Updated: Jan 21, 2020
Last week, congestion pricing and the potential impacts on real estate and transportation were discussed by an all-female panel, moderated by Rebecca Karp, Managing Principal & CEO of Karp Strategies and featuring Ya-Ting Liu, Director of Government Affairs and Policy at Via, Nicole Gelinas, Chartered Financial Analyst at Manhattan Institute, and Kate Slevin, Senior Vice President of State Programs & Advocacy at Regional Plan Association. The event, hosted by CoreNet’s Public Policy Committee, presented varied insights on the matter, from discussions about the program’s ability to meet MTA’s budget needs to proposed policy details that could make the program fairer and more effective.
Congestion pricing was included in the New York State budget this year, making it the first-ever program of its kind in the United States. Specifically, the budget authorized the MTA, in collaboration with the city, to establish congestion pricing tolling in Manhattan south of 60th Street with the intention of using fees paid to fund public transit capital improvements. The budget spelled out some details, while others are still being worked out. For example, it establishes a financial target of $15 billion in funding for the 2020-2024 MTA capital program and institutes a six-person board who will make additional policy recommendations, while creating exemptions for cars using the West Side Highway, emergency vehicles, and residents of the congestion pricing zone making less than $60,000 a year. Determining who sits on that six-person board and the full range of exemptions remains to be seen.
In response, an animated dialogue about the policy has emerged with the public weighing in on whether the program might improve pollution, make room on the road for more buses or bike lanes, catalyze new transit options in currently car-reliant places, and change property values.
As dialogue about congestion pricing bubbles, CoreNet members and affiliates gathered on November 5th to hear from the panelists. The discussion began with rapid-fire presentations from each speaker who provided insight into the policy from their unique expertise.
Kate kicked it off by stating that “congestion pricing can rationalize the system.” She explained that the current system— made up of tolled and not-tolled roads, various agencies, and majority commuters using a declining transit system— is unsustainable. RPA has advocated for a series of actionable recommendations which include bike and transit improvements prior to implementing congestion pricing and no further exemptions beyond what is included in the legislation.
Nicole cautioned against expectations that congestion pricing alone can solve the MTA budget issues or traffic on Manhattan’s street. What’s more is that unlike examples in other cities where congestion pricing was paired with improved transit service, there is reason to believe that the MTA may take the opposite route and cut service due to intense financial constraints.
Ya-Ting shared how views have evolved since 2007 when congestion pricing was hotly resisted by public opinion. Today, many people see the policy as a necessary road forward. Still, there is not a consensus on implementation and the divisions that exist will play out in lobbying efforts for exemptions and lower costs. She emphasized that “land use and transit policy are inextricably linked and inherently tied to politics.” Similar to Nicole and Kate, Ya-Ting attributed the change of fate for congestion pricing to a highly coordinated and determined coalition, along with the strong support by Governor Cuomo. She also reminded us that cities like Boston, Chicago, and Seattle are looking to New York as a model as they begin to engage in possible congestion pricing policies themselves.
Following the presentation, the panel turned into a wide-ranging discussion of questions submitted by CoreNet members. Many are interested in understanding how the city will decide who is exempt from the toll. Kate recommended the process include a public review process. However, she stated that as the anticipated start date of the program gets closer, some advocates worry about the potential that decision-making will be truly transparent. Nicole added that the six-person board in charge of deciding policy details will only have one city representative, which raises the question of what an equitable share of representation looks like.
The conversation turned to the unseen benefits of implementing congestion pricing, other than traffic reduction and new revenue streams. Ya-Ting and Kate spoke about environmental and health benefits of better air quality, citing the city of Stockholm which saw significant decreases in childhood asthma rates following the implementation of congestion pricing. Later, an audience member asked how congestion pricing could affect anchor institutions located in the congestion zone or others considering moving there. “Could hospitals see fewer patients driving in for appointments because of the toll?”, he questioned. Kate noted that many people are already paying tolls to come into Manhattan and Ya-Ting described small business owners in the congestion zone who are eager for more predictable travel times for staff and welcomed the policy from a business perspective.
What is clear from our speakers and audience participants is that is the conversation about congestion pricing in New York is far from over. There is still much to be decided and many stakeholders, from transit riders to corporate real estate to business owners and more to voice their perspectives.
Karp Strategies is fascinated by the question of how congestion pricing will impact New York City and how the future of commuting continues to change. Interested in continuing the conversation with us? Follow us on LinkedIn and sign up to the KStrat newsletter
Cuza, Bobby. (2019, May 31). London’s Experience with Congestion Pricing: It’s Working! Retrieved from: https://nyc.streetsblog.org/2019/05/31/london-on-congestion-pricing-its-awesome/
Selvin, Kate & Matthiessen, Alex. (2019, April 5). Every Least Detail about Congestion Pricing…Explained! Retrieved from: https://nyc.streetsblog.org/2019/04/05/weekend-read-every-last-detail-about-congestion-pricing-explained/