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To fight NYC traffic, we need congestion pricing — not a cap on Uber

By Carlo Scissura

August 3, 2018

Anyone who’s been living or working in New York for a while knows congestion has gotten exponentially worse.

Sitting in traffic on the way to a meeting or dinner gives you ample time to formulate theories about who to blame. For the City Council, it seems to be ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft.

In an attempt to fix our growing woes, council members have proposed a cap on Uber and Lyft in New York City. Their intentions are good — fix the crowding, without the legislative challenge of passing full congestion pricing. Unfortunately, the plan misses the mark.

If the City Council really wants to alleviate the economic and social challenges that congested streets create, it must instead fully support congestion pricing.

A cap won’t do half of what full congestion pricing will do to help our struggling infrastructure or alleviate traffic. It may take some cars off the road, but not nearly as many as expected.

A recent INRIX study showed that the drop in Manhattan travel speeds has not been consistent with growth in rideshare trips. The study concluded that the dramatic rise in rideshare service since 2015 has not caused a corresponding reduction in average speeds.

Rather, the study finds that we must look at a complex tapestry of reasons for congestion — including a population boom and the growth of freight and delivery traffic, as well as a subway system struggling to keep up with growing demand.

One of the greatest benefits of congestion pricing is the dedicated financial investment in infrastructure that it would yield — between $810 million and $1.1 billion a year, according to an advisory panel’s report to Gov. Andrew Cuomo in January. That funding represents an enormous opportunity to remedy the ills of our transit system and help keep our city moving and growing.

The subway system must be capable of handling our city’s growth across sectors — residential, commercial and tourism industries are all booming. Congestion pricing, and the billion dollars a year that it would raise, would provide the MTA with a steady stream of funding to invest in improvements.

A happy byproduct of this investment would be a more robust economy across the five boroughs — with new development spurred by better transit access, and developers willing to invest more in communities that seem stable and ripe for growth. That means more investment in parks and schools, more housing, and more robust communities citywide.

For an example of what’s possible here, we look to perhaps our closest urban relative: London. When London put congestion pricing into effect in 2003, it saw an immediate congestion reduction of 25 percent, with average speeds rising by 30 percent. Carbon-dioxide emissions dropped by 20 percent.

London’s primary goal of increasing the city’s multimodality was a success, expanding bus access and allowing car lanes to be converted to bus and bike lanes without increasing traffic congestion. The city raised $98 million in its first year for infrastructure investments, to the benefit of almost every facet of the city’s urban experience.

The cap proposed in New York would achieve almost the opposite effect — hurting the boroughs outside of Manhattan as the remaining cars head for our central business districts. This would leave residents of the outer boroughs, who need the benefits of rideshare more acutely than perhaps anyone else, with fewer travel options.

Neighborhoods like Bushwick, Astoria and Belmont have experienced an influx of visitors since the arrival of ridesharing in New York City. Cabs are more difficult to come by in these areas, especially in off hours, but the reliability of ridesharing has encouraged New Yorkers to explore these and other parts of the five boroughs, unlocking whole swaths of our city to new economic development opportunities.

Sustained investment in infrastructure is a win for all of New York — it creates good jobs, improves the quality of life of residents and helps neighborhoods across the five boroughs thrive. Unlike a cap, which is functionally a stop-gap measure, congestion pricing would be an economic engine for our city.

The City Council must support a positive, long-term solution to the transportation issues plaguing New York, and that solution is congestion pricing.

Carlo Scissura is president and CEO of the New York Building Congress.

Click here to read the article at the New York Post.

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Aug 3, 2018 by New York Building Congress