Wednesday, 20 April 2016

New York toll reform plan goes to State Assembly

Some years ago there was hope that New York would join London, Stockholm and Singapore in implementing some form of congestion pricing.  Mayor Bloomberg had a plan for a lower Manhattan congestion charge cordon, but it failed to get support.  However, since then a much more nuanced and cleverer plan has emerged.

It's been a while since I've written about the Move NYC Fair plan, not least because a lot was going on behind the scenes to tweak it and get a coalition of support behind it.  I endorsed it two years ago, and believe that again - although it is not perfect - it is a great leap forward for New York City.

The plan introduces tolls on untolled crossings of the East River, but cuts tolls on seven other crossings by up to 48%, essentially changing the philosophy of the tolls from one of local cost recovery and revenue maximisation to one that reflects demand and congestion.  Given the chronic state of congestion in New York, this makes a lot of sense.  It would have peak time charges, have a cap on charges (which in the medium term might need to be revised compared to raising toll prices). 

The New York Times and New York Daily News both appear to endorse the plan.

An illustration of the plan is here:

Move NY Fair Plan to reform tolls

The net revenues are forecast to be $1.35 billion of which just under $1 billion would support public transit improvements, the rest would be to adequately maintain the bridges and address the significant maintenance deficit on New York's roads (I did say two years ago that those who pay will need to see some benefit from doing so).

The news now is that the proposal has finally reached the State Legislature as Assemblyman Robert Rodriguez (D - Manhattan) has introduced a Bill to implement it according to Crains New York.  The Bill has 14 co-sponsors, but may face problems in the Senate which is Republican controlled, and so needs a Republican sponsor to get it introduced there. 

Disappointingly, neither Governor Andrew Cuomo, nor Mayor Bill de Blasio has shown any enthusiasm for the plan, demonstrating that neither are interested in pushing something they think it politically controversial - notwithstanding that it ought to fit right into agendas both share on improving public transit, reducing pollution, reducing contributions to climate change and improving economic activity.   It ought to be a "no-brainer" in principle, even if some of the details should be ironed out (e.g.  although helpful in selling the concept, what the net revenues are spent on should be subject to independent appraisal of the net benefits of each project).

What about the FAST Act?

The FAST Act provides 50% Federal Funding for states interested in progressing various forms of road charging.  This proposal would appear to be able to be supported by that, although I have a better idea that is much wider than that.  The deadline for funding applications this year is May 20th, so it is getting almost too late for New York to make an application for funds.  Yet this would look like a project that could do with funds to consider the implementation issues for a more integrated and fully electronic free flow tolling system, including questions around enforcement.

What about heavy vehicles?

New York has a Highway Use Tax applied to heavy vehicles  that resembles the weight/distance taxes seen in Oregon, New Zealand and Europe.  Yes, it is not widely known. However, it uses manual technology, is cumbersome to collect and imposing considerable compliance costs on those that pay it.  

New York ought to consider funding a pilot that trials GPS and other technologies to update that tax and to link this towards it being used to automatically collect tolls on crossings in the state.  It could investigate how charging in New York could evolve in coming years, not only to accommodate reform of tolls around NYC, but also to better charge trucks for road us and provide an alternative to state gas taxes.  Such a pilot could be sold to the trucking industry as a way of reducing its costs, ensuring they do not pay for out-of-state miles and that they could get refunds in gas tax in exchange for a reform in distance based charge rates.

Yes, again it may be too late for New York to apply for the first tranch of funds to do this, but Oregon has shown success in a low cost transition towards electronic technology for its weight-mile tax.  It would be good for the economy and for sustainable revenues for New York to pilot reform of its Highway Use Tax.
 

1 comment:

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