Since the automobile became commonplace, car traffic has been a problem. Far from merely being an annoyance, traffic can have a seriously negative impact on a person’s life. If one both has to work a long shift and commute a long way to work, they can be left with little free time. Nonetheless, modern cities are designed for cars, and cities remain clogged with traffic. Many countries overseas have tried a variety of new solutions to reducing traffic congestion in their cities, some with much success. Could New York succeed with a daring plan to reduce traffic?
Sam Schwartz has been trying to solve the problem of New York traffic congestion for a long time. As a traffic engineer in the 1970s, Schwartz attempted to place tolls on 14 bridges leading into Manhattan. This plan he called the gridlock prevention program, which was also intended to ban single driver cars during part of the day in Manhattan. At the time, Schwartz was unable to implement the more drastic of his plans. However, he has not given up and is still planning to implement his strategies in New York today. The essential idea is to introduce congestion pricing. If drivers had to pay to use the roads during peak hours, they would find other transportation solutions and traffic jams would decrease.
After decades worth of effort, Schwartz seems very likely to get his way. Starting in 2021, drivers in downtown New York will have to pay traffic fees. Until recently, charging congestion fees was seen as too drastic in America, but now that London and Stockholm have implemented similar programs, New York will follow along as well. Traffic has become even worse in New York over the last few decades, and such a drastic scheme has become necessary.
A month ago, the New York governor and state legislators agreed to make all of the southern half of Manhattan a paid traffic area. Anyone intending to use the business-dense half of Manhattan during the day will have to pay $12 or $14 per car, with fees lower during the night. The massive amount of money that the scheme is intended to raise will be used to build a better public transportation system for New York. Road fees are opposed wherever anyone tried to implement them, and it is not until the traffic problem becomes sufficiently severe that a city is willing to consider daily road taxes. As recently as 2008, an attempt at road tax laws failed in New York, but the traffic problem is even more severe now. As recently as 2012, traffic was typically moving at 6.5 miles per hour, that has decreased to 4.7 today. These new laws can no longer be effectively opposed.
Will the congestion fees prove useful? If the congestion fees do not succeed in reducing traffic, they are likely to become extremely unpopular with the public. Although similar programs have worked in other cities and on highways, the public is skeptical that it will work in New York. Fifty-two percent of the people are against it, compared to forty-one percent who approve of it. Many do not believe that it will do much to reduce traffic. To prevent the taxes from seeming unjust, residents of the central business area will not have to pay these fees unless they make more than $60,000 per year. In many European cities, unpopular traffic tax laws gained majority public support after they succeeded in significantly reducing traffic congestion. The challenge is to make sure that the number of hours people spend on the road decreases by enough that the public approves of the project.