Congestion pricing should reduce traffic—not raise revenues

London, one of the largest and busiest cities in the world, has reduced the traffic load on its sometimes-ancient-and-narrow streets by one-quarter through an economic tool called “congestion pricing.”

Urban planners point to London as the model for congestion pricing because it has not only reduced traffic and pollution and saved lives—traffic collision numbers fell 40 percent over a decade—it has encouraged commuting by efficient means like buses. And it has done that by making buses exempt from the daily charge for entering the congestion zone.

Operators who travel into New York City want to see a similar model adopted here instead of the one currently envisioned by the city. The current proposal regulates buses as a revenue source rather than as a congestion solution. The result, argues the Bus Association of New York (BANY), could be higher fares for consumers without a reduction in traffic congestion.

New York legislators are considering a handful of congestion pricing proposals and could include a version in the next state budget. Unofficial estimates place the annual revenue goal as high as $1.5 billion.

BANY is energetically lobbying for a plan that prioritizes congestion rather than revenue.

“BANY supports the idea of congestion pricing and asks that any law heed the recommendation of the governor’s Fix NYC Panel, which calls for buses to be exempt from zone pricing,” stated Camilla Morris, BANY president, in a letter to legislators.

“Buses transport the riding public in many forms of transportation,” she said. “.Transit, commuter and charter are all part of the riding public. Each bus has the capacity of transporting 55 passengers or more in one vehicle, one engine and one driver. The congestion pricing plan that Governor Cuomo wants to implement lacks many specifics, including who would need to pay the extra fees, what the extra fees would be as well as the geographical area for the fees and how to monitor for collection of the fees.”

A graphic used by New York operators to illustrate “street equity” compares a bus carrying 55 people at nine square feet per person to 55 automobiles at 86 square feet per person.

The congestion pricing theory places surcharges on usage of a commodity in short supply – electricity, road capacity – to encourage consumption in off-peak times or the use of alternatives.

“Congestion pricing is straightforward: If there are scarce resources (urban road space), they cannot be given away for free or everyone will try to utilize them at once (congestion), leading to poor results for all,” explained the Ross Center at the World Resources Institute, based in Washington, D.C.

London’s pricing schedule discourages commuters from to entering the city center in personal vehicles.

“When London’s congestion charge was introduced by the city’s mayor, he hoped the charge would reduce congestion, radically improve bus services, make journey times more consistent for drivers and increase efficiency for those distributing goods and services throughout the city,” reported The Conversation, an academic news website. And key measures show it’s been a success, reducing traffic by 15 percent, congestion in the charging zone by about 25 percent from a decade ago and collisions by far more.


New York operators fear that congestion surcharges levied against buses and motorcoaches would leave riders with less incentive to use them and therefore lead to fewer congestion-related benefits.

“Our small business owners feel strongly that buses be exempt from these new fees, which would only be passed on to the consumer, raising costs and impacting the affordability,” Morris wrote in her letter. “Buses are a part of the solution to the street equity issue in the NYC arena, not part of the problem.”

A New York City plan proposed to state legislators would authorize the Tri-Borough Bridge and Tunnel Authority (TBTA) to collect fees using transponders or automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) license plate readers with the stated goal of using revenues to repair the city’s subway system.

“There is no specific discussion of vehicle fees in the state’s proposal other than that they will be determined by TBTA,” according to Empire Government Strategies, a firm contracted by BUS4NYC, a coalition of charter and bus operators.

Previous plans proposed a daily vehicle rate of $11.52 and the fees could take effect as soon as Dec. 31, 2020. As currently proposed, there is no mention of exemptions for buses. BUS4NYC officially launched a public awareness campaign on March 26 to fight congestion pricing fees for buses and otherwise promote buses as a transportation solution.  In contrast, the London program exempts motorcycles and mopeds; emergency, military and public-service vehicles; vehicles operated by disabled people; ultra-low-emission vehicles; and vehicles with nine or more seats.

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