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Tolling Points

New York City Blazes the Trail for U.S. Congestion Pricing

By: 
Bill Cramer

Early reports on New York City’s landmark decision to introduce congestion pricing are pointing to a passing of the torch and a teachable moment, with one news story citing experience in other international cities that the Big Apple can learn from, and another listing the U.S. communities that might consider the strategy based on the New York experience.

Earlier this month, The Associated Press pointed to London, Stockholm, and Singapore as cities that have already travelled the road that New York is now embarking on. The New York Times talked about the municipalities that are watching closely to see how it all goes.

“We’ve said it before, and we’ll no doubt say it again: Seeing is believing, and nothing succeeds like success,” says IBTTA Executive Director and CEO Patrick Jones. “For every single one of the established practices in our industry, from all-electronic tolling to variable-priced managed lanes, it all began with one brave innovator that saw the need and met it. For congestion pricing in large urban U.S. cities, New York City is stepping up as the trailblazer.”

Lessons Worth Learning From

The AP story begins its tour through existing congestion pricing systems with a look at London, where system planners began by charging drivers £5 (about US$6.50) to enter the city center during the regular work week. The impact was astonishing: congestion plummeted by 30%, emissions by 12%, and buses ran 6% faster. That impact reinforces one study that projected a 13% traffic reduction—and $1.1 billion in annual revenue—from a $11.52 toll for Manhattan.

“Even a small reduction in traffic can have a substantial impact on the larger traffic network,” said Kate Slevin, senior vice president of state programs and advocacy at the Regional Plan Association.

But in a transition moment that might hold lessons for U.S. traffic planners, the moment didn’t last, largely because ride-hailing services like Uber were initially exempt from the charge. Congestion in London worsened, and the fee increased to £11.50 (about US$15.00) per day—showing once again that roadways work when people pay for the services they use.

New York also has longer experience to look back on. Singapore’s congestion pricing system has been in place since the 1970s. As Tolling Points has reported, Stockholm’s did good by doing well: despite a lukewarm public reception when the city launched a pilot congestion charge in 2006, residents embraced the program and voted to make it permanent when they saw traffic snarls and air pollution reduced.

The Beginning of a Trend

If New York can lead on congestion pricing, there will be several U.S. cities lining up to follow, the Times notes.

Buses in Los Angeles wind their way through traffic at speeds of less than 12 miles per hour, cars in San Francisco at 10 mph.

Seattle’s streets are “choked”.

Philadelphia is keeping a close eye on New York’s experiment as it considers congestion pricing for the first time.

“New York’s use of congestion pricing could be a game-changer,” said Oregon’s assistant transportation manager, Travis Brouwer. “If New York City can prove that congestion pricing can work and gain public acceptance, it could give cities like Portland a boost.”

There’s a transportation finance and congestion relief option for every setting. Get the latest at IBTTA’s Summit on Finance & Policy, May 19-21, 2019 in Philadelphia.

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