Out of Control Policy Blog

Learning from London?

London's experience with congestion pricing will certainly help spread the concept elsewhere because:

1. It works–delay inside the priced zone is down 30 percent.
2. It was implemented by a socialist mayor–which helps shield him from egalitarian concerns.
3. The mayor is still popular–which could be the most important factor of all. If politicians see that they can implement pricing and still get re-elected we'll see pricing accelerate even more.

Naturally, London's experience has raised questions about whether such an arrangement might work in the states. London-style zone pricing would probably be difficult to import to the U.S. (a HOT Lanes arrangement is stil more promising here). However, this article considers how the lessons of London might apply to our nation's densest area, Manhattan:

If congestion pricing works in London, will it work in Manhattan? In fact, New York City already is doing congestion pricing; it is just not doing it completely. Three of the four largest toll agencies have some form of variable pricing–at the Hudson River bridges, on the New Jersey Turnpike, and on the Tappan Zee Bridge. Moreover, the tradition of stopping at a tollgate to drop coins in a basket has been superseded by electronic toll collection, which allows most drivers to pass unimpeded. This is still not enough, however, to manage New York City's legendary congestion, and the need for additional investment. The Regional Plan Association (RPA) of New York has been following London's experience, and, at the request of the Eno Transportation Foundation, with support from ULI, has developed a range of scenarios for implementing congestion charging in New York City. The TRPA examined a scenario that would complete the toll ring around the 8.5-square-mile Manhattan central business district (CBD) by adding tolls on the East River bridges, where 255,000 vehicles enter daily, and the southbound highways and avenues crossing 60th Street, where another 390,000 vehicles enter daily. Because of these holes in the Manhattan toll perimeter, only 22 percent of the 800,000 drivers entering Manhattan actually pay a toll. The different scenarios tested ranged from simply adding a flat toll on the East River bridges, a variable toll on the East River bridges, flat fares to enter 60th Street and the East River bridges (similar to London's strategy), and full time-of-day variable pricing, in which all crossings are tolled uniformly based on the time of day.

The results of the simulation showed that placing tolls on the East River bridges alone would reduce by 5 percent the daily entries to Manhattan from all points, resulting in 40,000 fewer cars ...

On the one hand, comprehensive tolling would appear to be a no brainer. On the other hand, the tollees who enjoy free access would likely oppose any charge, even if it made their commute easier. But charging would seem the only real alternative that would improve New York City's traffic.

Ted Balaker is Producer


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