New York City is synonymous with traffic. With a population of 8.5 million, the Big Apple is the most populous city in the nation and holds more people than 40 states. Recent studies show that New York City residents have the longest commute among the largest metropolitan areas nationwide at 34.7 minutes on average. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, Long Island comes in second, at 33 minutes.
Take a read of Newsday’s editorial analyzing congestion pricing, an unfortunate name for a smart way to reduce traffic in and around the commercial, financial and cultural center that is New York City. New York could learn from other places that use pricing to reduce traffic.
Population: 8.8 million
How it works: London suspends charges on weekends, public holidays and overnight. London found an immediate impact from congestion pricing, with 30 percent reductions in delays and increases in average car and bus speeds, but that has since abated. Experts note, however, that some of the traffic in London today is due to other changes: more bus and bicycle lanes. London offers the ability to register for a congestion charge auto-pay system and offers discounts for residents of the zone.
Could this work in NYC? London officials are debating whether to price individual roads to target specific traffic spots, potentially charging a per-mile rate that would charge more for using the busier roads at peak times. This is yet another approach New York should consider.
Population: 1.3 million
How it works: Oslo photographs license plates at every entry road into its toll ring, or zone. Drivers pay to enter the city - but not to leave. To reduce pollution, recent changes to Oslo's plan favor low-emission vehicles and charge more for cars that use diesel fuel. In the initial version of the toll ring, traffic fell 5 percent in the first year alone. Officials expect further drops as they continue to revise the ring's pricing structure, predicting a 15 percent reduction by 2019.
Could this work in NYC? Oslo has even bigger goals. Recently, its officials suggested making its city center car-free, except for emergency vehicles, those that carry disabled individuals and trucks delivering goods. Times Square-vehicle ban, anyone?
Population: 5.6 million
How it works: Singapore varies pricing by traffic conditions, time of day and type of vehicle. It uses a cash card that's inserted into a vehicle to pay the charges. Singapore's system extends beyond its central business district to include major expressways, and the pricing is re-evaluated and revised quarterly. Singapore was an early adopter of congestion pricing, starting in 1975, and saw a stunning 45 percent drop in traffic, with further reductions coming as the system became more high-tech.
Could this work in NYC? A key element to the program's success is different pricing. New York could replicate some of that.
Population: 1.4 million
How it works: Stockholm has 18 charging points that form a border of sorts around its inner business district. Cameras photograph license plates and send drivers invoices. Tolls vary based on time of day, but are the same in both directions. There are no charges overnight, on weekends and on some holidays. There is a maximum toll per vehicle per day. By some accounts, Stockholm has experienced a 20 percent reduction in daily traffic.
Could this work in NYC? Perhaps the most important lesson from Stockholm involves public opinion, which ran strongly against the concept until a trial run. The significant reduction in traffic and travel time during peak hours led to the city's approval of permanent congestion charges.
Population: 1 million
How it works: Stockholm's success led Gothenburg to adopt a similar plan. Like Stockholm, public resistance was strong. In a nonbinding referendum in 2014, more than half of Gothenburg residents opposed making the effort permanent. Officials let the proposal continue beyond its pilot period, and traffic has been down 12 percent during the peak hours the tolling is in effect.
Could this work in NYC? Since Gothenburg's program began, polls have shown increasing support, so there's a lesson for New York about overcoming resistance.