“‘Summer’s here and the time is right for fighting in the street”, sang Mick Jagger on the Rolling Stones hit Street Fightin Man. The latest skirmish over traffic and who gets to use the City’s streets is between the City Council and app-based For Hire Vehicles (FHV’s) like Uber, Lyft and Via. Motivated by recent data showing that the number of FHV’s on the City streets has more than quadrupled in recent years, transportation engineer Bruce Schaller’s report that these FHV’s are vacant 40% of the time (Schaller), and suicides of yellow cab drivers, the City Council’s considering capping the number of FHV’s (Uber cap). But don’t get complacent, truckers. Congestion pricing is still very much on the table and our industry remains on the menu.
The proposal at the Council, expected to come for a vote this week, is merely to cap the number of FHV’s at the present number (over 65,000) for a year while the problem is “studied” … yet again. But this is a nasty fight with big money from Uber and Lyft involved. The FHV companies have been flooding the media with public appeals to contact Council members and claiming that they serve outer borough, minority, disabled, and transit starved customers far better than the medallion or even green cab industry ever did. Unsurprisingly, emotions are high in this campaign but, from where we sit, this looks like a stealth campaign to keep preaching better living through congestion pricing.
Trying to divert attention from their role in creating traffic congestion, Uber, Lyft and their allies call for congestion pricing as the panacea. Worse yet, well-funded transportation “advocates” and public officials, push the propaganda that the leading cause of congestion is trucking. But congestion is not caused by trucking. In fact, daily traffic into midtown across the East River is DOWN by over 7.5% over the last 10 years, according to the NYC DOT (2016 NYC DOT Bridge Traffic Report) and daily truck traffic has consistently remained at about 10% of that year after year (see below).
Like standing on a garden hose, it’s overdevelopment and poor City planning that have restricted the flow of traffic. The real causes of congestion: “Traffic calming” measures like reducing the speed limit to 25 from 30 and the changing of light timing; the removal of traffic lanes and parking spaces; and lane closures due to construction. Record numbers of permits for new housing units were filed in 2015 to beat the feared expiration of the 421-a tax exemption for developers, and many of those units are being built out now. Add to that, bad zoning policy that increases building density while reducing parking options. It is a herculean task to deliver goods and services through what is essentially a state sponsored blockade. And those FHV’s? During the 40% of the time they are vacant they are often parked, engines running, in spaces reserved for delivery trucks.
No, congestion pricing is not the answer. The goods and services that are the lifeblood of this City’s economy are delivered by truck – over 90% by some counts. Slapping tolls on truckers – right now they’re talking about $25/trip – will not divert this non-discretionary traffic. There are no alternatives. Congestion pricing will only make life harder for the small businesses, consumers, and neighborhoods trying to survive in a decreasingly affordable city.