Who Drives in NYC Anyway?

Well, lots of people. NYC is walkable. And Subwayable. And busable. But it’s always jammed with cars and trucks and limos and taxis. Where do those people come from (probably not Manhattan)? Where are they going? They’re certainly not getting there too fast. Yesterday the NY City Council, at the urging of Mayor Bloomburg, sent a “home rule message” on to the state government in Albany– they want to start charging cars that drive below 60th street in Manhattan. 8$ a trip, and 21$ for trucks. They’re going to use the money to improve public transport in the city.

The new Dem Governor Paterson and the old Rep Senate Majority Leader Bruno both are in favor of the measure, which has to be passed by the state government by April 7th in order to receive a bucketful of federal funds for the project. The Dem Speaker Silver doesn’t seem too pleased with the bill, and it will probably need his support to get through.

While the politicians wrangle, the people complain. They complain of already-crowded subways, of pollution from the traffic, about being charged to move around in their own city, about all the taxis with only one passenger, about higher and higher taxes, about limited access for the poor, about just wanting some time on their own on the drive to work: they complain about everything, really.

The probable pros of the plan include reduced emissions in the city, fewer accidents, more carpooling, time (and gas, thus money) saved for everyone who continues to drive, revenue for the city, and improvements to the bus and Subway systems that would be greatly appreciated. Cons include possible loss of income for businesses, and um. Doubts that it will work? That seems to be most of the practical argument against it- the public transit won’t get better, the state will be a jerk and do something else with the money, whatever. London experienced similar complaints and obstacles when it implemented its congestion pricing plan, but has seen success in trip reduction, pollution reduction, and trip time reduction- and only a very small loss of business revenue attributable to the congesting pricing. That doesn’t mean that people in London love the idea and think it’s working well, though.

The argument comes down to one of ideology. There’s little doubt that the measure would clear the air and the roadways, and favor more efficient (better) systems of transport. That’s good for the city. For the citizens though? Does a tax or toll on where one drives represent an unacceptable limitation on human freedom?

Nope, unless you can point me to the section in the constitution where “driving whenever and wherever I feel like for free” is listed. Roads are public areas, sure- except they’re owned and maintained by the public, the government, and the government has a right to limit access to them. Plus, they’re not limiting access to the roads- you can still take a Subway or bus or bike or walk below 60th as usual- you can even still drive or taxi, you’ll just be paying for the privilege. Even limited-government libertarians like user fees, right?

I’m sure the plan could be better than it is. I’d like to see it include more bike lanes and safe bike racks. I’d like to see them put a concerted effort into fixing up the public transport before they institute the charge, to give people an attractive alternative (and put to rest many of the complaints about the plan in the first place). But I think congestion pricing is a good thing for NYC.

Of course, I never intended to drive there anyway.

Tomorrow: monthly goal update!

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5 Responses to “Who Drives in NYC Anyway?”


  1. 1 Gentleman Friend April 3, 2008 at 1:45 am

    Nope, unless you can point me to the section in the constitution where “driving whenever and wherever I feel like for free” is listed.

    I’m not sure I buy this. With the obvious exclusions of safety (no driving in playgrounds) and national security (no driving on the White House lawn) and privacy (no driving across people’s yards), I don’t see why the government WOULD have general mandate to do so. Roads are paid by taxes; if they’re not violating any of the above, why not?

    Now, this isn’t to say that this particular case isn’t a worthy exception, with clearly extenuating circumstances surrounding population density, but I feel like casually sweeping statements of similar intent and gist lead the US into Bad Places.

  2. 2 virescent April 3, 2008 at 9:24 am

    The argument that’s being used against the congestion tax is, it’s public property, so it belongs to me, so nobody can tell me what I can and can’t do with it. That’s a fallacy. Public property belongs to you, sure, you and the other 300 million people of America. The whole “so I can do whatever I feel like” is what I don’t hold with.

    I think we get a lot of this argument in America, since liberty is awesome, and we tend to focus on the awesomeness of liberty instead of the responsibilities it entails. Use of public property in “any manner you feel like” is not a right. If public property is being over-used, or used incorrectly, then the government should step in.

    I think the decision in this case- to charge a fee for an action, and supply many alternatives to the action- is a very good one. You can still drive on the streets. You can still do whatever you want to on the streets. But if you’re doing something there that makes things harder for other people who want to use the space, then you have to deal with the consequences.

  3. 3 biking person April 3, 2008 at 10:33 am

    National Parks are maintained with public funds, and you have to pay to use those, and there are rules about what you can and can’t do there. I agree that Joe Public who thinks “it’s using taxpayer dollars, it’s mine too, I can do whatever I want” is out of his gord. Probably cheated on his taxes, too, but anyway theoretically taxes go to the government who decides how best to use them. Most things that the government spends money on aren’t things that the general public can benefit from, like, say, a war in a foreign country.

    I had a point here, but forgot it. So instead I’ll wrap up this comment by saying that a) driving is a privilege, not a right, and b) paying to use infrastructure is a fairly sound way of operating: it’s been done at least since the Roman empire. Look at all the toll roads and tunnels on public roads; how is charging a fee to drive into a certain part of the city any different from charging a fee for driving over a bridge?

  4. 4 Cameron April 3, 2008 at 1:20 pm

    HA! As someone who was raised in a driving state (Cali) and has spent 6 car free (and carefree) years in New York, as well as visited other Mega cities such as LA, Paris, Barcelona and Tokyo, I can say, unequivocally, that ANY plan that limits the amount of cars in dense urban situations is not only welcome, but immediately necessary. A statistic was published in the NYTimes last year that said as early as 2012 New York will have 24 hour traffic. That means litteraly no mater what time of day or night you are on the street, there will be a non-stop, horn-honking, smog-spuing line of traffic. If you want to talk about what’s best for the citizens of New York (including those in the cars), you must talk about decreasing the amount of cars in the city. Just like prohibiting smoking indoors was meet with venim…there is truely NO sain, scientific, or historical argument against congestion taxes (Full stop)!!


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