Yesterday, the New York City Department of Transportation released a report full of statistics about the ways in which people get around town, and how long it usually takes them to do so. Incidentally, these stats, taken together, present a pretty compelling argument in favor of a particular piece of legislation that was recently introduced in the state assembly.
A quick rundown of the report, which you can read in full here: (1) The city added about 500,000 new jobs in the last five years, meaning some of those 500,000 people are likely new commuters into Manhattan, where most of the jobs are. (2) Despite this, many fewer cars are entering the center of Manhattan per day than were in 2010, because (3) many more people are taking the subway, biking, or walking. (4) Bus ridership, on the other hand, is down, because (5) average traffic speeds are also down, and bus trips are taking longer.
The subway system logged 159 million more trips in 2015 than it did in 2010. Despite this vast increase, the state house repeatedly fails to funnel money into the MTA’s budget, and the authority is in danger of running out of funds by later this month. The trains are overcrowded and sorely in need of repair, and the upcoming L Train shutdown won’t help.
How might we secure funding for those repairs—and for new projects that will benefit underserved commuters in the far reaches of the outer boroughs—while reducing the congestion that leads to interminably long car and bus trips? Enter the Move NY plan, introduced into the state assembly in March, which would place new tolls on the East River bridges and on cars crossing 60th Street from the north, disincentivizing people to drive, and directing the new revenue toward transit improvements.
Drivers, naturally, will not like this plan, because it means they’ll have to pay to get to work every day. But should they choose to continue driving, there’s an upside: Thanks to those very same tolls, more of their peers will start taking the bus or the train, and fewer drivers means less congestion, and less congestion means a shorter commute. If they’re one of those drivers who decides they can’t afford the toll or aren’t willing to pay it, well, great—welcome to the subway. It really isn’t so bad—it’s safe, environmentally friendly, fast when it’s working properly—and the new revenue will help it accommodate the new riders.
Those who doubt that new tolls would be enough to convince people to stop driving might look at London, which introduced a similar congestion pricing system in 2003. The city saw large, immediate dips in traffic and delays, as well as increased public transit ridership. Emissions are down, and so are crashes, despite the higher speeds afforded by less congestion.
The new DOT report does not specifically mention the Move NY plan, but the data it contains strongly suggest some form of congestion pricing as a potential solution. That’s probably not an accident. The previous mayoral administration tried and failed to get congestion pricing passed in 2007, and DOT commissioner Polly Trottenberg insinuated support for the idea to the New York Post earlier this week.
Unfortunately, the decision isn’t really up to her, nor to anyone else in the city. It must be approved by the state legislators, in Albany, and by Governor Cuomo. Most state legislators drive cars, and Cuomo is a full-blown car collector. The 2007 plan failed because the Assembly refused to even put it to a vote. Hopefully, this time will be different.