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NYC’s congestion pricing program leads lawmakers to explore parking permits

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Manhattanites worry about losing parking thanks to congestion pricing, but are those fears founded?

Several cars driving down a NYC road. Max Touhey |

Congestion pricing is due to be implemented by 2021, but New York City lawmakers are already exploring ways to mitigate the measure’s potential side effects. One of these is parking north of 61st Street, the border of the central business district that will be affected by the new congestion charges; according to the New York Daily News, there’s now a worry that commuters driving into the city will snap up free spaces in the area to avoid congestion fees in Midtown.

To examine whether these fears are founded, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer recently conducted an analysis for the possibility of such a program, which would allow residents of uptown neighborhoods to buy city permits to keep their parking spots.

Brewer’s report analyzed similar plans in seven other cities—London, Stockholm, San Francisco, Portland, Chicago, Boston, and Washington D.C.—and found the permit programs had mixed results. For instance, in London and Stockholm, neighbors’ fears that there would be a “parking crunch” near the congestion area were unfounded, as those areas experienced reductions in vehicular traffic instead.

“Our analysis of how other cities conduct their programs reveals that’s there’s no silver bullet, no one-size-fits-all solution to the fundamental problem of parking demand outstripping supply,” Brewer said in a statement. “But our goal with congestion pricing—as with street reorganization—must be to improve quality of life.”

The report cites transportation economist Charles Komanoff, whose research assisted Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s FixNYC Advisory Panel Report, who agrees on the fact that these concerns may be unfounded.

“On a typical morning, only around a thousand car commuters into the zone—out of a total of 110,000—are likely to try to park outside to avoid the congestion toll,” Komanoff says in the report. “Considering that almost half of them will be coming from Long Island and will therefore look for parking in Brooklyn and Queens, and that many of the others will seek off-street parking in lots or garages, only a few hundred will be seeking free parking on the Upper East and West Sides. And furthermore, they will distribute more widely to express stations rather than concentrate around 61st Street.”

Based on the case studies in other cities, Brewer’s report also states that the fee for permits should be high to avoid promoting further vehicle ownership and adding to the “parking crunch.” That is one of the reasons why the Department of Transportation (DOT) is not too fond of the permit program idea.

In a June 2018 City Council hearing, according to the Daily News, DOT officials said that a parking permit program could exclude low-income drivers, among other things. Officials said that the agency “would caution against” such program.

Last year, councilmember Ydanis Rodriguez (who heads up the transportation committee) introduced a bill to set aside parking spots for residents who buy permits.

“This kind of program is a fair thing to do for residents who live in transportation deserts who could lose their parking spots through congestion pricing,” Rodriguez told the Daily News.

A similar bill was introduced by councilmember Mark Levine, who told the Daily News that this is already a problem in upper Manhattan. “This problem is only going to get worse when we implement congestion pricing,” he said. “We are perilously close to running out of time.”

Congestion pricing will require drivers to pay a surcharge to enter Manhattan south of 60th Street and north of Battery Park, or the central business district, between 6 a.m. and 8 p.m. The revenue generated is expected to fund infrastructure repairs, but a fee structure for the program has yet to be decided.