Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Red Ken Bleeds Green For Transit

"Red Ken" Livingstone, the Mayor of London, had a recent opinion piece in the New York Times. His piece is such an effective rebuttal to all the local naysayers opposed to instituting road pricing in this region in places like downtown Chicago that I have copied it in full below.

Note the impact of London's cordon pricing system on public transit: More transit customers, faster transit service, and substantially more money (i.e., "green") for transit. The sharp (83%) increase in the number of trips by bicycle is also noteworthy, because travel by bike is especially cheap and environmentally friendly.

Isn't this a more elegant approach than the more-funding-for-the-status-quo approach that seems to be the regional consensus and that is embodied in SB 572?

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Clear Up the Congestion-Pricing Gridlock
Published: July 2, 2007

THE New York State Assembly ended its session on June 22 without reaching a consensus on Manhattan’s congestion pricing proposal — a delay that may cost New York City some $500 million in federal transportation money. Assembly members have voiced concerns about the economic impact of the program, the effect on traffic outside Manhattan and even the effectiveness of the idea itself.

Four years ago, London was engaged in a very similar debate. We now have the luxury of hindsight. While the two cities’ situations are not identical, they certainly have analogies and therefore, perhaps, the success of London’s program can shed light on the current debate in New York.

At that time, London’s business district was undergoing rapid growth, but it was at capacity in terms of traffic. Efforts to channel more cars into the city center simply led to ever lower traffic speeds, which in turn led to business losses and a decrease in quality of life. Simultaneously, carbon emissions were mounting because of the inefficiency of engine use.

In 2003, London put in place a £5 (about $9) a day congestion charge for all cars that entered the center city (the charge is now £8). This led to an immediate drop of 70,000 cars a day in the affected zone. Traffic congestion fell by almost 20 percent. Emissions of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide were cut by more than 15 percent.

The negative side effects predicted by opponents never materialized. The retail sector in the zone has seen increases in sales that have significantly exceeded the national average. London’s theater district, which largely falls within the zone, has been enjoying record audiences. People are still flocking to London — they’re simply doing so in more efficient and less polluting ways.

There has been a marked shift away from cars and into public transport and environmentally friendly modes of travel. There has been a 4 percent modal shift into use of public transport from private cars since 2000. Simultaneously, the number of bicycle journeys on London’s major roads has risen by 83 percent, to almost half a million a day. Cycling has become something of a boom industry in London, with improvement in health for those involved and substantial benefit for the environment.

This success had preconditions. In London, as will be the case in New York or any other city, an enhanced public transportation system was critical. To ensure readiness, we made significant upgrades to public transport. Our investment focused on enhancing London’s bus system, rather than the subway, because we needed to increase capacity in the quickest, most cost-effective way.

Specifications for a modern, more comfortable fleet were introduced, bus lanes were added, and more inspectors were put on to ensure buses ran at regular intervals. With London’s buses a more attractive alternative, the number of bus trips a day has risen to six million, an increase of two million from 2000 — with ridership growing most rapidly among the highest-paid social groups. In turn, this helped relieve pressure on the subway, ensuring it continued to run smoothly. Investment in public transport continues to this day, aided by the revenue from the congestion charge — the equivalent of some $200 million annually.

Like New York’s plan, London’s congestion program initially met with some skepticism. Before the program began, polls showed that public opinion was divided almost exactly evenly. Since then, opinion has shifted to 2-to-1 in favor.

The results have led us to expand the initial program. In February the existing congestion charging zone was extended westward, doubling its size. Traffic in the extended zone fell by 13 percent.

The next stage of congestion charging in London will be a move to emissions-based charging. This will be aimed at deterring vehicles with the highest carbon emissions, like sports utility vehicles, from entering the city center. The new program will impose a payment of £25 per day for such vehicles, as well as abolish the 90-percent exemption that their owners would receive if they were residents of the congestion charging zone. Incidentally, this charge for S.U.V.’s enjoys 3-to-1 popular support.

Is London’s success a guarantee that congestion charging will work in New York? Of course not. But it is an indicator that properly executed congestion pricing works, and works well. Singapore and Stockholm already operate such programs and other cities are examining them. Given the success of congestion charging in London, this is not surprising.


Anonymous said...

Right-O and if we can get a Cook Chair appointment on the RTA and Metra Boards, we can finally move forward with Congestion Pricing and a number of other progressive improvements--- lickedy-split--and the CTA will then fix itself. Yes? Brilliant!

Moderator said...


Do I detect a tinge of sarcasm in your comment? That won't stop me from taking your bait:

-- I think giving the Cook County Chairman the power to make an appointment to the RTA Board and the Metra Board is a good thing. Likewise, it is a good thing that most of the collar county chairmen will get similar appointment power. The more political sectors in the region that have a direct interest and stake in the RTA the better off we will be.

-- Am I optimistic that the RTA will "finally move forward with Congestion Pricing and a number of other progressive improvements--lickedy-split." In a word, no. See my post from a few days ago:

IMO a temporary oversight board should take charge as a condition of substantial new transit funding. We might see some progressive improvements lickedy-split with a combination of new money and a strong temporary oversight board.

-- Will the CTA and the other service boards fix themselves? Again, no. Might they with the right combination of new resources, energetic leadership and a rejuvenated oversight board? Yes.

Anonymous said...

Thanks. This is fun. And I was just about to try minnows.

Leadership? Save it for the substantial revisions or annulment of the CTA act that alkalizes the RTA and all that you've said.