Sunday, October 16, 2011

Bloomberg Never Has a Plan B

While I have no confidence that bike sharing will work in NYC the way it does in Paris, I did think that congestion pricing -- a la London's inner city -- would have worked in Manhattan had Bloomberg simply modified his original idea and offered a Plan B.

If you recall, congestion pricing would have charged a toll for vehicles traveling in midtown during peak business hours, and presumably would have scaled lower for those entering off-peak. The plan was stillborn, however, because all the small businessmen -- many contractors with vans and small trucks -- in the outer boroughs went ballistic about not wanting to shoulder yet another tax just to work in the Big Apple. Their local politicians heard their pleas and sent a loud message to the Mayor's Office.

Bloomberg did nothing in the way of low-key lobbying -- like making trips to Queens and Brooklyn to explain how a reduction in traffic would make sense and actually reduce their non-revenue producing time on the streets. For you out-of-town readers, traffic is reduced to a standstill in New York because of trucks blocking cross-town streets while making deliveries. (During warm days at lunchtime, vehicles making left and right turns are often stuck because of the hordes of pedestrians crossing the streets. Bloomberg's effort to ban turns on crosstown streets has done little to alleviate traffic.) At the height of the business day, you can walk from the East River to the Hudson River faster than any vehicle between 34th Street and 59th Street. You don't even have to walk fast.

Here's my solution: He could have put in a plan where any commercial vehicle entering midtown during the hours of 10 p.m and 6 a.m. paid zero. Then step up the toll incrementally so that the highest fees were levied during rush hours. This might have been an incentive for delivery trucks to work the lobster shift. He could have offered a tax incentive to any building that kept their delivery bays open during these hours, enough to pay for the security and extra help necessary to accept packages. When office moves are made, they're often made well after business hours, so this is not a big deal. And as for tax breaks, the city is famous for doling them out as soon as a large company threatens to move across the river to Jersey.

Would it have worked? I don't know. But at least my plan had some logic around it. Again, my problem with Bloomberg is that he never has a Plan B. It's always, this is it, take it or leave it. And more and more, everyone is leaving it.

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