When was the last time you took a trip in your car that should have taken a few minutes but took nearly an hour? If you drive in Manhattan, your answer probably is “When have I not taken such a trip!” In 2015 the Big Apple ranked 5th worst in the U.S. in average hours spent in excess traffic, despite a public transportation system that New Yorkers love to boast of. But boasting aside, traffic congestion has detrimental consequences on economic productivity and on the environment.
Thanks to some crafty data analytics that estimate the opportunity cost of time lost in traffic, we know that excess traffic costs “The City” 52,000 jobs in lost business opportunity and an estimated $16 billion annually. At the same time, the fuel consumed by gridlocked cars results in higher emission of greenhouse gases and pollutants, leading to poorer air quality and an expanded carbon footprint. In 2014, NYC wasted 296 million gallons of fuel because of idling cars stuck in traffic—the equivalent of the annual electricity consumption of 820,0000 U.S. households.
In the meantime, other cities have already taken steps that improved the flow of workers and commuters. To drive into London or Stockholm you pay a congestion zone charge; if you don’t want to pay, you use public transport. Yes, it’s basically a tax, but as a result of the reduced traffic, London’s central business district opened up, the city center became safer for pedestrians, and existing trips got speedier.
While similar efforts have been attempted in the Big Apple and failed, there is movement building for a new initiative. In 2007, then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg proposed a congestion pricing plan as part of PlanNYC, but the NY State Legislature ultimately rejected it. The loudest opposition came from legislators representing eastern Queens and southern Brooklyn, remote and car-dependent areas that would have been disproportionately inconvenienced by tolls into Manhattan. City policymakers heard these concerns, and will not make the same mistake again.
A new plan is under consideration that both promises the benefits of the London plan while addressing the concerns raised in 2007 with Bloomberg’s plan. A new “MoveNY Fair Plan,” has garnered the support of Manhattan businesses, urban planners, transit advocates, environmentalists, and bus operators, to name a few. First, the plan addresses the problem of gridlock due to “bridge shopping,” by equalizing tolls across bridges and tunnels. Bridge shopping occurs because the four city-owned bridges over the East River are free, whereas the two MTA-owned tunnels cost $15. Now whether you live in New Jersey or Long Island, it won’t matter what path you take into the city; it will all cost you the same regardless, and save you stress and some mental math.
Second, MoveNY addresses another complaint among New Yorkers: the lack of a concrete action to improve public transportation. The new plan promises to pump billions of dollars into the seriously underfunded and overburdened NYC Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) public transit system—funds that will permit basic improvements to the subway system.
Much like Bloomberg’s failed plan, MoveNY’s will impose a fee, in this case to anyone traveling south of 96th street by car. To many that doesn’t sound so appealing. But look at it this way: yes, you’ll have to leave your car at a parking lot next in Hoboken and take the PATH train into the city. But, once you’re in Manhattan, that cab that gets you from your office to your favorite lunch restaurant will take half the time it otherwise would, with less honking, car exhaust and frustration. And the cab driver may (though no guarantees) be a tad more cheerful.
Just like with Bloomberg’s plan, MoveNY will require approval by the New York City council and the New York State legislation. We can’t let it fail; the city’s growth, health and its carbon footprint globally depend on it. So, go convince your neighbor, spread the word in your community or get involved with an advocacy group that promotes the plan. And to those that live in Southern Queens and Brooklyn, rest assured that this time the city is considering your needs too. So, go let your legislators know you support MoveNY. Your opinion matters.
Those crafty data analytics tell us that MoveNY can considerably reduce average hours spent in excess traffic. And don’t get me started on what it can do to your blood pressure.