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New Yorker Embraces Congestion Pricing

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Bloomtown: The Mayor plans to boost spending on public transport.
(Photo: Frank Franklin II/AP)

This week’s Talk of the Town section of The New Yorker features an opinion in support of congestion pricing for lower Manhattan. Written by climate journalist Elizabeth Kolbert, the piece makes two important points. The first is a response to people who claim that congestion pricing is an affront to the poor and the middle class who can’t afford to drop the $8 required to drive a car into any part of Manhattan below 86th street. Here’s what she has to say:

…the poor don’t, as a rule, drive in and out of Manhattan: compare the cost of buying, insuring, and parking a car with the seventy-six dollars a month the M.T.A. charges for an unlimited-ride MetroCard. For those who do use cars to commute, eight dollars a day would, it’s true, quickly add up. And that is precisely the point. Congestion pricing works only to the extent that it makes other choices—changing the hours of one’s daily drive or, better yet, using mass transit—more attractive. One of the Mayor’s proposals is to put the money raised by congestion pricing—an estimated four hundred million dollars a year—toward improving subway and bus service.

The second point she makes is about the cost of congestion:

…it’s naïve to suppose that congestion isn’t itself costly. Sitting in traffic, a plumber can’t plumb and a deliveryman can’t deliver. The value of time lost to congestion delays in the city has been put at five billion dollars annually. When expenses like wasted fuel, lost revenue, and the increased cost of doing business are added in, that figure rises to thirteen billion dollars. The question, Bloomberg observed, is “not whether we want to pay but how do we want to pay?”

To be sure, decreased productivity is not the only cost of congestion. Global warming, caused in large part from greenhouse gases emitted by cars, is another cost that Kolbert mentions in her article. However, she fails to mention other problems like asthma and respiratory disease associated with particulate matter that the tailpipes of cars spew out. This alone should be enough for New York to support congestion pricing and encourage other modes of transport

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