America Needs Congestion Pricing
The cover of the latest Earth Island Journal couldn’t be more timely: a picture of a bunch of cars piled up with the word “Roadkill” across it. (Knowing their audience, I expect angry letters from people who feel this is insensitive to animals.) So I was naturally eager to read the feature story by Adam Federman, and wasn’t disappointed. It was about Mayor Bloomberg’s failure to push through a genuinely smart traffic reduction program called “congestion pricing”. Congestion pricing is a simple concept that’s been implemented successfully in other cities. You charge people to drive their cars into highly congested parts of town (like the business districts in Manhattan that are permanently clogged) and reinvest the money into public transportation. New York City was the perfect city to experiment, too, because most people take the subways anyway, so the alternative travel strategies for people are already there and they already know how to use them. In other cities around the world like Singapore and London have implement the plan with dramatic results---dropping traffic 45% and 25% respectively, and London has seen emissions fall by 20%.
Of course, it failed to pass in New York City. In my various conversations online about the need to get serious about discouraging people from using cars, I’ve seen some shameful liberal dodging, genuine examples of people playing things like the classism card in order to conceal their more right wing urges: You’ll pry the gas pump out of my cold, dead hand! So I wasn’t entirely surprised by what happened in the story: People played the class card to weasel out of paying a tax for the privilege of adding to New York’s traffic problem. It was discrimination, you see, against working class people to charge $8 a day to drive into the business districts of Manhattan.
If you’re paying attention, you can see the flaw in this argument, and it’s a big one: Do working class people in New York generally drive around Manhattan? Or do the vast majority of them take the subway? If the latter, then the excuse is 100% bullshit, because the reality is that a congestion toll---in New York City, remember---would actually be a genuinely progressive tax, taking money from the predominantly upper middle class and wealthy and rerouting towards a service used by working class people. Moreover, by charging the rich to drive, you can help squash inflation on the price of subway tickets. There are a few classes of people in New York who are working class but drive because they have parking---mainly firefighters and police---but I think most of them will survive having to make the switch to the subway. If they really can’t, because of late night shifts or something, then they work for the fucking government and can press upon their unions and the city to get them exceptions. I have a feeling they’ll get those exceptions.