Long before the automobile, the business of tolling roads and bridges could be found throughout the globe, dating as far back as 2,700 years ago under the rule of Assyrian King Ashurbanipal. Throughout the millennia, tolls have been taken as a price to enter a kingdom or municipality, to protect travelers from marauding thieves, to build roads, and to serve as a steady revenue stream for repairs.
As this map shows, by the late 1850s there were nearly 80 toll gates on roads leading into London within six miles of Charing Cross. But as the locomotive ushered in a new and faster way to enter the city, the toll gates began to disappear.
In 2003, one hundred and fifty years later, London reinstated a tolling structure to enter Central London in an effort to reduce congestion, improve travel and air quality, and raise money for its mass transit system. Gone, however, are the gates and toll booths.
To keep traffic moving, London installed electronic toll collection technologies, allowing entrance into the Central Zone at the same speed as non-tolled streets. Fees are debited from the bank account of the car’s owner registered with the motor vehicles department.
On the Other Side of the Pond
It’s taken a bit more time for gateless tolling to be introduced to New Yorkers. The first (and only) such system in New York City was introduced in 2011 at the Henry Hudson Bridge, which joins the Bronx’s Riverdale and Manhattan’s Inwood neighborhoods. First issued as a pilot program, then-MTA Chairman Jay Walder noted at a press conference:
“I think, ultimately, this will save money, will make it better for customers, and will reduce pollution. This is a win, win, win type situation. It’s exactly the sort of thing that the MTA should be looking to.”
Since that time, the Henry Hudson Bridge has become the gold standard for moving people through a tolling system without delaying where they need to go: no gates and no cash collected mean no wait times and no air pollution from idling. If the driver doesn’t have an E-ZPass, a camera snaps an image of the license plate and a bill is mailed to the car owner. Similar technologies have been installed on the NYS Thruway the NJ’s Garden State Parkway, and other parts of the country, including a new highway leading into Tampa Bay, Florida.
Similar electronic toll collection technologies will be funded by the Move NY Fair Plan.
It’s been five years since the Henry Hudson Bridge’s breakthrough technology, yet the other MTA bridges (e.g., Verrazano, Triboro, Whitestone, Throgs Neck) continue to use an antiquated tolling system that creates bottlenecks, increased air pollution, and lines of idling vehicles with frustrated drivers. Why the delay?
Funding could be an issue.
The MTA’s five-year capital plan (2015-2019), yet to be approved, is already a year behind schedule, and while the City and State have committed to fully funding the $29 billion plan, there’s still questions as to how the State will pay its $7.3 billion promise. Funding to implement gateless, electronic tolling systems on all the MTA bridges will be generated with the Move NY Fair Plan.
One of Move NY’s benefits is a drastic reduction in congestion and traffic, particularly in Manhattan south of Central Park and in residential neighborhoods currently being used as local “thruways” for cars and commercial vehicles seeking the least expensive route from A to B. Tolls will be collected electronically (i.e., no booths, no gates, no idling) on the four East River bridges and crossings south of Central Park and be dedicated to filling transit gaps, modernizing the city’s mass transit system, and fixing crumbling roads and bridges.
With up to 100,000 fewer auto entries (but 110,000 net additional trips via mass transit), those who need to drive or use taxis will arrive 15-20% faster to their destinations in Manhattan’s Central Business District. In addition, there will be improved travel times of up to 6% in the neighborhood approaches to the district.
But it’s not just about travel times.
An added benefit to London’s congestion plan, which hadn’t been anticipated, was a 40% reduction in crashes per vehicle mile driven. As Lancaster University Economics Professor Colin Green explained, the safety benefits extend beyond pedestrians and cyclists, “What’s more, it has even reduced the probability of an accident for those that continue to commute by car.”
The residential neighborhoods to benefit most from Move NY traffic reductions — many of which have some of the highest crash rates in the City — include Hunter’s Point, Long Island City, Astoria, Sunnyside, and Woodside in Queens; Downtown Brooklyn, Williamsburg, DUMBO, and Fort Greene; and Manhattan’s Lower East Side, the East Village, Chinatown, and midtown East.
In 2014, Mayor de Blasio unveiled Vision Zero — a plan to bring traffic fatalities to zero by 2024. In January, he released 2015 data, showing that it was the safest year on record since 1910. But according to Paul Steely White of Transportation Alternatives, a Move NY coalition partner, “annual benchmarks to measure progress,” are key to saving lives and reaching the Mayor’s ambitious goal. In addition, the group’s 2015 Annual Vision Zero Report Card calls on Governor Cuomo to “endorse the Move NY Fair Plan as a tool for enhancing road safety.”
As the New York State Legislature dives into Governor Cuomo’s budget and debates various funding mechanisms for the MTA’s and NYSDOT’s five-year capital plans, Move NY stands as the sole funding mechanism that not only raises $12.9 billion (when bonded) but can also save lives.
All without needing to raise the gate.