Congestion Pricing: It all comes down to three men in a room

[Update: In a strange move, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver is planning to convene not in Albany where they could actually hold a vote on congestion pricing, but in NYC where it is not clear what they will be doing]

Congestion Pricing remains a hot topic in the power corridors of New York City and State politics with a looming Monday deadline on Federal aid to help finance the start-up costs. As usual, a hard fought issue campaign in New York comes down to the Governor (Spitzer-D), the Speaker of the State Assembly (Silver-D) and the President of the State Senate (Bruno-R).

In New York, this is known as the three men in a room situation. It means that at this point it really doesn't matter what each individual legislators think because the leader of each branch of the legislature knows that they can swing enough votes to make whatever compromises they want happen. I spoke to two of these frustrated legislators yesterday and today that it's pretty much out of their hands and they will see what the final legislation is probably within an hour before they are forced to vote on it. Such is the poor state of our great democracy here in New York.

The main argument seems to be around equity and as usual, the rich folks are very worried about hurting poor people with excessive taxes (yeah right!). Earlier this week a Westchester (rich suburb) Assemblymember released a report that basically says that congestion pricing is unfair to lower income workers who drive to the city. This ignores the fact that most low income working people in NYC take mass transit or walk to work.

Now Crain's reports what looks to be the final act between the three men in a room.

State legislative leaders are discussing a deal that would include approval of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s congestion pricing plan as well as pay raises for lawmakers, an insider says. If an agreement is reached, it would pave the way for the city to qualify for $530 million in federal funds to implement congestion pricing, new bus routes and other transit improvements.

But such a deal could also spell the end for campaign finance reform, since Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s primary leverage for achieving that was his ability to veto pay raises. However, Mr. Spitzer also favors congestion pricing, and is under pressure to get legislative approval by Monday for the city to qualify for the federal grant.

As part of the agreement, Messrs. Spitzer and Bloomberg would promise not to criticize the salary hikes or say they were held hostage by the Legislature, according to a source privy to the discussions.

So basically, Spitzer is preparing the grand compromise: Bruno gets Campaign finance reform off the agenda and Silver gets pay raises for the legislators. If anyone has read "The Power Broker", this is very reminiscent of what Gov. Rockefeller did in the late 1960s by cornering Robert Moses politically and making the bridge tolls pay for mass transit improvements. Mayor Lindsey tried to bring order to the transportation network alone, but without the support of the Governor, he couldn't make it happen. Spitzer looks ready to deal and has a few goodies in his bag to offer.

But that doesn't stop NYC's kids from making a direct musical plea to Spitzer, Bruno and Silver:

Stay tuned...

Traffic taxes are nothing new, they used to call them tolls instead of congestion pricing.

I think they might tax the air if they could, no that was Europe with the CO2 taxes.

There were subsidized stamps instead of stamp taxes. There was free grade school education. Not totally free either.

Tea was less than a nickle a bag. For a can of coke they get a dollar in some places. If you buy the powdered drink mix and have a two quart pitcher, you save on plastic and energy costs, maybe offsets some of the cost of gasoline.

I don't know anything about the politics of New York. However, if they are planning to repeat the extremely expensive and inflexible experience of London, they should check out all the alternatives first.

I have a website with an alternative

Please feel free to ask me for more details or if something is not clear.

Don't do it New York. Congestion charging is just another tax. What's more it's a very regressive tax designed to force the poor people out of their cars. It's just small change to the rich. There has been a large hidden cost to the London economy from the congestion charge but it gets little publicity because it's not PC. I don't see any reduction in London traffic but that's because traffic is largely self regulating.

It seems clear to me that something has to be done about energy usage for transportation. More than half of what we import goes to personal transportation. We can talk hybrids and ethanol all we want, but a major lifestyle change will be needed if we hit the wall on oil about 2012. I do not want to go to war for oil ever again.

Your figure of half for transportation may apply on average, but much more energy goes to heat, cool and otherwise power the buildings in NYC (as established by PlanNYC). It might be easier to address the energy consumption of transportation in NYC, but it will not address the lion's share of the problem.

NYC is not a country. Even though this article is about NYC, this fee would not even begin to solve the energy usage problem. Since this is an oil site and not a traffic congestion site, I think it is appropriate to address the larger issue. California uses more than 6 or the 20 million barrels of oil per day used by the U.S. Los Angeles could work on getting people to live closer to where they work. Commuting in California uses a LOT of gasoline and pollutes the air.

Worst idea I've seen in a long, LONG time. Lets see, what does this have going for it...

1) Cameras everywhere to spy on everybody.

2) Massive traffic clogs all around 86th street due to the implementation of this thing.

3) Rich never pay the tax, as they live in the center of the city, so they generally don't need cars, and the cars they do have rarely leave the central district, so they wouldn't be detected or charged very often.

4) Poor pay the tax every day as they commute in from the outer borroughs. Yes, this does happen, many places in the outer borroughs have terrible transit connections, so people must drive, and these people are predominantly poor.

5) This will accomplish what exactly? Reduce traffic? How? Everyone who has access to mass transit already uses it, and those that don't, what becomes of them?

Surprisingly, it was put forth by a billionaire, and miraculously appears to inconvenience and tax only those who aren't making a ton of money, funny how that works.

To top it all off, nobody is going to ditch their cars because of this. If you're willing (or forced) to pay $5.00 (or whatever it is, I forget) in tolls to come into the city, and $40.00 to park your car in the city, then a few more dollars won't stop you, but it might make life just that much harder on the least wealthy.

I don't have it in me right now to find all of the resources necessary to counter these points, but Glenn, didn't you once have a post showing that there's a significant portion of the population entering the Manhattan Central Business District that DOES have access to public transit but doesn't use it?

I don't know why the city doesn't offer to do what Stockholm did and make congestion pricing into a pilot project. It very well may turn out that people like it, including the naysayers commenting above. You know, just like they liked it in Stockholm.

The point of congestion pricing is that it should generate some money to improve transit from the outer boroughs. If there weren't so many damn cars on the road, there would be space for bus rapid transit from some remote parts of the Bronx or Queens. I believe they're going to work on it anyway, but the revenue from CP would help.

I suspect that the trope about traffic clogs at 86th St is complete and total BS. Pleeeze, people. Everyone knows there's not going to be parking there, so why even bother getting that far, only to have to drive 10 or 20 or 30 blocks back to find parking? But again, see the idea about a pilot test so that it can be proven.