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Latest traffic figures prove need for congestion pricing, once and for all

On the eve of today’s opening of the public comment period on congestion pricing, we asked Charles Komanoff to do what he does best: calculate the numbers and show that our region desperately needs congestion pricing. Here is.

This article will demonstrate that even if traffic volumes in Manhattan’s central business district were to decline sharply from pre-pandemic levels, congestion pricing would still be justified. Why? Because the tolls always would only represent a fraction of the costs of the congestion avoided by each trip that the toll charged off the road.

In a new analysis this week, I found that vehicle entry into the CBD could decrease by 25% – an extreme scenario that would reduce the cumulative traffic slowdown caused by an individual trip by 40% – and that the societal cost of this slowdown would still be several times greater than any imaginable toll that would emerge from the MTA’s sausage-making process with congestion charging.

I find mathematics fascinating. They confirm that congestion costs are very sensitive to traffic volumes, just as you would expect in a hyper-congested environment like Manhattan south of 60th Street. But even I started to wonder why bother with math, in light of the new numbers I pulled today from MTA Bridges and Tunnels’ fabulously detailed data portal for its Seven Bridges and Tunnels. two tunnels.

Graphic: Streetsblog
Graphic: Streetsblog

Here is what I found: Comparing the past seven weeks with the same period of two years ago, the combined inbound volumes on the MTA’s Queens-Midtown and Brooklyn-Battery tunnels – the only MTA crossings that bring cars directly into the proposed charging zone – are essentially unchanged.

From August 1 to September 18, 2021, vehicle entrances to both tunnels were a tiny 0.5% lower than during the same 49-day period in 2019. And while the numbers for 2021 have been somewhat inflated by drivers turning away from the Brooklyn Bridge. , which gave a dedicated bicycle lane, the city’s DOT numbers for its East River crossings tell the same story: During the six months from March to August, vehicle volumes entering Manhattan on the four bridges of the East River are also essentially unchanged. – up 0.3% compared to 2019. (I thank the DOT communications staff for promptly providing the monthly data that I have consolidated here.)

OK, I might be the last person to figure out that, in terms of traffic, it’s 2019 again in the heart of Manhattan. José Martinez from The city had a great story, “Back to Gridlock,” in that sense two months ago. But he and other reviewers sometimes mixed volumes of non-CBD traffic into their data stew, so I couldn’t be completely sure. Even the new data here only covers East River crossings and omits critical volumes entering the 60th Street pricing zone.

Graphic: Charles Komanoff
Graphic: Charles Komanoff

But whether these north-south vehicle entrances have rebounded 100% or not, the overall picture is unequivocal: Traffic volumes in Manhattan’s central business district are near their pre-pandemic levels.

How is this possible, when most of the office towers are still depopulated and so many workers are working from home? It’s actually quite simple. Before Covid-19, public transport trips to the CBD outnumbered trips by car by 4 or 5 to 1 (see pie chart above). Even with drastically reduced overall travel volumes, a substantial modal shift from trains and buses to cars would be enough to keep car travel afloat. And that’s what we have.

And, to hack a line from Marx (Karl, not Groucho), don’t forget the “reserve army” of drivers bound for the CBD: car owners who usually don’t drive in Manhattan because of traffic. but that as soon as a little vacant (and priceless) road space appears on the outside of their windshields. That army was swelled by the 100,000 or more additional car registrations in New York City that Crain’s Amanda Glodowski spotted in DMV data over the summer. Add to that the NYPD’s cynical abdication of parking and other traffic rules and it’s no surprise that even in struggling Manhattan, car volumes have kicked into high gear.

How much does one trip congestion cost everyone?

Now, the moment you’ve been waiting for: the bar graph with my estimates of the societal delay costs of an additional car trip in the proposed congestion charging zone.

Graphic: Charles Komanoff
Graphic: Charles Komanoff

There are three takeaways:

  • First, these costs decline faster than the assumed reduction in travel volumes, reflecting the geometric relationship between traffic levels and congestion costs.
  • Second, the rate of cost reduction slows as more and more trips go, demonstrating that we don’t need to cut many trips to significantly improve traffic flow.
  • Third, and most importantly, the congestion costs caused by a single trip are a multiple of any imaginable toll on that trip. At 2019 traffic levels – which, as noted, are back in effect – a single inbound trip between early morning and mid-evening imposes more than $ 50 in delays, on average, on other motor vehicle users : drivers, passengers, for rental vehicle users, truckers, tradespeople with vans and, of course, bus drivers. Still, that same trip is unlikely to be billed for up to $ 10. (Keep in mind that these numbers are only for inbound round-trip trips.)

And the dollar costs shown in the graph do not include the many types of pollution (air, climate, noise) from this trip or its increase to the ever-present dangers New Yorkers face from being driven to it. hospital or morgue. An $ 8 or $ 10 one-way peak toll is not a burden, it’s a good deal.

Streetsblog contributor Charles Komanoff is an internationally recognized expert on pricing congestion and other mobility issues. He also runs the Carbon Tax Center. Follow him on Twitter at @komanoff.


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