Lessons from London
New Tolls A Huge Success in
The Lesson for NYC?
|London's road pricing
experience has proven that pricing can work in big cities to reduce traffic
and improve bus service.
The April 20 New York Times
Magazine called it the "Day the Traffic Disappeared." Now more than
two months after $8 tolls were placed on all streets entering central London,
traffic there has declined 20%, buses are carrying more people much faster and
delivery trucks are making record time. Traffic on roads surrounding the
"pricing zone" remains steady and public support for the pricing
scheme high. One cyclist described post-pricing London as a "New Nirvana
for bicyclists." The tolls are in place Monday-Friday, 7 am-6:30 pm.
transportation mix and land use closely resemble that of New York City. So
what can we learn from London's pricing experiment?
First, there is no doubt that
road pricing can work extremely well in a giant, complicated city to reduce
traffic and help vastly improve bus service.
Second, the technology London
is using to toll streets is vastly superior to E-ZPass and would allow New
York City to toll East River bridges without toll plazas. It would also allow
fees to be collected easily from vehicles crossing south of 60th Street in
Manhattan. London uses a few hundred computerized cameras, which automatically
bill an account linked to the license plate of every car driving in the
pricing zone. Motorists create an account in person at local newspaper stands,
by e-mail or using their cell phones, by far the most popular option. Accounts
can be created after a vehicle travels in the zone, up to 10 pm on the day of
travel. Currently, 95% of motorists entering the zone are paying the fee.
There are no technical
obstacles to introducing London-style pricing in New York City. The City could
implement a road pricing system within 18 months. So will NYC soon be
following London's lead? Not likely. Despite the fact that Mayor Mike
Bloomberg favors tolling the East River bridges, there are enormous political
obstacles to doing so and to charging vehicles to enter the central business
district of Manhattan south of 60th Street.
The Politics of Road
Pricing: NYC Versus London
London Mayor Ken Livingston
Right: NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg faces much greater political obstacles
to road pricing than Livingston
The Mayor's Authority to
London: Mayor Ken Livingstone given right to impose tolls by the national
government in 1999. No other approval required.
NYC: Mayor Mike Bloomberg must get the approval of the City Council
and/or state legislature and governor. The Queens and Brooklyn delegation to
the council are adamantly opposed to East River bridge tolls, as are suburban
state legislators and the governor.
London: Big business supported tolls. Plus, the Mayor sold tolling as a
way to substantially improve bus service for the working class and poor, his
NYC: All of the major newspapers, environmentalists and transportation
experts support tolls. However, major unions, middle class voters and most
elected officials in the two most populous boroughs oppose tolls. Big and
small businesses are currently
neutral. Even in Manhattan, where the public would benefit enormously from
reductions in traffic, three of its six city councilmembers oppose tolls.
Pricing to Unsnarl Traffic
or Raise Money?
London: Pricing is seen as a way to unsnarl traffic and improve bus
service, especially for working class, Livingstone voters, who take the bus
from the outer boroughs into the center city. All money raised from the
pricing scheme must go to transportation improvements.
NYC: 99% of the political impetus for East River bridge tolls is as a
new source of revenue for a city in a dire fiscal crisis. Toll revenue would
likely go to fill the budget gap, not transportation.
London: Mayor Ken Livingstone made road pricing and unsnarling traffic
a central issue of his campaign. All of his opponents also supported the
pricing scheme, though not as soon.
NYC: Neither Bloomberg nor his opponents emphasized traffic reduction
or called for tolling in their campaigns. Doing so would be considered
Fragmentation of Tolling
London: Transport for London, a mayoral agency, sets rates. All revenue
goes to the City of London.
NYC: The MTA and Port Authority have their own tolled bridges and
tunnels and set their own toll rates. The MTA is controlled by the governor
and the Port Authority by the governors of New York and New Jersey.
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