Brooklyn Bridge Tolls and Congestion Pricing

The Costs and Benefits of Bridge Shopping

by Elaine Schwartz    •    Dec 4, 2013    •    1059 Views

Are you a bridge shopper?

Manhattan is an island. Linked by bridges and tunnels to other NYC boroughs and NJ, it can be expensive to access…or it can be free. It all depends on your route. And therein lies the problem.

To enter Manhattan via a free bridge means taking an indirect route to your destination. Crisscrossing the back streets, taking detours, and adding miles, you might have exited the Long Island Expressway to avoid the Queens Midtown Tunnel. Eventually, the back roads could will lead you to the Queensboro/Ed Koch Bridge.

Meanwhile though, your mileage and the congestion that you create multiply with your carbon footprint. On roads never meant for heavy use, every day, according to one estimate, 50,000 cars respond to price incentives.

Although the map below looks at Queens and Manhattan, the same free v. toll choices exist for Brooklyn, Staten Island and other access routes.

NYC Bridge Tolls and Congestion

Transportation experts are saying that the free bridges are a big part of the problem. Their solution involves charging more for bridges that have public transport alternatives and more for those that do not. As a result, traffic patterns will shift. No longer having to choose between paying as much as $10 and more or nothing, commuters will be “nudged” by a new toll menu that diminishes the noise and air pollution that congestion creates while also generating more revenue for road repair.

Advocates of the plan say it is about revenue and the cost of a counterproductive network of tolls. We can add that the cost of the current system is not only money. It is the time, the emotional energy, the auto wear and tear, the road maintenance bills. It is the extra impact on the environment.

By contrast, opponents call the initiative regressive. Requiring those with less income to carry a larger burden than those who earn more, regressive policies typically charge everyone the same amount. Consequently, those who have less wind up paying a greater proportion of what they earn. Or, as one opponent commented, “the guy in  the ’97 Chevy is affected but not the 2013 Mercedes.“ Another points out that tolls would mean that swimming will become the only free way to access Manhattan. Apparently agreeing, NY’s Governor Cuomo has refused to consider the proposals.

Ultimately, it is all about cost and benefit. The problem though is that with bridge tolls, for individuals, for politicians, for the environment and for city revenues, the cost can vary considerably.

Sources and resources: For more detail on the different reactions to targeting bridge tolls to behavioral goals, this NY Times article, streets blog and WNYC’s Transportation Nation blog help with the facts.


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