Congestion Pricing: The Solution to Traffic Congestion?
Tufts’ undergraduate urban planning collective, UP3, coordinating with fellow sponsors in the Tufts Economics Department and Tufts Economics Society, hosted a panel of experts in urban planning and transportation from Boston and New York City to talk about congestion pricing. The event began with an overview of the Move NY Campaign by its director, Alex Matthiessen. The subsequent discussion featured input from MIT professor of transportation and urban planning Chris Zegras and Terry Regan, representing the Volpe Center and Massachusetts Transportation Finance Commission.
Move NY’s Fair Plan is a proposal to reinvest in the New York City region’s transportation system. Matthiessen claims that cities like Paris, Tokyo, London and Hong Kong have surpassed New York’s once excellent transportation system. He blames, at least partially, an inefficient system of tolling bridges and tunnels, which has led to service cuts for subway and bus service. In an interesting historical summary, Matthiessen mapped out the various bridges crisscrossing the New York metro area, noting whether or not the bridge has a toll. Because some bridges are free, traffic, and especially trucks, seek them out. This has a huge effect on traffic throughout the city as certain passages are sought out based on their lack of tolls. Move NY arose as one proposed way to ameliorate these issues, and Matthiessen contrasts it with the proposal made by then mayor Michael Bloomberg.
The Bloomberg plan disproportionately benefited Manhattan residents, who don’t have to pay a toll to enter their own borough but would benefit from the reduced traffic. In the Move NY plan, money raised by toll revenue will fund expanded and more efficient public transit systems. This revenue will come from a variant on congestion pricing, in which bridges (all bridges) charge a higher toll during rush hour, while lowering tolls on less trafficked bridges. Move NY predicts $1,345 million in revenue. Of this, $375 million will fund roads and bridges, $110 will go toward fare and operation subsidies for the MTA, $304 million will form an investment fund and be used to pay for administration, and $556 million will fund the MTA capital plan. They predict 30,500 new jobs in the region and a 15-20% faster rate of travel south of Central Park. Somehow, despite all the improvements, Move NY predicts no change in price for the vast majority of commuters.
The panel then responded to questions, which largely focused on applying lessons from Move NY to Boston. Chris Zegras cites difficulty in establishing a plan such as this in Boston, where the state has so much control over public transit compared with New York City. He also claims that a very large city would face different hurdles due to the massive investment required to implement such a plan. Boston would not face such sticker shock due to its more moderate size when compared with New York.
Terry Regan argues that there isn’t the same demand for congestion pricing in Boston. Boston’s traffic is more constrained to the highways and occurs less on the city streets compared with New York. He also brought up issues with limiting motor-vehicle traffic without providing an alternative. Since the MBTA is already at or above capacity, it would be difficult to adjust to the influx that may result from congestion pricing on Boston’s roads.