Charles Komanoff


Cars II - From auto-free to auto-fee

NEW (released Nov 6, 2023): My affidavit for the New York Taxi Workers Alliance supporting their Article 78 petition to compel the NY Taxi & Limousine Commission to conduct an environmental review of its October decision to lift the cap on the number of "ride-hail" (Uber and Lyft) vehicles permitted to operate in New York City, so long as the additional vehicles are electric (battery) powered. Relying on my Balanced Transportation Analyzer Excel model, my affidavit demonstrates that the incremental slowdown of traffic due to the increased number of vehicles, both in the Manhattan core and throughout the city and region, is likely to result in substantial increases in emissions of climate-damaging carbon dioxide and health-damaging fine particulates. Download the 9-page pdf via this link.

RECENT (released July 17, 2023): A report by Columbia Business School climate-economist Gernot Wagner and myself, A Congestion Toll New York Can Live With, laying out the key elements of and rationale for a particular congestion pricing plan we believe best meets the city and regional imperative of reducing motor vehicle traffic and re-invigorating mass transit.

A month earlier, Gernot and I teamed up to publish a guest op-ed essay in The New York Times, There's Only One Way to Fix New York's Traffic Gridlock. Today's report, which was prepared for and published by the Nurture Nature Foundation, outlines a $15/$9/$3 toll structure for private cars entering the Manhattan Congestion Zone, which, coupled with a proposed additional surcharge of $2.25 for Uber and Lyft cars touching that zone, will, we estimate, raise more than $1.2 billion a year in new net revenue, thus easily meeting the 2019 state legislative mandate to fund $15 billion in new mass transit investment.

The MTA's 46-volume environmental assessment of congestion pricing, released in August 2022 as part of the protracted federal review of the long-awaited Manhattan central business district toll plan, is "an own goal of monstrous proportions," I argue in MTA Must Fix Its Defective Assessment of Congestion Pricing, published on Sept 28, 2022, in Gotham Gazette. In this 3,000-word post, I show that in its assessment the MTA has understated by five-fold the likely reductions in automobile traffic outside the Manhattan core, leading to unfounded but politically damaging criticism that congestion pricing is just a money grab that will benefit wealthy Manhattan residents while disadvantaging drivers from the rest of the city and region. The post is essential reading for anyone seeking to understand the suddenly precarious status of New York's congestion pricing effort.

On Sept 1, 2022 I submitted a brief (2-p.) statement to the MTA regarding their environmental assessment of congestion pricing. The statement is entirely devoted "to a matter that appears to have gone unmentioned in the EA and in the thousands of responding statements and comments, despite its being a foundation stone on which congestion pricing rests: establishing the extent to which an additional auto trip into the congestion zone slows down other vehicles occupying the same streets and roads — both en route to the zone as well as inside it."

On Nov. 23, 2021, the New York City Council released my report, "Taming New York City’s E-Delivery Gridlock: Time-Based Charges for Street Space." The report proposes charging package delivery vehicles (such as those operated by Amazon, UPS and FedEx) a per-minute charge for the time they occupy the City’s most congested streets and curb spaces.

The report estimates that travel delays caused by delivery trucks occupying road and curb space while delivering e-commerce parcels cost New Yorkers time worth more than $400 million annually. The delivery vehicle charges would initially apply only in Manhattan and adjacent sections of Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx with the city’s highest population and traffic densities.

Click here to download the full report.

In January, 2021, the New York City Council released my report, "Curbing For-Hire Vehicle Stockpiling in the Manhattan Core: Empty-Vehicle Charges for Ride-Hail Companies." The report, commissioned by the council in mid-2019, was completed in early 2020 but was held back for nearly a year, due to the Covid pandemic and lockdown.

It recommends charging Uber and Lyft 11 cents for each minute their affiliated vehicles are occupying the Manhattan taxi zone (south of 96th Street), M-F 6am-8pm, and half that amount, 5.5 cents, at other times.

Click here for a brief Q&A about the report and its recommendations. Click here to download the full report. The executive summary and full report may also be viewed at and downloaded from the City Council's Web site, via this link.

Congestion pricing appears to be coming to New York City. The budget bill passed by the New York State legislature in March 2019 committed the state-chartered Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) to toll cars and trucks driven into Manhattan's Central Business District. By statute, the tolls must raise at least $1 billion a year in net revenue, 80% of which is pledged to support NYC Transit's capital program to modernize the city's subways and buses operated by NYC Transit, with the other 20% committed to parallel investments in the MTA's two commuter railroads -- the Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North Railroad.

The intended early-2021 startup was impeded by the Trump administration's refusal to issue "guidance" to the MTA for its environmental review -- a holdup that appeared to have been lifted in late March, 2021 when the Biden administration instructed the MTA to submit a more cursory "environmental assessment" rather than a full-blown environmental impact statement. Unfortunately, in mid-2021, evidence mounted that the Cuomo administration appears to be "slow-walking" the assessment, perhaps in a surreptitious effort to defer startup of the tolls until after the Nov. 2022 gubernatorial election.

When congestion pricing does go into effect, it will be a groundbreaking development in "traffic pricing," as New York City joins London, Stockholm and Singapore as major cities with large-scale congestion tolling. This will be a major win for NY-area transit advocates whose tireless campaigning for revitalized mass transit in general and congestion pricing in particular compelled Cuomo in August 2017 to declare that "Congestion pricing is an idea whose time has come" and to wield his political acumen and muscle over the ensuing 18 months to enact the enabling legislation.

I'm proud to claim a bit of credit for this, as a principal in the Move NY Campaign (alongside traffic guru "Gridlock" Sam Schwartz and organizer-strategist Alex Matthiessen), as a congestion pricing pamphleteer and traffic modeler. From Autumn 2017 to early 2019 the governor's staff deployed my "Balanced Transportation Analyzer" spreadsheet (further discussion + link are below) to estimate how different toll levels would affect revenue generation, traffic-flow improvements and other benefits from congestion pricing. (The Fix NYC Advisory Panel Report, Appendix B, has a glowing acknowledgment of the BTA's power, utility and ease of use, and of its central role in the advisory panel's work.)

As well, the BTA enabled the transit advocacy community to wield its own analyses and speak with authority in arguing for congestion pricing as the most efficient and equitable policy for creating a new transit revenue stream and reducing Manhattan gridlock.

My work developing the BTA model and analyzing and advocating equitable and effective traffic-pricing plans for New York City was shaped and supported by the Nurture Nature Foundation, a philanthropy established and guided by the late Theodore W. Kheel and carried on by his family. Ted inspired and enabled me, through extraordinarily generous finanical support, to develop the Balanced Transportation Analyzer (the name was his).

The BTA's 78 tabs not only enable the user to model different congestion toll levels; they also calculate impacts on carbon and other tailpipe emissions, prospective increases in subway and bus ridership and a myriad of other benefits from (and costs of) congestion pricing in NYC. The BTA spreadsheet may be downloaded by clicking here.

Scintillating and accessible accounts of the BTA have been published in New York magazine, Motherboard/Vice, Traffic Technology International, and Wired. They're all entertaining and terrific. My favorite is the Wired article, which profiled both me and Ted Kheel, and which first brought the BTA to prominence. Here are links to each:

* Why You Should Be in Favor of Congestion Pricing in New York, New York magazine (March 27, 2018).

* Meet the Spreadsheet That Can Solve NYC Transit (and the Man Who Made It), Motherboard/Vice (2017).

* Transport economist Charles Komanoff is determined to solve NYC's traffic problems, Traffic Technology International (2013).

* The Man Who Could Unsnarl Manhattan Traffic, Wired (2010).

A July 2021 post in Streetsblog, Congestion Pricing Delay Could Cost New Yorkers 27,654 Years of Their Lives, by journalist Christopher Robbins, drew heavily on my BTA model to portray quantitatively the enormous costs in time and health from Cuomo's apparent hold on implementing congestion pricing.

In March 2019, with renowned political organizer Jeff Blum, I published Congestion Pricing Is New York's Green New Deal in The Nation magazine. The subtitle, "Charging drivers in NYC could help fix the subways, fight climate change, and reduce inequality" summarizes our thrust; the article itself is a great read.

A history of how congestion pricing came to pass in 2019 is yet to be written. As well, the final form of the congestion charging system won't be announced until late 2021 or early 2022. In the interim, you may want to download the concise (7 slides) PowerPoint presentation, "NYC Congestion Pricing," that I presented at an international energy-efficiency symposium in Washington, DC in June, 2018. Click here.

Also of interest, from December, 2017, is: "London Traffic Would Be At Least 20 Percent Slower Without Congestion Pricing" explains why congestion charging in London has been a resounding success. 8 pages, illustrated. Click here.

In December 2013, I addressed China's inaugural public forum on congestion pricing, held in Hangzhou. I reported on it here for Streetsblog. Along with representatives from London, Stockholm, Milan and Singapore, I was asked to write an account of New York City's political experience with congestion pricing, for publication in a Chinese-language volume issued in 2014. My 19-page narrative, Congestion Pricing for New York City, is available here.

A pdf of my March 7, 2012 presentation at New York University Law School's Milbank Tweed Forum, "How NYC Is Breaking The Gridlock On Transportation Policy," is available here.

My 16-page report from early 2012 arguing that the planned 15-lane replacement Tappan Zee Bridge will cost too much to be financed solely through tolls on bridge users.

A 10-page report supporting my Jan. 2012 Reuters op-ed on the traffic impacts of adding 2,000 medallion taxicabs to NYC's yellow-cab fleet.

Is congestion pricing economically (and politically) regressive or progressive? I argued the latter in this spirited Nov. 2011 letter to a prominent socialist author-activist.

Will congestion pricing harm or help lower Manhattan? I argued the latter (resoundingly!) in this op-ed, Why downtown should back congestion pricing, published in The Villager newspaper on Feb. 8, 2018.

Since 2008 I've published some 70 articles on congestion pricing, spotlighting my traffic-pricing modeling, on the NYC livable-streets blog Streetsblog. This link goes to a pdf list of all of these posts.

This link goes to a pdf list of my more than 200 Streetsblog posts (with subjects ranging from congestion pricing and traffic modeling to helicopter noise and traffic violence from 2006 to the present).

Following are direct links to a dozen or so of my Streetsblog posts on congestion pricing and traffic modeling:

♦April 3, 2020, Coronavirus Will Go Away, Congestion Pricing Must Not

♦March 6, 2020, Relinquishing Congestion Pricing Exemptions Fantasies

♦ March 28, 2019, Congestion Pricing Carveouts Will Steal Millions of Hours and Billions of Bucks

♦ March 21, 2019, Congestion Pricing Will NOT Fill Upper Manhattan With Suburbanites Cruising for Parking

♦ March 18, 2019, Investing Congestion Revenues in Better Train Signals Could Save New Yorkers Lots of Time

♦ February 12, 2019, How to Counter the Latest Congestion Pricing Objections

♦ January 16, 2019, Good Tidings for Congestion Pricing From Governor Cuomo

♦ May 29, 2018, Eight Reasons Why Congestion Pricing Goes Great With the Fast Forward Plan to Fix NYC Transit

♦ April 10, 2018, Setting Up a Cordon Toll Would Pay for Itself in a Few Months

♦ March 7, 2018, An Hourly Fee on Cabs and Ubers Is Less Radical Than It Appears

♦ January 12, 2018 Congestion Pricing Will Help Stop Climate Change -- But Differently Than You Think

♦ January 2, 2018, Why Congestion Pricing Won't Overwhelm the Subways

♦ December 5, 2017 London Traffic Would Be At Least 20 Percent Slower Without Congestion Pricing

And here are links to some much-earlier ones:

August 1, 2011: Guess Who Has a Lot to Lose from an MTA Meltdown: Drivers

March 18, 2010: In Any Language, the Cost of Congestion Comes Through Loud and Clear

January 6, 2010: With Congestion Pricing, Saving Time Trumps Reducing Pollution

October 16, 2009: Wanted: Crowd-Sourced Transportation Analysis

October 13, 2009: Paradox, Schmaradox. Congestion Pricing Works.

I also published these pieces in Grist in 2007-08, on larger meanings in the political battle over congestion pricing:

April 8, 2008: Machiavelli Meets The Big Apple: Ten Reasons NYC's Congestion Pricing Plan Went Belly Up

March 31, 2008: High Noon for Congestion Pricing: What We Lose if Bloomberg's Plan Goes Down

July 16, 2007: Valuing The Commons: Congestion Pricing's Hidden Payoff

The following articles trace the lineage of my traffic-pricing work to Theodore (Ted) Kheel:

Feb. 11, 2008: A Climate for Old Men: Spearheading Transit for Livable Cities at 93 (in Grist)

Nov. 15, 2010: In Memoriam: Ted Kheel, Transit Advocate and Visionary (in Streetsblog)

Nov. 19, 2010: Requiem for Man Whose Ideas on Transit Aren't Past (by Clyde Haberman, in The New York Times)

Other articles and papers on traffic pricing

My August 2006 op-ed in Seattle Post-Intelligencer, "Forward-Thinking Idea for a Trendsetter," posing "parking cash-out" incentives as an alternative to a Microsoft mega-parking lot.

My March 2003 op-ed in the Daily News arguing the fairness of East River bridge tolls

My 2003 report, "A Value-Pricing Plan for the MTA" (PDF)

My report for Energy Foundation, "Environmental Consequences of Road Pricing"

My Oct 2001 op-ed in Newsday, "Giuliani puts brakes on car culture"

Two for Vickrey -- my portraits of road-pricing pioneer (and Nobel laureate) Bill Vickrey in the NY Daily News, "The Man Who Had A Cure for Gridlock" (Nov 1996), and New York magazine, "Traffic: Demand and Supply" (Dec 1996)

My 1995 Newsday op-ed, "Should the L.I.E Become a Toll Road?" (with June 2006 intro)

Pollution Taxes for Roadway Transportation: My extensive (40-page) article in the Pace Environmental Law Review (Vol. 12, Issue 1, Fall 1994) outlining a mix of fees, charges and taxes that would internalize most of the unpriced costs of driving.

Article summarizing "Pollution Taxes" law review article.

Crossroads: Highway-Finance Subsidies in New Jersey, 1995 report for the Tri-State Transportation Campaign by Charles Komanoff & Margaret Sikowitz, establishing that driver tolls, taxes and tickets in New Jersey account for only 77 cents of each dollar spent to build, maintain, repair and operate the state's highways and roads.

Subsidies for Traffic: How Taxpayer Dollars Underwrite Driving in New York State, 1994 report for the Tri-State Transportation Campaign by Cora Roelofs & Charles Komanoff, establishing that driver tolls, taxes and tickets in New York State account for only 65 cents of each dollar spent to build, maintain, repair and operate the state's highways and roads.