The Price of Parking: Let the Free Market Decide?

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The Wall Street Journal ran a piece this weekend by Conor Dougherty on the municipal move toward charging more for parking. It’s available online to paid subscribers only, but here’s a taste:

As anyone who has ever circled the block for a marginally better spot knows, parking is an American obsession. It occasionally boils over into rage, or worse. Since the parking meter was first introduced 70 years ago, in Oklahoma City, the field has been dominated by two simple maxims: Cities can never have too much parking, and it can never be cheap enough.

Now a small but vocal band of economists, city planners and entrepreneurs is shaking that up, promoting ideas like free-market pricing at meters and letting developers, rather than the cities, dictate the supply of off-street parking. Seattle is doing away with free street parking in a neighborhood just north of downtown. London has meters that go as high as $10 an hour, while San Francisco has been trying out a system that monitors usage in real time, allowing the city to price spots to match demand. (A recent tally there showed that one meter near AT&T Park brings in around $4,500 a year, while another meter about a mile away takes in less than $10.) Gainesville, Fla., has capped the number of parking spots that can be added to new buildings; Cambridge, Mass., works with companies to reduce off-street parking.

Economists have long made the case that the solution to the parking crunch many cities face lies not in more free or cheap parking but in higher prices. The idea is that higher prices result in a greater churn — and get more people on buses and subways — which leads to more open spaces. But this notion has often run up against city planners and retailers arguing that cheap and plentiful parking results in more commerce and, thus, higher sales taxes and a vibrant economy.

The article goes on to note the influence of UCLA professor Donald Shoup‘s 2005 book, "The High Cost of Free Parking." Shoup, who will be in New York City meeting with civic leaders in early March at the invitation of Transportation Alternatives, argues that "ubiquitous free parking helps explain why our cities sprawl on a scale fit more for cars than for people, and why American motor vehicles now consume one-eighth of the world’s total oil production."

In Los Angeles, where free or cheap parking has been as much a part of the landscape as palm trees, market forces are already pushing parking prices higher, even without the intervention of planners. And some people aren’t happy about it.

Nor are they all happy in Seattle, where the WSJ found one woman who sounded unlikely to be forced out of her car at any price:

"It’s just frustrating that they keep taking free parking away," says Terry Peterson, a grants and contracts administrator at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle. Ms. Peterson has a 15-minute commute to her office, where she parks in one of the area’s free spots.

In spring, the city plans to put in new meters that will cost around $7 a day on average, the result of a recent study that found that most on-street parking in the neighborhood has an occupancy rate of at least 90%. She says she’ll probably end up parking at a private lot, which runs about $1,800 a year.

Whatever the market will bear.

Photo: Yukon White Light on Flickr

  • P

    I have to say that I’m a bit more conflicted about how high priced parking works outside of a city like New York. Unless it’s enforced on a metropolitan area scale it seems like it could have the unintended consequence of pushing development to cheap parking areas.

    The LA regulation limiting parking at office towers for instance needs to be balanced with viable transit options or developers will question their ability to fill the building.

  • Jacob

    P,

    You make a good point, but in New York, there are countless viable transit alternatives. I worked in Bushwick where people would drive 6 or fewer blocks to work. People would also drive a route s that were nearly identical to a subway line. These ridiculous practices would end if free parking was eliminated. We have got to stop subsidizing driving in the city.

  • Steve

    24 hour free curbside parking in NYC was first instituted in the 1960s. What can be given can be taken away. Not completely, and not all at once, but start by introducing muni-meters with low rates on the most heavily congested streets that are currently not metered.

  • There are going to be a lot more of those munimeters in place soon and they should continue to expand that program. And they should let people use credit cards in them and start jacking up the prices. Right now they are typically way underpriced compared to the local garages. I would like a real-time variable pricing scheme so it would cost more during mid-day and then in some places still charge more at night if there is high demand.

  • P

    No question, Jacob. We’ve got it easier than anyplace else in the country in our ability to offer options to driving. If we’d only take advantage of it. I wonder what benefits of a NYC congestion zone might trickle out- not just to the outer boroughs- but to the larger metropolitan area.

    Steve- I didn’t know that. Before the 60’s there was no onstreet parking? Or it was metered?

  • Spud Spudly

    Streetsblog needs to abandon the elitist position that the streets can be made safe and non-congested (is that a word?) by just raising the price on everything from tolls to parking to driving during rush hour (“congestion pricing”).

    Controlling city streets through “economic incentives” does one thing only: it makes the streets easier to use for the rich while denying access to the non-rich.

    Congestion pricing and expensive parking don’t affect the Donald Trumps of the world, they only affect people who can’t afford to pay. So we would be forcing the working class to bear the burden.

    Please, go ahead an figure out a way to make the streets safer and less congested. Just don’t do it by pricing out the middle and lower class. Public streets are the ultimate public resource, and their use should not be dictated by how much money you can afford to pay.

  • Spud Spudly

    (continued)

    All these economic schemes are patently unfair because they don’t affect everyone equally. I’ll stop driving and parking when there’s a way for the plan to affect EVERYONE EQUALLY! When Ron Perelman and Donald Trump and the Chairman of Goldman Sachs are denied the privelege of driving and parking, then you’ll be on to something.

    Until then, all you’re doing is keeping poor people from using the streets. DO IT FAIRLY OR DON’T DO IT AT ALL!

  • P

    Got any ideas, Spudly? In all sincerity, I’m sure we all would like other strategies of making the streets safer, less congested, and less polluted.

    But for a quick reply to your suggestion- why should the ‘ultimate public resource’ be reserved only for people who own cars? Perhaps the status quo is pretty elitist as well.

  • Spud Spudly

    The other stratey to simply reduce street space for cars and parking and give that space over to cyclists, pedestrians, mass transit, truck delivery and public places. But I don’t think that will work alone.

    Congestion pricing, fair parking rates, getting rid of the placards, and increasing mass transit have to be part of the solution too.

  • Spud Spudly

    Fine! Ban cars! That would be OK because it would affect people equally. But any scheme that divides people up by how much money they have is inherently UNFAIR.

    I’m not an expert on traffic reduction schemes. Stamp a code on people’s drivers licenses that entitles them to drive on odd or even days? Maybe that will help. Give everyone a pass that allows them to drive only on certain days, and make that pass applicable not to hired drivers but to the people they’re driving for (so the Trumps couldn’t hire multiple drivers and get around the rules)? Would that work? I don’t know.

    But I do know that divvying up a public resource like use of the city streets according to wealth is absolutely the wrong approach. Better to do nothing.

  • Spud Spudly

    BTW, somewhere in London there’s a guy driving his Aston Martin along less-congested streets just laughing his ass off at the middle class people who can no longer afford to drive into town. Do we want to increase access for some people while denying it to others? Or should we seek another plan which even if it’s not as effective doesn’t divide people by class (caste)?

  • Maria

    spud,

    is mass transit elitist and unfair because people have to pay to use it?

    currently, city employees from bklyn and queens who have free parking in lower manhattan get to drive their cars over the east river bridges for free while i have to pay about $4/day to take the subway into manhattan.

    car owners in nyc are a minority and are wealthier, on average, than non-car owners. so, to my mind, what’s elitist is the current system. putting some pricing on the roads — just as we have on rail and ferries — would be much more fair than the current system.

    what is “elite” is the fact that we let a wealthier minority who choose to use an inefficient and costly means of transportation dominate the majority of our city’s public spaces — and we allow them to do this for free! pricing the streets would correct that imbalance and, if done well, bring some sanity to our city’s transportation policy while raising money for mass transit, cycling and pedestrian spaces.

  • crzwdjk

    Car are definitely not cheap to own and operate, so the people who own them already have the money to pay the several thousand dollars that it costs to own and operate one. And the fairness issue doesn’t seem like such a big problem with parking, because people already self-segregate by income to some extent, and that will result in parking spaces in different areas being priced according to the ability of the people in that area to pay. I doubt Donald Trump drives to Flushing much, and I doubt that the residents of housing projects in Bushwick drive to the Upper East Side much.

    Congestion pricing, though, is a bit more problematic, because it would put a price on entering Manhattan as a whole, and presumably adjust that price to achieve the desired level of congestion, which will result in only the richer people still driving. With that it might make sense to scale the congestion charge to income. And even if congestion charging never gets implemented, it would make a lot of sense to scale fines for traffic violations to income, as Finland does, because what’s a $500 speeding ticket to a dot-com CEO?

  • Steve

    P,

    You could not park overnight on the street in NYC until the city changed the rules in the 1960s. Here’s my source: http://www.arch.columbia.edu/up/people/alumni/2004thesis_pdf/GRothThesis.pdf , at pages 26-27.

    I recommend the entire thesis; it contains many interesting facts about NYC parking and embraces market pricing.

  • Spud Spudly

    Is mass transit unfair because people have to pay to use it? No — it’s relatively inexpensive and heavily subsidized by taxes and by people who drive and pay tolls at bridges and tunnels. The $2 fare isn’t designed to price people into alternative forms of transportation. It’s not unfair to charge someone a small amount that is less than it costs to provide the service they’re receiving. (And before anyone tries to use that argument about city streets, remember that we ALL pay for city streets already.)

    The only way to correct an imbalance is through a system that affects everyone equally. Otherwise you’re only creating more imbalances. The only reason wealthy people today take the subway is because it’s faster than driving. If you make driving easier for rich people only then it creates more imbalance.

    BTW, I realize that government employees driving to work is an emotional hot-button issue. But it’s a relatively small number of those employees who have goverment cars — most are taking the subway to work too. I knew someone who had a gov’t car for his job and it was because he was on call 24-hours-a-day. Surely there’s belt-tightening that could take place there, but the issue is blown out of proportion because of the average person’s opinion of government.

    And I must say that more expensive parking being OK because of “self-segregating” is the worst argument I’ve heard yet! It should be OK to make it so that someone from Bushwick can’t park on the Upper East Side, but not so that someone from the Upper East Side can’t park in Bushwick??? Holy Moly! It’s OK for the UES to keep out cars from Bushwick??? Yikes!

    Maybe a better solution would be parking decals that only allow people who live in a neighborhood to park in the neighborhood. It’s already done that way in other cities. It’s not perfect but it’s better than saying that it’s OK to price poor people out of public parking on the UES. I was really going to say that I regretted the use of the word “elitist” in my first post, but now I’m not so sure.

    But I do agree with this:

    “Congestion pricing, though, is a bit more problematic, because it would put a price on entering Manhattan as a whole, and presumably adjust that price to achieve the desired level of congestion, which will result in only the richer people still driving. With that it might make sense to scale the congestion charge to income.”

  • David Chesler

    Steve, without reading the entire thesis PDF, what did people do before the 1960s? My grandparents lived in Washington Heights and generally had a car, especially after WWII (although my grandfather took a bus to Ft. Lee.) There wasn’t off-street parking there then either.

    In an earlier thread (this blog, I think) there was discussion about northern Virginia artificially limiting parking spots in office buildings to force people onto the Metro.

    People will drive until it is so miserable that the alternatives are just as (un)attractive. The misery could come from operating costs, or from traffic, or from tolls and congestion pricing, or from parking (or a combination). I favor that it come through pricing, since money is how we value things, and, contrary to what Spud and others have said, we all have money. If the misery comes primarily from traffic, well you’ve got more traffic. More pollution (which is largely externally borne cost), more wasted time. (If the poor don’t have enough money, give them money, rather than giving them and everybody else a scarce resource without charging. Ideally the new parking fees would be divided up and distributed to everybody, keeping it revenue neutral. The rich would spend their money on parking spots; the poor might spend it on parking, or they could spend it on things they value even more than parking, like food. [Similar to what Maria said about mass transit, is it elitist that food costs money?])

    I’m working in Boston this season. I usually come in by bus. I have never had a problem finding a parking space if I choose to drive; but it is almost impossible to find a free or nearly free on-street parking space. I can depend on the fact that if I drive to work I will have to spend $35 on parking. So I don’t, and my employer had to boost my hourly rate to get me to come here instead of suburbia, which sends the signal to them that maybe they should relocate.

    Query for the group: If you discourage people from coming into the city, malls spring up in suburbia to collect the demand that would have been met by whatever they were going to go downtown for. Suburbia becomes more attractive. You end up with the doughnut-and-hole, Detroit being the classic example.
    We all like cities. But the arts and other pursuits of the mind that make cities so great can’t pay the rent.
    How do you discourage people from coming in for mundane things, while still keeping the city vibrant? Big and crowded, but not too big and too crowded?
    Especially if the city is other than New York or London?

  • Maria

    Spud,

    Your assertion that congestion pricing only benefits the rich doesn’t hold water. First of all, if streets are moving faster for drivers — that benefits all drivers, not just rich drivers. Second, if the money raised by congestion pricing is used, as it is in London, to benefit transit riders, cyclists and pedestrians, that’s also beneficial to everyone and makes it even more possible and likely that motorists will be willing and able to leave their cars at home.

    The logic of your first paragraph applies equally to congestion pricing. You write: “It’s not unfair to charge someone a small amount that is less than it costs to provide the service they’re receiving.” Exactly. Just like subway riders, motorists do not come close to covering the full cost of maintaining our bridges, tunnels and streets, nor do they cover all of the external costs that go unaccounted for today — asthma and climate change produced by tailpipe emissions, the cost of maintaining a huge, steady supply of oil from overseas, the cost of personal obesity in a culture that chooses to drive one mile rather than bike or walk it, the list goes on. The cost of a congestion pricing fee into Manhattan is “relatively inexpensive,” as you say, compared to the full cost of owning a car and the cost that cars impose on society as a whole.

    Finally, Spud, how many “poor people” do you know driving cars to the Upper East Side every day? When it comes to parking, whether it’s the UES or Bushwick, the issue is supply and demand. Where supply of parking is limited and demand is high, we should be pricing the supply accordingly and using the funds generated, as Donald Shoup suggests, to improve neighborhood quality of life and transit services that enable people to leave their cars at home.

  • Steve

    David, apparently prior to the 1960a streets that did not have a sign posted allowing parking (which was the bulk of the residential streets) only allowed 1 hour parking. It was not well enforced. The point is that free parking in NY is not an eternal truth.

  • David Chesler

    Spud – the poor are already priced out of living on the Upper East Side. How would resident stickers help them?

  • Spud Spudly

    David, yes the poor are priced out of living on the UES due to free market forces. Resident stickers wouldn’t help them park there, but it would be more fair in that it works both ways and stops other people from parking in their neighborhoods. At least then the rules are the same for everyone.

    Maria, without reading back over everything here, I don’t believe I said that congestion pricing only benefits the rich (and if I did then you’re right and I was mistaken). Surely there are environmental benefits to be had for all when there’s less traffic.

    What should be said is that congestion pricing only stops the poor and middle class from driving. Paris Hilton wouldn’t think twice about paying $10 to drive into midtown. But I would, and so would a lot of people. Is the fairest solution to traffic problems to weed out the poor and middle class? Wouldn’t the fairest solution be one that affects everyone equally??? Faster streets under a congestion pricing plan don’t benefit ALL drivers, just the ones who can afford to pay.

    And actually, congestion pricing (as done in London, the most cited example) is not inexpensive relative to the cost of owning a car. Eight dollars a day (or is it in euros, in which case it’s more than $8) multiplied by the number of days the typical person commutes is something like $2000. I can buy a used car, insure it and park it on the street for less than that. The whole point is that it’s not inexpensive — the whole point is to make it expensive or else the plan doesn’t work.

    Finally, there already is supply and demand in the parking market — go to any privately owned lot on the UES and it will be more expensive to park there than in a privately owned lot on Bushwick Avenue. And as long as it’s private resources being discussed within the free market system that’s fine. But this isn’t private space we’re talking about, these are public streets that are supposed to be for everyone. And that’s really what it comes down to. Public space is for everyone.

    You know what? I think Central Park is too crowded. Those crowds slow me down and cause too much wear and tear to the park, destroying its natural beauty. Let’s charge an entry fee to thin out the crowds.

  • Maria

    Spud, you keep asserting this:

    “What should be said is that congestion pricing only stops the poor and middle class from driving. ”

    But do you have proof of it? Data from London, Stockholm, Oslo, Singapore or anywhere else that’s tried it? Can you give us anything? Your evidence should include some baseline data to let us know how many poor and middle class people were driving into these cities before congestion pricing started. I think what you’ll find, especially in London where the most extensive data collection has taken place, that there weren’t a whole lot of poor people driving into Central London for work, shopping and entertainiment every day. We know from Komanoff’s studies that the same is true for Manhattan.

    On this point of yours, we can both agree: “public streets that are supposed to be for everyone. And that’s really what it comes down to. Public space is for everyone.”

    Exactly, Spud. Public space is for everyone. It’s not just for the owners of automobiles. So why do we allow a minority of automobile owners to dominate the vast majority of our crowded city’s public spaces o the exclusion, danger and detriment of the majority of New Yorkers who do not own private automobiles? Not only that, we allow them to store and drive their vehicles on our city streets almost for free.

    This needs to change. It’s time to take our city’s streets back from an ELITE AND POLITICALLY POWERFUL MINORITY OF AUTOMOBILE OWNERS.

    And it’s time for you to put forward some real evidence that congestion pricing would hurt poor people. Maybe you could start by going up and asking Majora Carter up in the Bronx if less cars rolling through her neighborhood would hurt or help.

  • Spud, are you or have you ever been a member of the Communist party? We are looking for a solution to the car problem that can actually become law in the US.

    Driving in the city sucks, and is not worth waging a class war over (that you will certainly lose anyway). See you on the subways and sidewalks!

  • MD

    Spud,

    It sounds like you want to keep in place the current, regressive taxes on the less affluent rather than seek new revenue by charging parking fees to the those who can afford it. And you want to do so in the name of economic justice? I just don’t get it.

  • crzwdjk

    How is free market pricing of parking spaces any different from free market pricing of real estate? The poor can’t afford to buy anything on the Upper East Side, but the rich can buy whatever they want in Bushwick. Free market parking would be no different. And it would not really exclude the poor since there is already perfectly good subway service to the Upper East Side, which anyone can take for the wonderfully low price of $2, much lower than the free market price of any parking in Manhattan.

  • Spud Spudly

    Congestion pricing does not affect the rich. Period. There’s no empirical data needed. Economic barriers do not affect people for whom money is not a barrier (unless it’s scaled by wealth). Therefore it only affects everyone else. Is that so complicated?

    What makes you think they’ll be fewer cars in the Bronx if there’s congestion pricing in Manhattan? Maybe people from Westchester will park there and take the subway. Some people already do. Some people from Long Island already park in Queens and take the train. (Maybe those neighborhood parking stickers aren’t a bad idea.) Of course Ms. Carter would be better off with fewer cars in her neighborhood. So would everyone. Does Ms. Carter’s son ever drive her to a doctor in Manhattan? Because you can forget about that if there’s congestion pricing.

    You want to take the streets back from drivers? Go for it! I’m right behind you, if you do it in a way that affects everyone equally.

    You know? I’m starting to think that Prospect Park is too crowded too. Maybe there should be a fee to use the park as well. But only during times when it’s busy, of course.

    (OK, I’ve said my fill. Have at it and I’ll read what you write, but I’m done. It’s been fun.)

  • David Chesler

    Spud – Rich is an interesting concept. I’m in the top X% of earners (where X is somewhere in the single digits) but I’ll do things to save a buck.
    I’d certainly drive and pay $35 to park if I can bill another hour, but not just for the convenience. (When I lived and worked in adjacent inner suburbs [keep in mind that unlike NYC in most cities the urban core exceeds the city limits] I drove a lot, even the month I had a transit pass and subway fare was a sunk cost. When I work in suburbia I drive exclusively, usually SOV.)

    Steve – I don’t think Roth says what you think it says. On-street parking may have been technically illegal prior to the 1960s, but (bottom of page 26, quoting Ingraham 1954) there were 750,000 cars parked illegally every night. I’d imagine that most drivers thought of such regulations as they do of regulations like “Operators of motorcars shall sound their audible warning device when approaching horses” — remnants of an older age. (Every so often NYC goes on a ticket blitz for revenue or “quality of life” or both, and the Post has a field day with stories about people getting tickets for sitting on a milk crate or waiting in a playground for their wife and child to arrive. There are plenty of unenforced regulations and ordinances.) Roth confuses “permitted” and “legal”. Obviously those 750,000 drivers were permitted to park illegally.

  • “You want to take the streets back from drivers? Go for it! I’m right behind you, if you do it in a way that affects everyone equally.”

    And by “everyone” you mean “all drivers.” With the current system being so unfair to the rest of us, you can’t hold our market-driven remedy up to your control-economy standards of fairness.

    “You know? I’m starting to think that Prospect Park is too crowded too.”

    Do you realize that cars kill people?

  • P

    Spuds,

    But the cost of car ownership is already stacked against the poor. Currently Donald Trump is polluting NYC air for free- why doesn’t this elitism outrage you? Or the toll charged for speedy access on the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel v. the clogged (yet free) East River Bridges. Currently, the poorest live on the most clogged and polluted thoroughfares- cutting traffic will benefit them the most.

    I think your use of populism is very selective. In fact, majorities (populist, by definition) have supported the continuation of pricing in London and Stockholm because you get what you pay for: for the added price of driving into the center city drivers get increased speed, less pollution, safer streets, and more money for mass transit.

  • Steve

    David, I take you to be arguing that it is irrelevant that free curbside parking as we know it in NYC today was introduced in the 1960s, because before then many, perhaps most, parked at the curb 24 hours in violation of the law. I disagree.

    The point in the thesis that prior to the 1960s, the city saw free curbside parking as a public health problem and outlawed it, but then in the 1960s “gave in” and accepted it subject to alt. side rules. Forty years later, it’s time once again for New Yorkers to recognize the consequences of curbside parking–an excess of traffic and traffic related deaths, exhaust while cars cruise for spaces, noice, etc.–as public health problems, and address them.

  • David Chesler

    The point in the thesis that prior to the 1960s, the city saw free curbside parking as a public health problem and outlawed it, but then in the 1960s “gave in” and accepted it subject to alt. side rules.

    I disagree that this changeover happened in reality in the 1960s. People (not the city code) were accepting street parking in 1958, and the introduction of alternate side parking in “the early 1950s” was in response to what happens when “storage of vehicles curbside became standard practice”.

    Roth says the point of view shifted in the 1960s, but unless he’s referring narrowly to black letter ordinances, rather than actual tolerated practice, he is setting the date much too late. Even going by his history (that is, I haven’t looked for alternative searches, but I’ll ask Mom the next time we speak) outside the busiest midtown streets there was never a time when those residents who had cars couldn’t nor didn’t in fact park them at the curb.

  • crzwdjk

    How about this argument, for Spud. Driving a car results in all kinds of external costs imposed on society, but not paid by the driver, including the costs of pollution, congestion, diminishing of quality of life, and so on. Furthermore, these costs are, by and large, independent of the wealth of the person driving a car. Yes, rich peoples’ Hummers pollute a lot, but so do poor people’s old and poorly maintained cars. The mechanisms of parking and congestion pricing are merely an attempt to reinternalize the external costs, that is, to make the drivers explicitly pay the costs that their actions impose on everyone else. Since the externality costs are roughly the same for all drivers, the price that they should pay for driving should also be more or less the same. And if the result is that driving is too expensive for poor people, well, then the problem is not with the pricing but with the fact that the transportation system is set up in such a way that the poor can’t get anywhere with it.

    Of course this analysis misses a few points, namely the costs of transition, and the fact that the car-dependent poor might have a hard time of it. Any scheme to decrease car traffic needs to be accompanied by a corresponding increase in public transportation capacity, something which the city has not done very much of since, oh, the 1940s.

  • JF

    Actually, any “driving poor” that I’ve met in NYC tend to be immigrants from countries where they either walked or took public transportation. They tend to be pleased as punch that they’ve finally “made it” and are car owners just like Arnold Schwarzenegger, and look down on anyone who takes the subway or bus.

    As far as I can tell, they see me, a middle-class third-generation American who avoids cars and likes trains and walking, as an eccentric out-of-touch intellectual. The nice ones treat me with a bemused condescension and offer me rides out of pity. The nasty ones treat me like a freak.

    I have no desire to subsidize their patronizing worldview with my tax dollars.

  • da

    Hey Spud, I live in Brooklyn and like most NYers I don’t own a car and am totally dependent on public transportation.

    These folks are offering an easy way to generate a lot of money that will be plowed back into public transit, which benefits people like me. I like that. And they’re offering less congestion and less pollution in the city and I like that too.

    What are you offering instead? You’re asking me and the majority of NYers like me to forgo all that, in order to subsidize your “right” to drive anywhere, anytime you want, for free.

    I don’t think so.

  • mystyleinside
  • paul steely white

    If pricing opponents are so concerned about equity then they should focus their energy on closing the income gap, not on stopping a policy that would benefit many more poor people than it would harm.

    Weprin et al should be advocating for the low and middle income express bus riders, who due to a minority of their neighbors driving to work, are stuck in traffic two hours everyday.

  • Spud Spudly

    (I’m responding only because “da” has totally mischaracterized my position on the issue.)

    I am not asking anyone to subsidize anyone’s right to drive anywhere, anytime, for free. I just want a solution that affects everyone equally and doesn’t exempt people for whom money is no concern.

    What I’m “offering” is a thought process that is more fair and democratic, not one that seeks to restrict only a certain class of people while leaving others untouched. As someone said on the other comment board about Bush — why do people view congestion pricing as the silver bullet? There’s no other way to decrease traffic?????????

  • P

    I am not asking anyone to subsidize anyone’s right to drive anywhere, anytime, for free.

    Spud, you understand this is the status quo?

    Drivers are not asked to pay for the pollution, congestion, accidents, traffic enforcement, or infrastructure they use. The poor, who you claim to represent, bear the brunt of these _costs_ because they can not afford to move away from the avenues and freeways where so much of this traffic is located.

    Your crusade against Donald Trump ignores the fact that he is already getting a free ride when he is driven around in his limo. We are simply asking that he pays for his deterioration of public amenities including the streets and the air.

  • ABG

    My first reaction to Spud was “Don’t feed the trolls.” But then it occurred to me that Spud is articulating an argument that’s thrown around all too readily in response to anything that makes it more expensive or difficult to drive, like gas taxes, vehicle registration fees, emissions penalties, and even license suspension for DWI. We should all be familiar with these arguments and have our own counter-arguments ready to go. For those reasons I thank Spud for giving us practice.

    Here’s my version: I can possibly see a valid argument in Albuquerque or Houston that it discriminates against the poor to charge a (flat) toll to commute to work. But even in those cities, there is a class of people even poorer (at least 10% of the workforce) who can’t afford to own cars and are penalized by jobs that are off the transit grid and inadequate transit services. Even in those situations I think it’s reasonable to ask the motorists (including the working-class and lower-middle-class) to subsidize the truly poor, disabled, or simply those who don’t want to kill someone by accident.

    In the New York area, where the majority commutes by transit and there are very few reasons to drive, the “driving poor” are almost nonexistent. Show me someone making poverty wages who commutes to Manhattan (below 59th Street) by car. I’ll bet you can’t find one. Commuting by car in New York City is a middle-class status symbol, and motorists should be thankful if it becomes more expensive to drive, because that only shows how much they’ve arrived.

    Have I shown how the “equity” argument is invalid? Anything I’m leaving out?

  • P

    ABG-

    I agree. Despite his unwillingness to see that the rich are already getting a free ride when they drive Spud has been respectful in his arguments and deserves a debate on the merits of his ideas.

    I believe that stepping outside the echo chamber is a valuable exercise for us. He is simply voicing the same arguments that TA and other advocates will confront as they work to make the city’s streets safer and less polluted.

  • Arguement

    “Will confront?” Ha, ha.

    Hate to break it you guys, but Spud’s “arguement” is the political winner just about everywhere but this board. Why do you think things are the way they are? Transportation reformers have been battling this line of thought for decades. People love their cars and they love a free lunch, parking, roads…

  • ABG

    So, Arguement, your practical suggestions for countering this bogus “equity” argument are …? Or did you just come here to laugh at us, because it’s hopeless?

  • P

    ABG-
    It’s tough being streetwise…

  • Arguement

    you guys are doing a pretty good job covering things. Spuds a dud. the free lunch is near over and people get it. too many cars, not enough street. something has to change. the screaming could last for awhile before it finally does. keep up that earnest work, i do like it so

  • Spud Spudly

    Gee, thanks so much for deciding I’m not a troll and that my arguments deserve debate.

    You still keep ignoring my fundamental point. Before you write again read the following carefully, because I’m not pro-car or pro-driver or anti-pedestrian or anything like that:

    “It would be great to decrease the use of cars in NYC and to enjoy all the benefits that would bring. But do it in a way that affects everyone, and not just people who can’t afford to pay.”

    That’s it! That’s all there is to it. If that means closing all the streets in NYC and turning all the bridges and tunnels into skate parks then go right ahead. If it means digging up Fifth Avenue and making it into a dog run then that’s great. I don’t support unconditionally a person’s right to drive a car. I’m just opposed to traffic control that excludes some people based on the size of their wallet. Is that so hard to understand? This isn’t private enterprise, these are city streets. The last thing we should want is for people to be priced out of using their own streets on a selective basis that allows Paris Hilton to tool around unimpeded in her McLaren SLR.

    It’s sad. All the people here so passionate about this issue and the best they can come up with is a non-democratic, money-based system for parceling out use of an essential public resource. This city already has the country’s greatest disparity between rich and non-rich. Government-imposed economic barriers for using the City’s streets???? Where does it end?

    You know, I wasn’t kidding earlier when I said that Central Park is too crowded during peak usage hours. Maybe a $5 entry fee would solve that.

  • P

    Spud, when you repeatedly ignore our points it does kinda make you out as a troll.

  • But I want to keep getting valuable stuff for free. I deserve to because I always have before. Waaah!

  • Spud Spudly

    What points? That cars create problems and therefore need to be controlled?

    CHECK. I agree.

    That “commuting by car in New York City is a middle-class status symbol, and motorists should be thankful if it becomes more expensive to drive, because that only shows how much they’ve arrived?”

    NOPE, I don’t think so.

    That reducing traffic will help the poor disproportionately because they live closest to crowded streets and highways?

    Half CHECK. In some cases that’s true. I haven’t seen too many poor people living in the proposed congestion pricing zones, but in the outer boroughs it’s somewhat true.

    That very few middle class people drive to work in Manhattan?

    CHECK. I agree. I’ve had lots of jobs in Manhattan and never drove to any of them. But wouldn’t that mean that maybe congestion pricing wouldn’t be so effective after all?

    That people “are simply asking that [Trump] pays for his deterioration of public amenities including the streets and the air?”

    NOT REALLY. Whatever the charges that may eventually be proposed, they’ll never be high enough to give the Trumps of the world any concern whatsoever. But a law that flat out forbade them from having a car in the city would do that. For everyone. Equally.

    That a congestion pricing fee would be relatively inexpensive compared to the cost of owning a car?

    NOPE. If it was inexpensive it wouldn’t work. The whole point is that it’s expensive. (To some people, of course.)

    That not a lot of poor people drive cars to the UES everyday?

    CHECK. I agree. But on that odd occasion when they might have to, should they have just as much right to do it as someone wealthier than them?

    That I’m just looking for a free lunch?

    NOPE. I’m willing to sacrifice as long as everyone is being asked to do the same.

    That something has to change?

    CHECK. I agree.

    BTW, what makes anyone think congestion pricing would be so effective anyway? Don’t you think there are gobs of bankers up in Westchester who would gladly give up Metro North if there wasn’t so much darned traffic?

    You brought up the idea of an echo chamber. See this from Wikipedia:

    “Due to this condition arising in online communities, participants may find their own opinions constantly echoed back to them, and in doing so reinforce a certain sense of truth that resonates with individual belief systems. This can create some significant challenges to critical discourse within an online medium. The echo-chamber effect may also impact a lack of recognition to large demographic changes in language and culture on the Internet if individuals only create, experience and navigate those online spaces that reinforce their “preferred” world view. Another emerging term used to describe this “echoing” and homogenizing effect on the Internet within social communities is “cultural tribalism”.”

  • “It would be great to decrease the use of cars in NYC and to enjoy all the benefits that would bring. But do it in a way that affects everyone, and not just people who can’t afford to pay.”

    Spud, I think the disconnnect we’re having is this: When you say “everyone” you aren’t really talking about “everyone.” You’re talking about motorists. Car owners aren’t everyone in New York. They are a minority.

    Congestion pricing “affects everyone” in a few ways: In London we know that congestion charging cleans everyone’s air and reduces carbon emissions for everyone. It reduces car crashes for everyone. It raises funds for mass transit and public spaces used by, pretty much everyone. As for motorists — who, again, are a minority, not “everyone” — congestion pricing extracts a user fee (like mass transit) but it also makes travel by car faster and more predictable.

    So, congestion pricing does, in many ways, appear to meet your criteria. It reduces car use while providing a number of significant benefits to everyone, even motorists.

    As for your other assumption — that congestion pricing is unfair to “people who can’t afford to pay” — the census data is pretty clear that New Yorkers who own cars or who regularly drive into Manhattan for work are, on average, wealthier than people who don’t own cars and don’t drive into the city regularly. So, if congestion pricing freed up street space for other public uses while providing more funds for mass transit, walking and biking, it would almost certainly be a net gain for lower income New Yorkers since lower income New Yorkers aren’t driving or owning cars anywhere near as much as wealthier New Yorkers.

    All that being said, I know that plenty of people would be happy to explore other policy fixes for the congestion problem. Pricing isn’t the only solution and it certainly isn’t the easiest, politically.

  • da

    Exactly…

    Spud’s “fair and democratic” argument totally excludes people like me who neither own a car or drive.

    For us, we have nothing to lose and everything to gain by congestion pricing. And we happen to be the majority here in NYC.

    Hey Spud, what happens to your “fair and democratic” argument when you factor in the majority who are non-drivers?

  • crzwdjk

    How about comparing the whole pay-for-drive business to… water. Water used to be effectively free and unlimited. This was deemed to be undesirable, because capacity in the aqueducts was starting to run low, and because people had no incentive to fix their leaky pipes or use their water efficiently. So now, the city charges for water usage. And nobody seems to have a problem with the fact that a rich person can buy much more water than a poor person, or that water (unlike driving, I must point out) is a necessity of life.

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