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Congestion Pricing in Manhattan

Andrew Samwick applauds plans for congestion pricing in Manhattan:

Vox Baby: Congestion Pricing in Manhattan: I applaud Mayor Bloomberg for proposing congestion pricing in Manhattan as part of his Earth Day initiatives, patterned after a similar system in London. From The New York Times on Sunday:

The proposal that is sure to attract the most attention, and possibly objections, is one to impose the $8 fee on car drivers, and $21 for truck operators, to drive in Manhattan south of 86th Street. The mayor said congestion on the city’s streets is the source of many of the city’s health, environmental and economic problems.“We can’t talk about reducing air pollution without talking about congestion,” he said. “As our city continues to grow, the cost of congestion to our health, to our economy and to our environment are only going to get worse,” he said. “The question is not whether we want to pay, but how do we want to pay — with an increased asthma rate, with more greenhouse gases, with more wasted time, lost business and higher prices. Or do we charge a modest fee to encourage more people to take mass transit.”

The fee the mayor is proposing would only be imposed during the week, between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m.. And motorists driving the major highways along Manhattan’s east and west sides would not be fined, so it would be possible to go from Brooklyn to Harlem along Franklin D. Roosevelt Drive without entering the zone. The article contains other information about the implementation that suggest that it has been reasonably well thought out. But this doesn't stop the critics from making a raft of self-serving claims. Let's take a look at a few:

State Assemblyman Richard Brodsky said he opposed the mayor’s proposal for a congestion fee because it is a regressive tax. “The middle class and the poor will not be able to pay these fees and the rich will,” said Mr. Brodsky, who is chairman of a committee that oversees the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. “There are a lot of courageous things in the mayor’s package, but this one is not very well thought out.”

According to this logic, all prices for services not linked to income are regressive, since the rich can more easily pay them than the poor. It might technically be true, but it isn't particularly helpful. Besides, when I go to Manhattan, I see the middle class and the poor on the subways and buses, not their own cars.

Here's some more, of the more nakedly self-serving variety:

Clayton Boyce, a spokesman for the American Trucking Association, a national industry group, told The Associated Press, “It will be a real problem for operations for trucking companies and shippers, including all the retailers in Manhattan, which is substantial. And all the people who get FedEx and UPS deliveries will have problems and will bear extra expense, so we definitely see problems with it,” he said.

It's time to give Mr. Boyce a refresher course in microeconomics. Start by considering what his answer might have been last week to the question, "What is the biggest problem your industry faces in providing excellent service to lower Manhattan?" Based on what I've seen on those streets, my answer would have been "congestion." So the mayor has proposed to tax the thing that has been encumbering the trucking industry, and its spokesman is complaining because his clients will need to pay the tax in proportion to the congestion they cause. Think of it by the numbers. How many packages are on the typical FedEx truck in Manhattan? If it were 210, then the extra expense would be a dime per package. That's trivial. How does $21 compare to the total value of each truck's cargo in a given day? It has to be tiny. And look at what the FedEx truck drivers get in return--fewer passenger cars clogging up the city streets where they need to make pickups and deliveries. They waste less time and less gas. It doesn't take much abatement of that wasted time and gas to make back the $21 per truck. The trucking industry should be this proposal's biggest supporters.