Early Congestion Pricing Study Shows Congestion Pricing Works



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A congestion pricing study that the MTA was to submit to the federal government predicted that the drop in traffic volume attributed to the toll would be greater than previously thought.

The MTA submitted the study, titled “New York’s Central Business District Tolling Program: Program Overview and Traffic and Revenue Study,” to the Federal Highway Administration in January 2020. The study was part of the information exchange between agencies when the federal government was determining whether the MTA needed to do a full environmental impact assessment or a simpler EA before it could implement its congestion pricing program, a process that was ultimately hampered by political interference of the Trump administration. Media coverage at the time refers to the document, but Streetsblog got the “study of traffic and revenue” through a Freedom of Information Act request.

The study, prepared by engineering consultants WSP, explored what would happen in three different scenarios: one in which congestion pricing was not instituted; one in which it was instituted with two shorter peak tolls during rush hour and toll credits for Manhattan crossings that are already tolled (scenario 1 below); and one in which tolls were set with long, overnight peak prices and drivers did not get any credit for being tolled (scenario 2).

The two toll scenarios that WSP used to explore what congestion pricing would mean for vehicle traffic and revenue.
The two toll scenarios that WSP used to explore what congestion pricing would mean for vehicle traffic and revenue.

To determine the traffic impacts under the two scenarios, WSP used the 2017 traffic figures as a “conservative estimate of expected revenue”. Congestion pricing expert Charles Komanoff said car traffic has remained more or less unchanged over the years.

Using this data, WSP found that congestion pricing would drastically reduce the total number of miles vehicles travel inside Manhattan’s Midtown area, and even contribute to a significant drop in VMT for the entire period. city. In scenario 1, the VMT in the so-called central business district drops by 7.6% and in scenario 2, the total mileage drops by 8.8%.

The percentage drop is smaller for the city as a whole, but would still translate to 364,589 to 493,277 miles not traveled. That’s only a drop of about 1% for the city, but it “would still produce a significant improvement in both traffic congestion and vehicle emissions,” the study’s authors told the federal government.

The kilometers traveled by vehicles in midtown Manhattan and the larger congestion pricing study area in congestion pricing and non-congestion pricing scenarios.
The kilometers traveled by vehicles in midtown Manhattan and the larger congestion pricing study area in congestion pricing and non-congestion pricing scenarios.

Advocates of congestion pricing and transit improvement said the study’s VMT cuts showed congestion pricing could reduce driving even more than the Bloomberg-era proposal to toll south of 60th Street in Manhattan, but not on the East River Bridges.

“One thing is clear is that the program envisioned by the MTA; a cordon of Manhattan CBD, a guaranteed income target of $ 15 billion, no additional exclusions, regardless of the toll rate submitted to the federal government, will have a substantial impact on reducing traffic, ”said Ben Fried, director TransitCenter communications. “The 2008 era proposal was to reduce mileage in the CBD by about 6.5%. This should be a percentage point or two more.

The study also addressed a very high level view of what would happen to gross traffic volumes in both scenarios and the scenario where congestion pricing was not yet implemented. For vehicles entering the CBD from 60th Street, WSP found that there would be reductions in traffic volume between 14.1% and 19.2%. This is a figure that matches what the MTA told the public at its public meetings on congestion pricing, where Allison C de Cerreño, head of the congestion pricing project, said internal figures of the MTAs showed a drop in traffic of between 15 and 20%.

The specific traffic reductions congestion pricing was expected to result in areas within and just outside New York City
The specific traffic reductions congestion pricing was expected to result in areas within and just outside New York City

Fried said he understood the report was drawn up for a “specific and limited purpose,” but said he would have preferred to see the reductions in vehicle traffic in the borough replaced by reductions on the bridges of the East River and the Hudson River crossings themselves.

“For me it would make more sense to watch every level crossing. In a surrender scenario, the Queensboro Bridge will see less traffic while the Queens-Midtown Tunnel will see more. You can generally tell from the numbers here that the most heavily trafficked areas, the Brooklyn and Midtown crossings, get a larger reduction in the discount scenario, but it would be good to see more detail, ” did he declare.

The study is limited insofar as it only deals with an overview of traffic by district, leaving aside the exact situation of the districts located on the outskirts of the congestion zone. It also doesn’t take into account how congestion pricing might affect commercial deliveries in Manhattan. The MTA, for its part, called the study a preliminary analysis and that additional aspects of traffic impacts are included in the ongoing environmental assessment, which takes months and months.

“The specific assessment of neighborhood effects is still ongoing,” MTA spokesman Aaron Donovan said. “The traffic study was a very early view of a preliminary analysis and provided a high level view of the potential effects of [congestion pricing]. The environmental assessment will examine the impact of the program on the movement of goods.

Unfortunately, the MTA drafted the toll range and revenue forecast that WSP shared with the federal government on the pretext that the financial aspect of the study was not a “policy or a final decision of the agency.” . A recent MTA environmental justice webinar revealed that the agency, which previously said tolls could range from $ 9 to $ 23 for EZ-Pass users, is considering a number of discount and redemption scenarios. revenue that could bring the agency between $ 830 million and $ 1.48 billion, depending on credits and limits on rental vehicles and credits. (By law, the toll is required to generate enough revenue to back up $ 15 billion for the 2020-2024 capital plan.)

A graphic featured during a recent webinar on MTA congestion pricing for environmental justice communities.
A graphic featured during a recent webinar on MTA congestion pricing for environmental justice communities.

The report, which relied on modeling used by the New York Metropolitan Transportation Council, underestimated transit riders in the CBD, according to Komanoff. Where the NYMTC model indicates that 75 percent of trips are made in the CBD using public transportation, Komanoff said his Balanced Transport Analyzer shows the number is actually 82 percent, which equates to a 40 percent undercoverage. The exact number is important, because separating direct trips from people’s ultimate destinations can help prove that congestion pricing won’t dig into Manhattan’s heartland.

“In a way, so what?” he said. “But I think what they do is this pretty common mistake. Keep in mind that a significant number of journeys that enter the CBD by car are made. These are trips that will pay the toll, but these are not trips to Manhattan’s CBD. I think that’s sort of an important distinction. One of the fears about congestion pricing tends to be that fewer people will come to CBD, ”he said. “One of the reasons we’re not going to lose people coming to the CBD is that a fairly large number of trips that will be charged off-road are passing trips. It’s not trips that make the cash registers slam in Manhattan. “


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