The weather’s warming up and the war on trucks and drivers continues. On June 5, the City Council’s Transportation Committee called a hearing to explore ideas for dealing with the City’s congestion woes. Invited to the City Council hearing were City DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg, NYPD Chief of Transportation, Thomas Chan, MoveNY (the congestion pricing proponents), the Trucking Association of NY (TANY) and the AAA. (NewYorkTruckStop.com was there, too).
While Commissioner Trottenberg and Chief Chan testified and answered Council questions for about three hours, MoveNY got about fifteen minutes of panel time and TANY and the AAA each got about 2 minutes before only Committee Chair Ydanis Rodriguez after the other councilmembers walked out. Two minutes to discuss the trucking industry’s perspective on congestion? Before only one council member?
The Committee seemed eager to move truck deliveries to nighttime off hours. City DOT has a goal of adding 900 businesses to an overnight delivery schedule. We support this measure but, of course, if store owners and residents don’t want it, that idea’s going nowhere fast. The Commissioner was also questioned about high tech solutions such as increased monitoring of trucks and more cameras.
But the Council’s main interest was to push midtown tolls as the remedy for the City’s congestion. The impetus was MoveNY’s new scheme to implement their plan (Move NY ) without seeking Albany’s approval. The “Home Rule” version of the congestion pricing plan would put $2.75 tolls to access midtown Manhattan at the East River crossings and across 60th street. Trucks would pay a higher rate, yet to be determined, but would only be charged once a day. For hire vehicles will not pay the tolls, rather they will pay a congestion surcharge based on travel time and distance. And NJ businesses and residents coming across the Hudson via tunnel would not pay. Instead of dedicating the funds to the MTA, like the Albany version currently stuck in legislative committees, the plan’s proponents say that the revenue would to go to maintaining city roads and bridges, improving bus service, and paying for discounted Metrocards for low-income households. Yet, structurally, the plan contains many of the same flaws that we wrote about back in February, most serious of which is that it unfairly burdens outer borough businesses and residents without offering them meaningful alternatives.
The de Blasio administration is not keen on the congestion pricing model, and the Mayor still thinks that Albany approval is needed. The mayor’s answer to congestion: more ticketing, camera placement, and making trucks limit their parking to only one side of the street for deliveries. But these are short sighted yet heavy handed solutions of dubious merit.
While the Mayor, the City Council, and many of the so-called transportation advocates may be loath to admit it, congestion is not caused by increased traffic. In fact, the volume of cars and trucks entering Manhattan is down by about 5% since 2005 (2015 NYC DOT Bridge Traffic Volumes Report). And, while 91 percent of all goods come to NYC by truck, the percentage of trucks as compared to all traffic entering Manhattan has remained relatively flat over the last ten years: about 10%. (2015 NYC DOT Bridge Traffic Volumes Report). Taking out lanes for construction, buses and bikes, as well as the loss of parking spaces and the increase of for-hire car services are the primary causes. 51,500 new housing units were approved for construction in 2015 up from only 9,682 in 2012 (The Real Deal, January 12, 2017). The new skyline consists largely of cranes. Incredibly, at a conference on zoning on May 30, the real estate industry argued that if they could reduce the amount of required off-street parking, they could provide more affordable housing. This on top of just securing a $2 Billion/year tax break (§421). Bike lanes: In the last 5 years, the City has added over 300 miles of bike lanes, including more than 45 miles of protected lanes, with another 31 miles of protected bike lanes planned for 2017 (NYC DOT: Cycling in the City, January 2017). Car services: There are now more than 60,000 for-hire livery cars in the City, that’s more than 4 x the 13,587 yellow cabs (New York Times, January 15, 2017).
No, instead of being the cause of congestion, the trucking industry is hurt by it just as anyone else. In fact, congestion costs the trucking industry in the metro region about $4.6 billion per year, according to the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI). Of the nation’s ten most expensive counties per mile to operate a truck; New York, Bronx, Kings, and Queens top the list. The trucking industry statewide pays over $1 billion/year in federal and state taxes and many, many millions more to the city in Commercial Motor Vehicle Taxes and parking tickets. Yet little of this money goes to improving infrastructure. As parking spaces are lost to other purposes, goods and services must still be delivered at the cost of yet more parking tickets. And, those in the trucking industry are doing their part to reduce emissions. Since the 1990s, truck engine and fuel refinement improvements have led to a 98 percent reduction in particulate matter and nitrogen oxide emissions as well as a 97 percent reduction in sulfur emissions.
If we’re serious about tackling congestion in the City we must be honest about the causes and solutions and make sure that all stakeholders have the opportunity to be heard…. and listened to.