Congestion pricing for Center City: Yes or no?

When things happen in New York, America’s largest city, there is usually a spillover effect.

Notice congestion fee for Uber ride

A new policy becomes law, and pretty soon New York wannabes become copycats.

(OK, to be fair, when a policy works, why shouldn’t it be copied?)

I am talking about the soon-to-be-instituted congestion tax, which (simply speaking) will hit cars entering midtown Manhattan with a congestion tax of as much as $23.  (It’s not exactly groundbreaking. Ride-share and taxis already hit passengers with a small congestion charge, as I found out during a visit last year.)

The fee was first proposed by nanny Mayor Michael Bloomberg in 2007.

Some cheered the plan, such as Vox. It sadly noted that required environment-protection assessments became the mechanism for slowing implementation to a halt. Call that irony.

The theory is that the charges will reduce congestion by making driving an unaffordable luxury for many, and if there are fewer cars in midtown there will be less pollution, and New York will use some of that money to improve mass transit, a worthy goal.

As Vox explains it, “Congestion pricing was the transportation equivalent of progressive taxation, with the money coming from drivers, who tend to be richer, and going to mass transit, where passengers tend to be poorer, all while serving broader climate and air pollution goals.”

While New York dithered, London, Singapore, and Stockholm introduced congestion pricing, and it was a success, according to The New York Times, which did admit to some drawbacks.

Some seized on the drawbacks, to condemn the charge, such as New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, who called it a “shakedown.” He was joined by other Garden State legislators.

Opposition also came from the so-called “outer boroughs” of Brooklyn, Queens, and especially The Bronx, which fears a massive invasion of motorists parking in that borough, and taking the subway into Manhattan.

OK. So you know the basics. Here’s the question: Should Philadelphia adopt congestion pricing for Center City, from Washington Avenue to Vine Street?

41 thoughts on “Congestion pricing for Center City: Yes or no?”

  1. Most ridiculous thing I ever heard. Another progressive liberal idea. We have to vote out these nitwits making our rules. We are burdened with enough taxes without adding new ones. This world is going crazy.

    1. What makes this idea “liberal,” genius?? You guys use that word as an insult all the time. Guess where you can place your hateful crap? An idea is neither liberal nor conservative. It is simply an idea. You can like it or hate it without demonized an entire class of people. Now run along.

      1. Ahh the old pot calling the kettle black.This is most assuredly a progressive idea.The last 4 liberals left in America are on lifesupport in an assistedliving facility.

      2. Freeze… I must have hit a nerve when I said it is a liberal idea. I said it because most wacky ideas come from the liberal’s. Defunding the Police, allowing shoplifters to steal up to $500 worth of goods without being arrested. I could go on but I think you get the idea.

        1. IMO those are not “liberal” ideas, they are progressive-left-wing. THAT’s where you find the looney tunes. Freeze, Keith, Wanda are liberals, not progressives. Their ideas are reasonable (except, maybe, when Trump is involved).

    2. Actually it is much more a libertarian (generally considered right rather than left) than a liberal idea.

      Rather than being a tax, it is a fee, and, in particular it is a “user fee.”

      In the ideal libertarian world, there are no taxes at all. Instead there are user fees for the use of what we consider public goods. To them, things like government owned roads are the just so much socialism.(Some libertarian writers even call them “socialist roads.”)

      If you don’t use roads, they reason, you shouldn’t have to pay for them. Those who use roads a lot, should pay more than those who use roads much less, or not at all.

      They believe that roads (and a whole lot of other stuff) should be privately owned, furnished and priced accordingly. The congestion fee does just that.

      When traffic is heavy, demand is high, so you get charged more. When it’s low, you get charged less. This is just like, say resort/hotel pricing. In the off season, it is much cheaper. At the height of the season, you get charged premium prices. Simple business sense. A side benefit is that folks who can, will delay their trip until the off-season. So will drivers, easing congestion.

      So if you’ve ever said that government should be run more like a business, congestion pricing grants your wish.

      Free roads for all, all of the time–that’s just your inner socialist talking.

      Why do you want a (literally) free ride on the backs of your telecommuting neighbors?

      1. I love a lot of Libertarian ideas like this one, and wish I could fully embrace the ideology. But I struggle with the way Libertarians address other issues, such as land use. For example, few if any zoning regulations, that could result in sprawling overdevelopment and an overwhelmed court system, as aggrieved residents take obnoxious neighbors to court.

        1. Well, I’m not a libertarian. The cool thing about them is that they go where ever their premises take them. A big one of those is that markets can solve (just about) anything. I think that markets can solve a lot of things, so it is always useful to look at what libertarians are saying.

          But, live by the market, die by the market. Markets often aren’t perfect, and like politics, get distorted by bad information or too little information. Also, they often take a very long time to fix things, even assuming they will. As the non-libertarian economist John Maynard Keynes once said while talking about markets in the long-run, “In the long-run, we’re all dead.” So, often I’m not willing to wait as long as they are.

          Also, as with your objection to eliminating zoning, they can undervalue other competing values (things like stability, social cohesion, unequal bargaining power, quality of life, unequal access to market information, money influence in politics and the like). In fairness, they often do have theoretical and sometimes practical answers on these issues. But I reserve the right not to be convinced.

          I will confess that, on balance, I am on their side in terms of YIMBY (“yes in my backyard”) for reasons that I won’t bore you with. But it’s not because I failed to consider or dismissed the possible downsides you list.

        2. Sara, Tom is describing a utopian libertarianism that few practicing libertarians espouse its purest form. Most of us are content to nudge governments to favor solutions that provide more choice as opposed to compulsion. Allocating a scarce resource such as street capacity using pricing is a pro-choice response.

          1. Sorry, Andrew, did not mean to imply that there revolutionary libertarian cells scattered about. You are correct that I would have better described it as utopian libertarianism. Still, even the non-utopian ones are worth listening to, even when one disagrees–which I often do.

            I was going to write the counter-example of anti-congestion regulation, as opposed to fees.

            That is, for example, ride share requirements for express lanes, on the “coffee is for closers” rationale. You can’t pay for the right to use express lanes, you have to have another person in the car. This would be compulsion, as opposed to say, a discount for mult-person cars.

  2. How about if we charge people for LEAVING town? That way maybe we can stop the outflow that has seen 500,000 people leave the city.

    1. Soooo…we should charge people for leaving this unsafe, filthy shithole?
      You could be on City Council with brilliant ideas like this 👍

      1. Census bureau population figures:
        Philadelphia 1950: 2,071,605 (under Democrat control)
        Philadelphia: 2021:1,576,215 (Still under Democrat control — 71 consecutive years)

        Loss of 495,354. So call me a liar for 4,646 people.

          1. No, just going back to when the Dems took over Philadelphia and began the process of running it into the ground.

  3. Yes! It’s a good way to allocate a scarce resource.
    Would be best if the city used the revenue to lower its absurdly high taxes.

    1. Andrew,
      Just an observation in regard to your response. The city’s resources are much greater than the people that would be paying this tax. Just ask the Mayor who just increased spending in this budget without raising taxes and plans on an obnoxious increase in her staff.

      Is this really about congestion or a money grab. Philly, should worry about filling their office buildings, before adding another tax and consider further reductions in their taxes and fees.

      1. Oh — good point that Center City office occupancy has not rebounded from Covid. Congestion fee would work against returning to Center Ciy.

        1. You’re right. Because the only way to get into Center City from the suburbs is by car and not by SEPTA light rail.

          1. Judah,
            I live and work in the city, I use the bus and subway.
            However, my coworkers are frightened to use these systems and I cannot dismiss those fears, based on what I personally see and experience in the subway.

            The subways are a lawless subterranean world, where you are aggressively asked for money, are enveloped in cigarette and weed smoke, body odor so strong it chokes you or feces and urine on the floor. When you reach your stop, you are met with bodies sleeping on floors, more feces, mice, aggressive panhandlers, etc. in the early morning hours, East Market Street is not much better

            Our subway system is a disgrace.

            In regard to the light rail systems, I can only listen to my coworkers describe their morning commutes and real fears.

            Let’s fix our subway and rails before we tax people to force them to use them.

            I will say that congestion increased with car services like Uber and we should consider a per ride congestion fee for those services, but keep in mind there will be a loser in that arrangement. Many of these drivers would lose income if we imposed those fees.

      2. I have commuted into Philly for years by SEPTA and I have yet to see anything that makes light rail a safety risk. If you work in Center City all you have to do is get off the train and walk to work. So what fears have your coworkers had about light rail?
        The taxi and car share drivers are not going to see a loss of revenue. The congestion issue can be described by this one quote; “This is Philadelphia, we drive to the corner store”.

  4. I’m in favor of it. It’s one way (there are others) to relieve congestion, particularly in Philly, where, unless streets have been widened considerably, were designed and best suited for the horse and buggy era, not cars. As Stu pointed out, it’s worked successfully in other areas. Another alternative (I said there were other means) is to issue a color coded sticker to all cars that want to drive into the city during the workday. Use five of them and only on those days will pink, or blue, or whatever color is allowed to drive in that day. This will cut congestion by 80% (theoretically). I was in Milan, Italy about 30 years ago and it seemed to work well and folks had adjusted to it nicely. Don’t know if they still use it or not, but it’s another way, without taxing people. Would encourage use of mass transit or car pooling.

    1. The plans in use claim to have reduced congestion by 30%, if you believe them. One dif NYC vs Philly: NYC has a well developed mass transit system. London, too. Philly, no.

  5. Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happy Driving. I guess that’s on its way out of (down) town as well. Of course, Happy Driving is just a relative term when driving in the affected area. But you get the point.

  6. No congestion tax because center city area and riding Septa is unsafe. A special prosecutor law for crimes on the Septa system was enacted but held up due to an appeal by the City’s DA. When commuters and pedestrians can travel safely throughout center city, then a commuter tax should be considered. Commuter tax may reduce vehicle traffic and it may be a best practice in certain cities. However the city must ensure the safety of everyone before enacting such a law.

  7. I am part of the “Save the Train” movement. Many of you may know SEPTA is considering closing down the Chestnut Hill West line, and the community is trying desperately to save it. I travel via this train into Center City often. Although I do own a car, I find the train pleasurable and safe. (And of course as a Senior, free.) I’ve explored buses while in the city, and the subway. The Broad street line is a disgrace. Market-Frankford, not so bad. I agree with those on this post that say if the city is going to charge a “Congestion Fee” which, broadly, is a good idea, we must invest in our public transportation for a multitude of reasons. And, as usual, the Right Wingers on this post have nothing intelligent to say, and simply use these threads as a means to rant and insult the Left. Republicans, in general have been opposed to investments in Public Trans. They oppose almost everything that is generally good for society. Slightly off topic, but somewhat related, we need more cameras targeting traffic violations. Though cars are made increasingly safe, traffic accidents, including fatalities, have risen. Some cities in Europe have increased the ticketing by camera, and accidents have decreased. I imagine it would be hard to implement here because of some people’s obsession with “the Nanny state”.

  8. Naomi,
    A congestion fee sounds good to someone who rides a pleasurable, safe and free train.

    How about you consider the people that must drive into center city, people that cannot utilize public transportation. How about the additional costs to the businesses that need deliveries.

    Liberal minds believe we need to tax any chance we get. The poorest people get hit the worst with these plans, while the wealthy and well off barely feel the pinch.

    1. I did glance at the NYC proposal, but did not read it thoroughly. There are exceptions for emergency vehicles, and there MAY be exceptions for delivery trucks. There also may be exceptions for low income people. If we were to adopt this type of “tax” in Philadelphia these are good points to consider. However your last comment is baffling. You refer to the “the poorest people getting hit the worst. From Liberals? First off, the “poorest people” are those without cars, already using public trans. Second EVERY social safety net in this Country is a result of LIBERAL Democrats….Welfare, Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security. Republicans fought against ALL of these programs. So please, do your homework.

    2. Your comment about deliveries reminds me of a few years ago when the Apple Center City store was the closest one that could repair my husband’s computer. I drove him into town, he dropped off the computer while I went around the block, he got back in the car and we went home. if I have to pay $20 for that, I would just take a longer drive to another store.

      1. So what’s your point? As a consumer you are free to take your business where ever you please.

    3. You want a “free train”?? This coming from someone who probably has spoken out against free Obama cell phones.

      “How about you consider the people that must drive into center city, people that cannot utilize public transportation. ” You’re right, its not like the Septa light rail stations don’t have parking lots. Or do you want free parking at those lots along with free trains.

  9. I don’t recall seeing “the pursuit of happy driving” in the Constitution. Its a privilege, not a right. Not everyone can or wants to buy a car. The state requires you to get a license and insurance. The government does not give out free cars.

  10. Republicans???
    They do not exist in Philly.
    You cannot tax everything we use and or consume. Especially when the politicians blow the money they are collecting..

  11. If we are going to point citizens towards SEPTA as an alternative, we need to raise the service bar. Today there were trains cancelled on the Broad Street line as well as some bus routes due to operator shortage. This is a routine issue. As a former El rider, I started driving into work after one hot summer day when someone decided to use one of the cars as his private restroom. We all left the car at the next stop and found another car. And this was about 20 years ago!
    Dirty and unsafe subway and El stations and bus terminals need to be addressed, as does driver safety and passenger safety, if we as a city are going to promote public transportation.

    1. So nothing has changed in 20 years? How did you reach that conclusion since you haven’t ridden the El in 20 years?

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