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New York Daily News


Fill Potholes in Congestion Pricing Plan

July 26, 2007

By Hope Cohen

Be Our Guest

Today, legislators return to Albany to make good on their commitment to move forward on congestion pricing - in what could ultimately turn out to be a major victory for Mayor Bloomberg and the whole city. Based on the terms of the deal struck this month, the commission will have until the end of January to come up with a system that is simple to understand and convenient to use.

Here’s a critical warning: This will not be easy. In fact, the plan that has thus far been outlined by Bloomberg is far too tangled, expensive and complicated. It needs significant renovations if it is to survive in the political world now - and in the real world after that.

The first two big potholes: pricing and planning. Most major software development projects bust their budgets and wreak havoc with their projected schedules. Infrastructure projects do likewise. Projects that include both infrastructure and software never stay on schedule and budget. Cases in point: E-ZPass and the MetroCard both took longer and cost more to implement than originally advertised.

In this instance, the mayor’s proposed congestion pricing program would require hundreds of E-ZPass readers and cameras and an elaborate computer system to collect and process information from them. The administration estimates a $224 million price tag to make this happen - but that’s unrealistic. Systems this complicated, both in the city and around the world, have proven to be far more expensive.

The other major pothole: logistics. The mayor’s plan includes different fees for entering and leaving the congestion zone and for moving around within the zone. This is way too elaborate - and is a recipe for bureaucratic complications and public confusion. It would require software that’s smart enough to know precisely where drivers start and end their trips - a very difficult programming challenge.

Limiting the congestion charge to when drivers cross boundaries would significantly reduce the need for expensive technology. Plus, it would eliminate the need for many of the cameras currently called for - which some find troubling for privacy reasons.

To be sure, aspects of the mayor’s proposal are too important to nix - and can be accomplished without too many headaches. For example, the idea of a toll credit - which would deduct tolls from congestion fees, so that nobody pays more than $8 to travel into the city - makes sense. The financial systems to do this have a long and successful track record.

Congestion pricing really can work. We know this from London and other cities - and even from New York’s own experience. The different costs for crossing the East River have already proved that pricing affects driver behavior. The free Brooklyn, Manhattan, Williamsburg and Queensboro bridges, as well as their feeder roads, are clogged daily, while traffic flows more smoothly to and through the tolled tunnels.

But Bloomberg and his allies in Albany must understand: This idea is a tough sell. Many view it as a hefty tax on an everyday activity. If supporters insist on an overly complex and costly system - rather than aiming for a plan that makes common sense and technological sense - they will do serious damage to their own big idea.

Original Source:



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