“There are no passengers on Spaceship Earth. We are all crew.” — Marshall McLuhan

traffic congestionHave you heard the buzz about congestion pricing? If you live in New York or study its beloved Times, then it’s been hard to miss. Don’t know what it is, then click over to Wikipedia for a quick tutorial:

“New York congestion pricing is a proposed traffic congestion fee for vehicles traveling into or within the Manhattan central business district of New York City. The congestion pricing charge is one component of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s plan to improve the city’s future environmental sustainability while planning for population growth, entitled PlaNYC 2030: A Greener, Greater New York. If approved and implemented, it would be the first such fee scheme enacted in the United States.”

Most of the recent coverage has been about Bloomberg trying to push his complex plan through the Legislature. Will it pass or not? That’s for others to debate. Same goes for the environmental impact that it might have. For example, Wendy Shillam at Coffee in the Square, weighs in from the UK where the London congestion charge has been in place since last year.

She writes, “Most people I know who live in Central London welcome the congestion zone, and those who live outside welcome the improvement in buses. If its modal shift we are after – then it’s clear that the congestion charge is successful. Bus travel in London has increased by 37% in the last five years and London is the only world city where car transport has not increased; the decrease in the congestion zone being balanced by an increase outside the zone.”

“It is clear that traffic congestion is s global issue for congestion is a waste of time, money and energy as well as a completely unnecessary contributor to global warming.”

But the objective of the fee is to discourage the use of private cars, reduce congestion, and allow for improvement in the public transit system.

Jen Chung at the Gothamist ran this quote from Mayor Bloomberg. He said, “I’ve thought about [the congestion pricing] question a lot. And I understand the hesitation about charging a fee. I was a skeptic myself. But I looked at the facts, and that’s what I’m asking New Yorkers to do. And the fact is in cities like London and Singapore, fees succeeded in reducing congestion and improving air quality. Many people are already paying to drive into Manhattan — there are tolls on most bridges and the four tunnels. But to avoid those tolls, many people drive through neighborhood streets. That not only clogs the streets, it increases air pollution — and asthma rates…”

“In setting the fee, there’s no magic number, but it has to be high enough to encourage more people to switch to mass transit and low enough not to break the bank — for businesses and for those who have to drive. Based on thorough analysis and the experience of other cities, we believe that an $8 charge would achieve these goals.”

Money talks… and the rich, the poor and the middle class all have something to say.

Kitty Glendower at AROOO (A Room of Our Own) quotes Elizabeth Kolbert in a New Yorker article, “These costs will inconvenience some people – perhaps most people – and the burden will not always be distributed with perfect fairness.”

And then pipes in with her commentary: “Is it ever distributed with fairness, much less perfect fairness?”

“Labeling having enough money or not to influence one’s actions as a choice is down right condescending. It is not a choice, as in a lifestyle choice, if one cannot afford it. Kolbert seems perfectly content with acknowledging that poor and middle class people should have their choices made for them. She introduces this choice as framed in “egalitarian terms” yet fails to inform us of the advantageous choices for the city’s rich. What is eight dollars a day for someone who has a million? It seems to be suggesting that the hoi polloi, the commoners, the masses, must allow the deserving privilege to have the streets parted for their royal use. Nostalgia for the Gilded Age is permeating environmental politics, a desire to return to the time when people such as Bloomberg was recognized as an exclusive crowd demanding the masses to part and bow when one of their members appear.”

So what does $8 buy you these days?

  • In Orange County, Wednesday is Botox Day at some spas and the going rate is $8 per unit.
  • Most of the state parks surrounding the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival charge $8 per day.
  • You can park at the Baltimore/Washington International Airport for $8 per day.
  • At this summer’s Aspen Jazz Festival, the service fee alone is $8 on the ticket price of $85.

Perhaps eight dollars doesn’t sound like much until you’re doing it five days a week. It adds up: $2,080 (8 x 5 x 52) per year. That’s a lot of money! So here are 10 suggestions for painless frugality from Bankrate.com. Suburban New Yorkers might want to take note. Ironically, the first suggestion is to drive less. Click above to see the expanded explanation:

1. Drive less.
2. Bring your own stimulant.
3. Conserve energy.
4. Dig gardening.
5. Go small or pet-free.
6. Don’t flush money down the commode.
7. Limit media.
8. Sign up for tax-advantaged plans at work.
9. Eat in.
10. Don’t bank on it.

The conclusion: “Following any one of these tips can save you as much as $500 per year. Some of them can save you more. If you do all 10, you’ll save at least $5,000 a year.”

And that, my friend, equals more than $8 per day! What does congestion pricing mean to your pocketbook? We welcome your comments below.