Charles Komanoff

 

Cars II - From auto-free to auto-fee

New in January, 2021: On Jan. 12, the New York City Council released my report, "Curbing For-Hire Vehicle Stockpiling in the Manhattan Core: Empty-Vehicle Charges for Ride-Hail Companies." The report, commissioned by the council in mid-2019, was completed in early 2020 but was held back by the Covid pandemic and lockdown.

It recommends charging Uber and Lyft 11 cents for each minute their affiliated vehicles are occupying the Manhattan taxi zone (south of 96th Street), M-F 6am-8pm, and half that amount, 5.5 cents, at other times.

Click here for a brief Q&A about the report and its recommendations. Click here to download the full report. The executive summary and full report may also be viewed at and downloaded from the City Council's Web site, via this link.

Congestion pricing is coming to New York City. The New York State budget bill passed by the legislature in March 2019 committed the state-chartered Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) to toll cars and trucks driven into Manhattan's Central Business District. By statute, the tolls must raise at least $1 billion a year in net revenue, 80% of which is pledged to support NYC Transit's capital program to modernize the city's subways and buses operated by NYC Transit, with the other 20% committed to parallel investments in the MTA's two commuter railroads -- the Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North Railroad.

The intended early-2021 startup was impeded by the Trump administration's refusal to issue "guidance" to the MTA for its environmental review -- a holdup that was lifted in late March, 2021 by the Biden administration's instruction to the MTA to submit a more cursory "environmental assessment" rather than a full-blown environmental impact statement. When congestion pricing does go into effect, now expected in early 2022, it will be a groundbreaking development in "traffic pricing," as New York City joins London, Stockholm and Singapore as major cities with large-scale congestion tolling.

This will be a major win for NY-area transit advocates whose tireless campaigning for revitalized mass transit in general and congestion pricing in particular compelled NY Gov. Andrew Cuomo in August 2017 to declare that "Congestion pricing is an idea whose time has come" and to wield his political acumen and muscle over the ensuing 18 months to enact the enabling legislation.

I'm proud to claim a bit of credit for this, as a principal in the Move NY Campaign (alongside traffic guru "Gridlock" Sam Schwartz and organizer-strategist Alex Matthiessen), as a congestion pricing pamphleteer and traffic modeler. From Autumn 2017 to early 2019 the governor's staff deployed my "Balanced Transportation Analyzer" spreadsheet (further discussion + link are below) to estimate how different toll levels would affect revenue generation, traffic-flow improvements and other benefits from congestion pricing. (The Fix NYC Advisory Panel Report, Appendix B, has a glowing acknowledgment of the BTA's power, utility and ease of use, and of its central role in the advisory panel's work.)

As well, the BTA enabled the transit advocacy community to wield its own analyses and speak with authority in arguing for congestion pricing as the most efficient and equitable policy for creating a new transit revenue stream and reducing Manhattan gridlock.

My work developing the BTA model and analyzing and advocating equitable and effective traffic-pricing plans for New York City was shaped and supported by the Nurture Nature Foundation, a philanthropy established and guided by the late Theodore W. Kheel and carried on by his family. Ted inspired and enabled me, through extraordinarily generous finanical support, to develop the Balanced Transportation Analyzer (the name was his).

The BTA's 78 tabs not only enable the user to model different congestion toll levels; they also calculate impacts on carbon and other tailpipe emissions, prospective increases in subway and bus ridership and a myriad of other benefits from (and costs of) congestion pricing in NYC. The BTA spreadsheet may be downloaded by clicking here.

Scintillating and accessible accounts of the BTA have been published in New York magazine, Motherboard/Vice, Traffic Technology International, and Wired. They're all entertaining and terrific. My favorite is the Wired article, which profiled both me and Ted Kheel, and which first brought the BTA to prominence. Here are links to each:

* Why You Should Be in Favor of Congestion Pricing in New York, New York magazine (March 27, 2018).

* Meet the Spreadsheet That Can Solve NYC Transit (and the Man Who Made It), Motherboard/Vice (2017).

* Transport economist Charles Komanoff is determined to solve NYC's traffic problems, Traffic Technology International (2013).

* The Man Who Could Unsnarl Manhattan Traffic, Wired (2010).

In March 2019, with renowned political organizer Jeff Blum, I published Congestion Pricing Is New York's Green New Deal in The Nation magazine. The subtitle, "Charging drivers in NYC could help fix the subways, fight climate change, and reduce inequality" summarizes our thrust; the article itself is a great read.

A history of how congestion pricing came to pass in 2019 is yet to be written. As well, the final form of the congestion charging system won't be announced until late 2021 or early 2022. In the interim, you may want to download the concise (7 slides) PowerPoint presentation, "NYC Congestion Pricing," that I presented at an international energy-efficiency symposium in Washington, DC in June, 2018. Click here.

Also of interest, from December, 2017, is: "London Traffic Would Be At Least 20 Percent Slower Without Congestion Pricing" explains why congestion charging in London has been a resounding success. 8 pages, illustrated. Click here.

In December 2013, I addressed China's inaugural public forum on congestion pricing, held in Hangzhou. I reported on it here for Streetsblog. Along with representatives from London, Stockholm, Milan and Singapore, I was asked to write an account of New York City's political experience with congestion pricing, for publication in a Chinese-language volume issued in 2014. My 19-page narrative, Congestion Pricing for New York City, is available here.

A pdf of my March 7, 2012 presentation at New York University Law School's Milbank Tweed Forum, "How NYC Is Breaking The Gridlock On Transportation Policy," is available here.

My 16-page report from early 2012 arguing that the planned 15-lane replacement Tappan Zee Bridge will cost too much to be financed solely through tolls on bridge users.

A 10-page report supporting my Jan. 2012 Reuters op-ed on the traffic impacts of adding 2,000 medallion taxicabs to NYC's yellow-cab fleet.

Is congestion pricing economically (and politically) regressive or progressive? I argue the latter in this spirited Nov. 2011 letter to a prominent socialist author-activist.

Since 2008 I've published 60 articles on congestion pricing, spotlighting my traffic-pricing modeling, on the NYC livable-streets blog Streetsblog. This link goes to a pdf list of all 60.

This link goes to a pdf list of all 191 of my Streetsblog posts (with subjects ranging from congestion pricing and traffic modeling to helicopter noise and traffic violence from 2006 to the present.

Following are direct links to a dozen or so of my Streetsblog posts on congestion pricing and traffic modeling:

♦April 3, 2020, Coronavirus Will Go Away, Congestion Pricing Must Not

♦March 6, 2020, Relinquishing Congestion Pricing Exemptions Fantasies

♦ March 28, 2019, Congestion Pricing Carveouts Will Steal Millions of Hours and Billions of Bucks

♦ March 21, 2019, Congestion Pricing Will NOT Fill Upper Manhattan With Suburbanites Cruising for Parking

♦ March 18, 2019, Investing Congestion Revenues in Better Train Signals Could Save New Yorkers Lots of Time

♦ February 12, 2019, How to Counter the Latest Congestion Pricing Objections

♦ January 16, 2019, Good Tidings for Congestion Pricing From Governor Cuomo

♦ May 29, 2018, Eight Reasons Why Congestion Pricing Goes Great With the Fast Forward Plan to Fix NYC Transit

♦ April 10, 2018, Setting Up a Cordon Toll Would Pay for Itself in a Few Months

♦ March 7, 2018, An Hourly Fee on Cabs and Ubers Is Less Radical Than It Appears

♦ January 12, 2018 Congestion Pricing Will Help Stop Climate Change -- But Differently Than You Think

♦ January 2, 2018, Why Congestion Pricing Won't Overwhelm the Subways

♦ December 5, 2017 London Traffic Would Be At Least 20 Percent Slower Without Congestion Pricing

And here are links to some much-earlier ones:

August 1, 2011: Guess Who Has a Lot to Lose from an MTA Meltdown: Drivers

March 18, 2010: In Any Language, the Cost of Congestion Comes Through Loud and Clear

January 6, 2010: With Congestion Pricing, Saving Time Trumps Reducing Pollution

October 16, 2009: Wanted: Crowd-Sourced Transportation Analysis

October 13, 2009: Paradox, Schmaradox. Congestion Pricing Works.

I also published these pieces in Grist in 2007-08, on larger meanings in the political battle over congestion pricing:

April 8, 2008: Machiavelli Meets The Big Apple: Ten Reasons NYC's Congestion Pricing Plan Went Belly Up

March 31, 2008: High Noon for Congestion Pricing: What We Lose if Bloomberg's Plan Goes Down

July 16, 2007: Valuing The Commons: Congestion Pricing's Hidden Payoff

The following articles trace the lineage of my traffic-pricing work to Theodore (Ted) Kheel:

Feb. 11, 2008: A Climate for Old Men: Spearheading Transit for Livable Cities at 93 (in Grist)

Nov. 15, 2010: In Memoriam: Ted Kheel, Transit Advocate and Visionary (in Streetsblog)

Nov. 19, 2010: Requiem for Man Whose Ideas on Transit Aren't Past (by Clyde Haberman, in The New York Times)

Other articles and papers on traffic pricing

My August 2006 op-ed in Seattle Post-Intelligencer, "Forward-Thinking Idea for a Trendsetter," posing "parking cash-out" incentives as an alternative to a Microsoft mega-parking lot.

My March 2003 op-ed in the Daily News arguing the fairness of East River bridge tolls

My 2003 report, "A Value-Pricing Plan for the MTA" (PDF)

My report for Energy Foundation, "Environmental Consequences of Road Pricing"

My Oct 2001 op-ed in Newsday, "Giuliani puts brakes on car culture"

Two for Vickrey -- my portraits of road-pricing pioneer (and Nobel laureate) Bill Vickrey in the NY Daily News, "The Man Who Had A Cure for Gridlock" (Nov 1996), and New York magazine, "Traffic: Demand and Supply" (Dec 1996)

My 1995 Newsday op-ed, "Should the L.I.E Become a Toll Road?" (with June 2006 intro)

Pollution Taxes for Roadway Transportation: My extensive (40-page) article in the Pace Environmental Law Review (Vol. 12, Issue 1, Fall 1994) outlining a mix of fees, charges and taxes that would internalize most of the unpriced costs of driving.

Article summarizing "Pollution Taxes" law review article.

Crossroads: Highway-Finance Subsidies in New Jersey, 1995 report for the Tri-State Transportation Campaign by Charles Komanoff & Margaret Sikowitz, establishing that driver tolls, taxes and tickets in New Jersey account for only 77 cents of each dollar spent to build, maintain, repair and operate the state's highways and roads.

Subsidies for Traffic: How Taxpayer Dollars Underwrite Driving in New York State, 1994 report for the Tri-State Transportation Campaign by Cora Roelofs & Charles Komanoff, establishing that driver tolls, taxes and tickets in New York State account for only 65 cents of each dollar spent to build, maintain, repair and operate the state's highways and roads.