Congestion pricing plans are more like the “if you can pay, pollute away” principle

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London introduced congestion pricing in 2003, hoping to reduce pollution and congestion and increase safety for pedestrians and cyclists. Maybe Toronto should follow suit.RANDY QUAN/The Globe and Mail

If you want to play, you have to pay. You won’t find this philosophy written in the margins of our Charter of Rights and Freedoms, or etched into the base of the Statue of Liberty, but it permeates most of our post-capitalist-noon-Marxist-pre-apocalypse society. .

Congestion pricing applies this principle to driving. Motorists who want to drive in high-density downtown areas must pay for this privilege. It was first introduced in Singapore in 1975 and has spread to cities like Stockholm and Milan. London introduced congestion pricing in 2003, hoping to reduce pollution and congestion and increase safety for pedestrians and cyclists. The city now charges motorists £15 a day to drive in the city centre. Congestion has decreased by 30%.

In North America, there are “toll lanes” (express toll lanes or high occupancy toll lanes) and whole road tolls, but there have been no “area-based” charges.

This will change. New York City plans to reduce congestion and increase revenue by paying drivers who enter the busiest sections of Manhattan. A 2019 state law allows the city to charge drivers south of 60th Street. A six-person Traffic Mobility Review Board (TMRB) will propose which drivers would be exempt from the toll (which could cost up to $23 for passenger vehicles). The TMRB recently concluded six days of public hearings during which 400 people spoke. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) projects a 9% reduction in traffic congestion thanks to zone tolls and an annual revenue of $1 billion, most of which is expected to go to public transit. Congestion pricing could be implemented as early as the end of 2023.

Opposition to congestion pricing in New York has come from rideshare drivers, taxi drivers, New Jersey politicians and Bronx residents, who believe commuters banned from Manhattan will cut along the freeway Cross Bronx. New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy says congestion pricing is a “double taxation” of drivers in his state, who already pay tolls to cross the Hudson River. A reviewer at the hearings said it would be “the death of lower Manhattan”.

Does congestion pricing work? There is no doubt that it reduces traffic and pollution. So it works. The question is: Works for whom?

It works extremely well for those with lots of money. If you’re a wealthy or high-income driver, congestion pricing is just one more item on the credit card bill. Of course, this is true not just for congestion pricing, but for just about every aspect of modern life. The wealthy lived unhindered by parking tickets or tolls and had less interaction with lower orders than medieval feudal lords did with their serfs.

This does not work well for low-income workers who drive as part of their job or who have to commute by car because they are not served by adequate public transit. Housing costs have pushed workers out of city centers and many have no choice but to drive to work. How many low-income car commuters are there around New York City? Streetblog conservatively estimates that 7,000 low-income workers could be financially stressed. Critics place this figure much higher.

Urban tolls pose an ethical problem. Is it fair to put a price on access to a public space? Currently, anyone can drive into Manhattan below 60th Street, whether or not they can afford a toll. Is it ethical to create one freedom for wealthy drivers and another for those with less money? Like Nicholas Goldberg of Tim from Los Angeleses wrote about congestion pricing: “Shouldn’t we ask ourselves from time to time if there are other ways to solve problems than by separating those who have the most money from those who have less?

During a visit to New York in the spring of 2022, the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said: “Those who want to use a vehicle in London, but do not need one, should pay for the privilege of TO DO”. Khan called it “a social justice issue…I’m a big believer in the ‘polluter pays’ principle. If you pollute, you pay.

So if you have a lot of money, you can drive around London and pollute as much as you want. You can hire fifteen limos to drive around central London blaring Charli XCX on their loudspeakers and pay tolls so insignificant you won’t even notice. If you don’t have a lot of money, you can save for the privilege.

This is similar to the “If you can pay, pollute away” principle.

If municipalities such as New York City are to use congestion pricing, they must ensure that they do not neglect social equity. If we want to “encourage” people to use public transport, why not lower the price? Why can’t the government fund it properly? If we’re going to burden low-income drivers who live outside the city and don’t have adequate public transit, why not offer them reduced fares and increase the frequency of public transit services? in underserved areas? Why not make public transit free? Why not financially incentivize people to cycle?

Otherwise, even though congestion pricing will reduce traffic and pollution, wealthy drivers will play. Low-income drivers will pay.

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