Saturday, November 12, 2005

Sudafed For Cars

At last, a story where we can pretend to offer some kind of specialised insight, even though, in point of fact, we do not really have that much first-hand experience. We refer, of course, to the recent proposal to introduce congestion charging in New York City, or lower and middle Manhattan to be precise.

Hooray!, we thought, given that we have lived in both London, where the concept was first developed, and New York, although, truth be told we have little personal experience of the introduction of congestion charging. But we know a fair amount more about it than some commenters. It's fairly easy to factor in exemptions for cabs, small business owners, and residents, so the thing resembles nothing so much as a commuter tax.

Moreover, by explicitly linking the revenues from the scheme to improvements to commuter rail (say, a rail link to JFK), it might be easier to sell to upstaters than a commuter tax. Or spend the money on buses, which have been the main beneficiary of the London congestion charge, and which are much easier to upgrade than subways (our personal opinion is that the London Tube, owing to the construction methods of the Victorians, is beyond redemption).

But, and here we will note the biggest problem, New York is a far more cohesive city than London, despite the huge numbers of bridges and tunnels reequired to feed it. There are 24-hour subways, which don't charge more for people living in the less wweaalthy ares to come to the centre. And there are the large number of service businesses located in the outer Boroughs.

Don't get us wrong, we hate drivers, particularly the selfish and clueless ones. But the other genius of New York - hyper-responsive local politicians - makes it much less likely that congestion charging will fly. The Outer Borough power brokers are going to shoot it down, in a way that the London political system makes much less likely. Now, screwing the suburban types? That definitely has legs.


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