Variable Tolling Options Presented to Traffic Mitigation Commission

At Monday’s Traffic Congestion Mitigation Commission meeting, an agency research team led by NYCDOT presented ten scenarios (out of several hundred possible scenarios) to the commissioners showing modifications or alternatives to Mayor Bloomberg’s original congestion pricing plan.

First introduced was the Mayor’s original plan with revised projections due to a recent update of the NYMTC (New York Metropolitan Transportation Council) model. The revised model raises the reduction of Vehicle Miles Traveled under the Mayor’s plan from 6.3% to 6.7% and increases annual net revenue to $420M from initial projections of $380M.

(The graphic is an excerpt from a comparison of pricing scenarios distributed at Monday’s meeting; the excerpt compares the Mayor’s original plan with the four cordon pricing scenarios which raise the most annual net revenue for transit. For the entire table, click here.)

Two particularly intriguing scenarios included variable tolling. The first would charge a one-time fee for cars entering the pricing zone only (60th Street is defined as the northern boundary in this scenario). Cars leaving the zone would not be charged. The fee would be in effect for 12 hours (6 am to 6 pm) but the amount of the fee would vary depending on the time of day: $10 between 6-10 am; $8 from 10 am – 2 pm; and $6 from 2 pm – 6pm. According to the NYMTC model, this scenario would reduce VMT by 6.8% (0.1% above the city’s plan) and generate $464M in net revenue (an increase of $44M from the original plan). The costs of both implementing and operating this option are significantly less, $73M and $62M respectively, than the original proposal which put costs at $224M and $229M.

A 24-hour variable tolling option applies the same fee structure and adds a $4 fee after and before peak period (6 pm to 6 am). The cost of implementing this scenario is the same as the previous scenario ($73M) and the operating costs increase to $99M. However, the projected net revenue would be $519M, a nearly $100M boost from the Mayor’s plan.

The Tri-State Campaign has long advocated for variable tolls on MTA bridges and tunnels as a way to ease toll plaza traffic, reduce pollution, and increase safety (see “Variable Tolls Could Save Fare,” and MTR #s 564, 475, 374, etc.) It’s interesting that NYCDOT is investigating variable pricing; could it join the Port Authority and NJ Turnpike Authority in the variable-pricing club before the MTA?

In a third scenario, those driving across tolled MTA and Port Authority crossings would have their tolls either partially deducted or not deducted at all from the congestion fee. This scenario would raise $615 in net revenue and reduce VMT by a lofty 8.3%, but it is far better policy to charge everyone entering the zone the same amount. While some elected officials have attacked the toll offset as a break for “New Jersey drivers,” eliminating the offset would mean that users of tolled crossings from Queens, Brooklyn, the Bronx, Staten Island – and yes, New Jersey, Long Island, and upstate New York – would pay more to enter the zone than Manhattanites and users of free bridges.

The last scenario is the most impressive and ambitious, but also the most politically infeasible. It involves a 24-hour toll to enter the Manhattan CBD below 60th Street. Though this is projected to reduce VMT by 13.4% and generate $1 billion annually, a two-way toll (rather than a once-daily fee) which bisects Manhattan may be the most controversial of the pricing options.

The commission’s ultimately recommended plan will likely combine one of the modified scenarios described on Monday with some of the suggestions, such as more expensive CBD parking, that were discussed at last week’s commission meeting (for more information on that meeting, see Streetsblog). Both the modified congestion pricing scenarios and the alternatives discussed last week have their origins in the testimony of elected officials, private citizens, and advocacy groups who spoke at commission public hearings several weeks ago.

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