Last month the Traffic Congestion Mitigation Commission selected the “alternative congestion pricing plan” (as described here) as its recommended traffic reduction plan for New York City, a vital step towards a more balanced and equitable regional transportation system. Unsurprisingly, the plan’s entrance into the political landscape has sparked furious discussion.
Another plan which has received plenty of attention is long-time transit advocate Ted Kheel’s cordon tolling plan. The plan’s central proposal — providing free transit by charging a $16, 24-hour toll below 60th Street in Manhattan — is powerful enough that it has continued to resonate in the press almost a month after its unveiling.
The Kheel Plan would dedicate revenue from the toll to the MTA, allowing it to eliminate fares on NYC buses and subways, and for inner-city travel on commuter rail. Commercial vehicles would be charged $32, and a combination of muni-meters and parking permits would aim to reduce trolling for parking. Like the plan endorsed by the Congestion Mitigation Commission, the tolled area would include the West Side Highway and FDR, there would be a surcharge on taxi trips, there would be no charge to drive within the toll area, and existing Port Authority and MTA tolls would be deducted from the cordon fee. Besides providing free transit, the Kheel Plan would reduce VMT below 60th Street by 28.4%, and citywide VMT by 8.9%. Annual MTA revenues would be $460 million higher than under the status quo.
The plan’s backbone is a rigorous analysis by environmental economist and TSTC board member Charlie Komanoff. The report provides remarkable transparency into how estimates of figures such as changes in ridership, revenue and traffic were arrived at. An interactive spreadsheet model, the “Balanced Transportation Analyzer,” allows users to estimate the effect changing key variables has on the outcome.
The plan anticipates potential concerns. For example, without fares to pay, wouldn’t subways become even more uncomfortably congested? According to Komanoff, because travel at the most congested times is least sensitive to changes in price, three-fourths of the increase in transit use will occur in off-peak periods. The increase in peak-period travel is tackled by setting aside hundreds of millions of dollars to retain and buy almost 400 new subway cars, as well as including in the model the capacity available on commuter trains, and the expected increase in bicycle ridership that would come with safer and less congested roads. What about keeping decorum in subways and buses – which would become freely accessible public space? The plan sees the potential to transfer less needed traffic police to the public transit system.
The Kheel Plan could not be described as anything other than bold. Its ideas, reinforced by the rigorous and transparent economic study which accompanies it, will likely live on and reenter the public imagination as NYC continues to discuss the need to move towards sustainability.