The Real Benefits of Congestion Pricing

Like so many other transportation policies, congestion pricing risks being sold for the wrong reasons.
January 15, 2018, 7am PST | James Brasuell | @CasualBrasuell
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Charles Komanoff, founder-director of the Carbon Tax Center, writes for Streetsblog NYC on the hot-button of topic of congestion pricing, elucidating the effects of congestion pricing relative to carbon emissions, congestion, and quality of life.

Here's how Komanoff summarizes the effect a particularly ambitious congestion pricing scheme could have on New York's emissions:

The most sweeping congestion pricing plan proposed for New York City, Move NY, will cut tailpipe emissions of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas, by an estimated 950,000 metric tons a year. A little over half of that reduction, 55 percent, results from fewer auto trips from the toll disincentive along with transit improvements funded by toll revenues. The remaining 45 percent comes from smoothed traffic flow, as the lessening in stop-and-go traffic translates into better fuel economy and, thus, lower per-mile emissions. 

But, according to Komanoff, "Move NY will shave just 2 percent from the total and 6 percent from the transportation part — reductions somewhere between 'modest' and 'helpful,' and well short of game-changing."

This isn't an argument against congestion pricing—instead Komanoff's argument shifts the focus to the many substantial benefits of congestion pricing that won't necessarily be measured by reduced automobile trips. While it won't stop everyone from driving, congestion pricing will make it easier for everyone to get around, writes Komanoff in a rephrasing of the "moving people, not cars" formula (recently put to the test in Virginia, to headline-friendly effect).

The true climate pay-off, according to Komanoff, is in a city that functions better and "in the thousands of households, jobs, and activities that will locate or remain in the city, rather than fleeing our crushing gridlock and dysfunctional subways for the new exurban ring or the Sunbelt or even the inner suburbs, which aren’t 'inherently green' like NYC and have carbon footprints many times larger than New Yorkers."

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Published on Friday, January 12, 2018 in StreetsBlog NYC
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