City
and points to key aspects of the process that should
be used to develop a pricing program.
Recommended Design of a Pricing Plan
A road pricing plan should pay careful attention to
the publics demand that the program be effective,
be focused on solving transportation problems, enhance
travel choices, be fair and equitable, be workable,
and be supported by other policies. Each of these demands
is important to building public support.
The pricing program outlined here is designed to embody
these goals. This plan focuses on elements most relevant
to building public support. It does not address all
issues that will need to be dealt with in a road pricing
plan. The intent is to point in the direction of a pricing
program that is both sensible and able to gain public
1. Since congestion is a citywide problem and not
only a Manhattan problem, road pricing should be applied
to highways and possibly roads in the outer boroughs
as well as to the Manhattan business district. Pricing
should be targeted to the times and places that congestion
is most severe.
Road pricing needs to be carefully tailored to address
the problem of congestion. This is critical to maximize
the effectiveness of pricing in reducing congestion,
to demonstrate that the goal of the program is to reduce
congestion (as opposed to raising revenue), and to show
that the program is fair and would not penalize drivers
who do not contribute to the congestion problem.
Congestion is most severe and widespread in the Manhattan
CBD (60th Street to the Battery) during midday hours,
as shown in Figure 2 in Appendix B. Midday in
the CBD shows the clearest need for an areawide congestion
pricing program. Areawide pricing might also be applied
to downtown Brooklyn, where congestion approaches Manhattan
levels during the midday period.
Midday congestion is an areawide issue, but during
the morning and afternoon rush-hour periods, congestion
is more focused on avenues and river crossings entering
and exiting the CBD. A sensible pricing strategy could
focus during these hours on CBD entries and exits rather
than being applied to all of Manhattan below 60th Street.
The most likely approach in the outer boroughs is to
implement express lanes with tolls on major congested
highways such as the Gowanus, Long Island, Staten Island,
Major Deegan, and Van Wyck Expressways. Express lanes
would provide drivers with a choice of paying a fee
for a speedy trip or traveling in general-purpose lanes
for free, as they currently do. Buses and cars with
three or more occupants (or possibly 2+ in some situations)
would be exempt from the fee. There would be no toll
when traffic is light. The upcoming New York State Department
of Transportation managed-lanes study is an opportunity
to identify the most practical and effective parts of
the citys highway network for tolled express lanes.
Road pricing fees would thus apply as follows:
- Midday fee: Vehicles traveling within the
Manhattan CBD from 10 A.M. to 4 P.M. The fee would
be charged to vehicles entering and exiting the CBD
and making internal CBD trips.
- A.M. cordon fee: Traffic entering the CBD
from 6:30 A.M. to 10 A.M.
- P.M. cordon fee: Outbound traffic from 4
P.M. to 6:30 P.M.
Express lane locations and fee structure need to be
determined based on further analysis of traffic levels
and operational feasibility.
Motorists would pay whichever fees applied to their
travel. Thus, a driver who takes an express lane and
then crosses the cordon at 9 A.M. would pay both the
express lane toll and the A.M. cordon fee.
Motorists would pay the midday fee a maximum of once
per day, and likewise for the A.M. cordon fee and P.M.
cordon fee. A delivery van that crosses back and forth
between Manhattan and Queens would pay no more than
$12 per day if each fee were $4. Express lane tolls
would be in addition to the midday and cordon fees.
Motorists would be credited for payment of existing
bridge and tunnel tolls charged for vehicles at Manhattan
crossings. Thus, someone paying a $4 E-ZPass toll
at the Midtown Tunnel at 8 A.M. would not pay an A.M.
cordon fee if that fee were set at $4 or less. Figure
4 shows the effect of this fee structure on a
variety of trips.
4. Examples of the Effects of Midday, A.M.,
and P.M. Cordon fees
fee (10 A.M. to 4 P.M.) $4
A.M. cordon fee (6:30 A.M. to 10 A.M.) $4
P.M. cordon fee (4 P.M. to 6:30 P.M.) $4
Rush-hour commuter who currently
pays no tolls: $8 per day
($4 inbound cordon fee in the morning and $4 outbound
cordon fee in the afternoon)
Rush-hour commuter who currently
uses the Midtown Tunnel: no fee
(continues to pay $4 E-ZPass fee each way)
Rush-hour commuter who uses Lincoln
Tunnel (or any Hudson River crossing): $4
(no fee in the A.M. after paying $5 Lincoln Tunnel
toll; $4 P.M. cordon fee)
Salesperson who commutes to a Manhattan
office and drives around Manhattan during the
day: $12, the maximum possible (all three fees,
Waiter working from 3 P.M. to midnight:
(midday fee upon entering the CBD at noon; would
not pay a fee driving home at 1 A.M.)
Janitor working midnight to 8 A.M.:
(drives in after 4 P.M., when neither the midday
fee nor inbound cordon fee is in effect; drives
home at 8 A.M., when neither the midday fee nor
outbound cordon fee is in effect)
Theater patron driving into the
CBD at 5 P.M.: no fee
CBD resident commuting to Coney
Island: no fee
(drives out of the CBD at 8 A.M., when neither
the midday fee nor outbound cordon fee is in effect;
at 6 P.M., when neither the midday fee nor inbound
cordon fee is in effect)
CBD resident dropping off kids
at school downtown: no fee as long as he or she
is parked by 10 A.M.
CBD resident commuting to JFK for
the 4 P.M. to midnight shift: $4 midday fee when
leaving home at 2:30 P.M.
(no fee going home after midnight)
The details of fee levels and times of operation
need to be refined based on further analysis and,
once implemented, actual experience. The travel model
recently developed for NYMTC, the regional planning
agency, can be used to identify optimal times and
places that pricing should be applied. The analysis
can take into account the impact of fees and tolls
on diverting traffic to non-charged routes so as to
design a plan that minimizes spillover effects.
This targeted approach would produce areawide traffic
relief. Reducing the number of vehicles entering the
CBD in the morning would almost certainly reduce traffic
in downtown Brooklyn, Long Island City, and the Upper
East and West Sides. Reductions in A.M. entries would
also somewhat reduce midday traffic. Likewise, reducing
A.M. and midday traffic would cascade to reduce traffic
volumes during the afternoon peak both in and adjacent
to the Manhattan CBD.
This approach especially relieves traffic in downtown
Brooklyn and Long Island City. Fewer vehicles would
be driven through these areas on their way to the free
East River bridges. In addition, drivers who currently
bypass the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel to reach a free bridge
would no longer have an incentive to do so. The approach
also relieves traffic on the West Side of Manhattan
during the afternoon rush hour since drivers using the
Lincoln and Holland Tunnels, now free for outbound drivers,
would pay a fee for exiting the CBD during the P.M.
This targeted plan avoids penalizing drivers who are
not part of the problem while still reducing traffic
throughout the Manhattan CBD and adjacent areas. It
has minimal, if any, impact on reverse commuters, late-night
workers, Manhattan residents making short intra-CBD
trips, and theater patrons and others entering Manhattan
for evening entertainment.
The structure of this plan encourages drivers to avoid
congestion whenever possible. The plan encourages people
who cannot avoid driving into the CBD during the morning
rush not to drive in the CBD midday and not leave during
the afternoon peak, since they would be charged separately
at each time. The structure of this plan would also
encourage commercial vehicles to make deliveries before
or after the congestion fee goes into effect, addressing
concerns about costs to businesses.
Drawing on the experience of Singapore, London, and
Stockholm, fees and tolls could be collected using a
combination of E-ZPass gantries and license-plate cameras.
Drivers could be given the option of buying a disposable
E-ZPass tag to maintain their privacy. There would be
no tollbooths and no need for cars to slow down while
the toll is deducted from their E-ZPass.
2. Fees and tolls should be adjusted in response
to traffic conditions.
Variable pricing is an extension of the principle that
road pricing should be carefully targeted at the problem.
The goal is to set tolls and fees relatively high when
congestion is most severe. Fee and toll levels should
be reduced or eliminated at other times. This approach
maximizes the effectiveness of the program while minimizing
the impact on drivers who travel at less congested times,
and it provides the greatest choices to drivers who
can shift travel times or routes.
Variable pricing is most applicable to express lanes,
since travel speeds can be readily measured and signs
can advise motorists of the current toll. Tolls can
be adjusted in real time to maintain uncongested conditions
in the lanes. Travel times can be posted on variable
message signs at the entrance to express lanes so that
drivers can make informed choices between tolled and
It may also be sensible to vary the midday and/or cordon
fees. For example, motorists crossing the cordon between
6:30 A.M. and 7 A.M. might pay a lower fee than those
entering during the height of rush hour. The midday
fee might be varied not by time of day but by season.
The midday fee might be higher during the holiday season,
for example, and reduced in the summer. Application
of variable pricing in this fashion needs further study.
This plan is similar to the cordon charges in Stockholm
and Singapore, to variable tolls on congested highways
in HOT lanes in the United States, and to CBD areawide
charging in London. The plan is distinctive from Londons
areawide fees that apply from 6:30 A.M. to 6:30 P.M.
in limiting the areawide fee to the middday hours.
3. A parking-fee program should be piloted that
charges higher parking fees, collected using Muni-Meters,
at selected locations in commercial districts.
Although this discussion of road pricing has focused
on moving vehicles, there is also opportunity to price
on-street parking in a way that would improve transportation
for New Yorkers. Even more than road pricing, parking
pricing needs to be considered in place-specific terms.
It is difficult to discuss on-street parking generally,
given the different character and needs of businesses,
residents, and visitors in different neighborhoods around
the city. Given the localized nature of the parking
situation and focus group respondents skepticism
that parking fees will be effective in easing parking
shortages, a sensible approach is to experiment with
higher parking fees at selected locations. Higher fees
should be combined with installation of Muni-Meters,
which can provide benefits including noncash payments
and, ideally, a system in which motorists pay only for
the time they are actually parked in the space. The
New York City Department of Transportation should identify
a limited number of parking spaces in major commercial
districts in several parts of the city and install Muni-Meters
that would charge higher and escalating parking fees.
The charge for parking should be set to achieve a reasonable
level of vehicular turnover, generally considered to
be reached when spaces are unoccupied 15% of the time.
This incremental approach has several advantages. It
can be implemented in the short term and is thus a relatively
quick way to demonstrate the effectiveness of pricing-based
approaches. It can also be implemented incrementallyin
this case, leaving most on-street parking initially
unaffected. The DOT might also approach a number of
community boards to solicit participation in a pilot
program. Locations would thus be selected where there
is clear community support.
4. Fee and toll revenues should be used for road
and transit improvements with particular attention to
public transportation improvements from areas with heavy
Another critical element to using road pricing as a
means of improving transportation involves the use of
fee and toll revenue. Revenues should be allocated to
a combination of improvements to public transportation
and roadway improvements. Transit improvements should
be focused on improving transit service to those directly
affected by pricing. This includes areas of eastern
Queens and the outer parts of Brooklyn that are home
to the largest concentrations of Manhattan auto commuters,
who also face long commutes by public transportation.
It may also include subway riders affected by additional
5. Use of the revenues for transportation should
be guaranteed through appropriate governmental mechanisms.
Transit and auto users alike are skeptical that fee
and toll revenues will be used as promised for road
and transit improvements. A road pricing proposal must
guarantee that revenues are channeled into these improvements.
A variety of mechanisms could be considered, including
a joint city/state agency with oversight of the road
pricing program and disposition of the revenues. Regular
auditing by state and city comptrollers might also be
an attractive mechanism to assure the public about the
use of the revenues.
A joint city/state agency may offer advantages beyond
assuring the public about the use of revenues. Unlike
in London, different agencies are in charge of public
transportation (MTA), local streets (New York City Department
of Transportation), and state and interstate highways
(New York State Department of Transportation). In addition,
the MTA and Port Authority operate tolled river crossings.
There is thus a daunting need for intergovernmental
coordination in developing and implementing road pricing
and allocating revenues. An entity that brings together
key state and city transportation agencies could help
overcome the institutional barriers to program success.
Developing a Road Pricing Program
The process followed in developing a road pricing program
is just as important as the program itself in gaining
public support. Results from this research show three
key elements that should be included in this process.
1. Start a public dialogue about transportation
problems and the importance of doing something about
The discussion of improvements to transportation should
emphasize the transportation problems to be rectified
and the importance of solving these problems. The problems
of traffic congestion, overcrowded trains and buses,
and unreliable bus service are especially important
in light of new residential and commercial developments
throughout the city and the citys remarkable projected
long-term growth. A clear focus on these problems and
on the fact that, without action, they will only worsen
will help to motivate the publics desire for action.
The discussion should highlight the costs of congestion
to individuals and businesses and the benefits that
would be realized from reducing these costs.
2. Engage the public in a discussion of a range
of possible solutions.
The range of solutions should include pricing options
and non-pricing options. The range of solutions should
address the varied causes of congestion, such as double
parking, pedestrian/vehicular conflicts, taxis stopping
in lanes of otherwise moving traffic and the needs of
delivery vehicles. Since these causes lie at least partially
outside the influence of road pricing, it is important
to show that the wide range of causes of congestion
is understood and is being addressed.
Non-pricing options could include additional train and
bus service; a network of bus rapid transit lanes; stepped-up
enforcement against double-parking, blocking the box
and other traffic rules; enforcement of rules requiring
cabbies to pick up and drop off at the curb; zoning
incentives or requirements for off-street truck loading;
restrictions on government permit parking; traffic signal
cycles that include an all walk phase for
pedestrians; additional Thru streets; additional curbside
left and right turn lanes from cross-streets (which
allow through traffic to progress in the middle lane)
and a full network of bicycle lanes.
Discussions on solutions should contrast the advantages
and disadvantages of various solutions and combinations
of solutions. It should be made clear in this discussion
that pricing alternatives are not being favored over
non-pricing alternatives but would be included simply
to fashion the most effective package.
Discussions on solutions should stress incentives for
using public transportation and for the efficient use
of roads and highways through bus rapid-transit lanes,
express bus service, park-and-rides, carpooling and
Consideration of road pricing should also be clear
about who would be affected and how they would be affected.
The publics reaction to road pricing is based
in part on perceptions of who will pay the charges.
Is it the working person? Is it drivers who choose to
drive as a personal choice for convenience and comfort?
Is it people who have no choice but to drive, given
the public transportation alternatives or their own
transportation needs, such as carrying large items?
The public is more likely to accept road pricing if
drivers affected by charges are primarily people who
drive as a matter of personal choice.
3. Take steps showing that things are moving in
the right direction.
Although it is impractical to wait until major transit
capital projects are complete before considering road
pricing, general agreement that things are moving in
the right direction is essential. An extension of the
commercial parking program currently planned, the joint
City/MTA Bus Rapid Transit initiative, and real-time
bus arrival information currently being implemented
on Manhattans East Side help to build a favorable
climate for road pricing. Announcements of bus and subway
service cuts, on the other hand, feed negative perception
of the transit systems prospects for improvement.
* * *
These recommendations can form the basis of a program
to effectively reduce traffic congestion and increase
mobility in New York City. Road pricing is probably
the most effective available tool to ease congestion.
Road pricing also generates revenue, as opposed to other
steps that impose costs.
Extensive traffic analysis and public involvement will
be required to refine the details of a pricing program
and to develop complementary improvements to roads,
highways, and public transportation. The contribution
of this research to the public discussion is to show
the direction and shape that pricing strategies should
take in order to attract public supportand thus
overcome the most imposing obstacle in the path to implementing
road pricing in New York City.