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Congestion, Amnesty, Death and Nudity …

John Van Horn

I have been thinking a lot about “congestion pricing” – the concept of charging people to drive on public streets at certain times. The idea is to reduce congestion, pollution, and generally make the world safe for democracy and free from original sin. They are doing it in London, and Mayor Bloomberg is touting the plan for Manhattan.
But what is really going to be accomplished? It seems to me that this is a plan to collect another tax. Look at it this way. The city can’t raise its income and property taxes any higher (they would be pilloried), so they are looking for a tax that doesn’t seem like a tax. In this case, it’s a tax on drivers. The charge would be $8 a car. People living on the edge of the congestion zone fear that folks will drive into the city, park in their neighborhoods, and then take public transportation to work. Well, of course they will.
So Hizzoner is proposing a permit program for the area just outside the congestion zone to handle this unintended consequence. The money from the permits will go into the general fund (another tax?), and the amount of the permit costs is going to be discussed later.
It seems the city is simply creating a large bureaucracy to collect money to pay for that large bureaucracy. Why not charge market rates for on-street parking in New York? Wouldn’t that have the same effect? Wouldn’t people think twice about driving into the city if they knew they were going to have to pay $30 or $40 to park on-street? Off-street rates would go up in kind. Legitimate residents could pay a lower fee or whatever. Set the rates so there is a 15% vacancy factor.
This could be done with the infrastructure that is in place. A new taxing plan would not have to be implemented. No one would have to pass laws. There would be no need for “congestion police” to go after those who haven’t a clue, and we wouldn’t be creating a whole new class of lawbreaker.
This isn’t a problem unique to the uninformed who actually want to drive in Manhattan. Gov. Schwarzenegger wants to do something like congestion pricing in California, and other cities are eying the prospect.
I just read an article by august New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman who supports the concept based on the fact that its “green” and also that its technology based. Seems IBM supplied the technology that is used in Stockholm for their congestion pricing model. I don’t have room to comment here – check out my July 16 blog entry at www.parkingtoday.com. More on this in September.
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Those attending the IPI Infrastructure Privatization Summary of Chicago’s Downtown Parking System – at least those in the back row – were treated to an “off the cuff comment.” Thomas Lanctot of William Blair & Company was saying, “We could have made this 25 years, or 50 years, or 75 years, but we made it 99 years. And do you know why? Do you know why?” At that point he was holding one finger in the air to emphasize to the audience how important his statement was going to be.
From the back came a deadpan delivery: “Because you’re all dead then.” It was reported that some had to leave the room before collapsing in laughter.
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I have to agree with what Craig Bagdon says about amnesty. No, not that amnesty. Amnesty for parking tickets. “It sets a horrible precedent,” says Craig. “Once the amnesty period ends, revenues plummet because violators figure they can just wait around until the next “amnesty period. I have seen this happen every time.”
New Orleans just held a week-long amnesty. If you had a past-due ticket, you could go in and pay it without all the fees and up-charges because you were late. Many cities do this periodically. So what?, says you. Well, says I, what does that mean to the people who actually paid their fines and fees on time, or paid the penalty because they were a couple of weeks late? Some nincompoop decides to ignore the rules, runs up thousands in fees and fines, and then waltzes in during the amnesty and pays the tickets. I don’t like it.
Why have rules at all? As my British friend asks: “Are these laws, rules or simply suggestions?” Personally, I think the laws should be enforced, and if you don’t pay the fine, your car should be immobilized or towed, and if you want it back, you have to pay all the fees. This is like the broken window theory. If you clean up the broken windows and graffiti, you don’t have as many assaults, robberies and murders – it’s proven; it works. Why shouldn’t parking be the same? My guess is that if you enforce parking regulations, you don’t have as much littering
or vandalism, or as many cars that don’t meet minimum safety standards.
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Yes, it’s true – and of course could happen only in my favorite hive of sin and villainy: Amsterdam. Photographer Spencer Tunick posed a lot of nude men and women in a parking garage in the Dutch city. I’ve heard of parking structures being used for movie sets, garage sales, used car lots, storage, fine dining, dances, parties, and practically every other possible use, including parking cars, but this is a first.

Article Abstract from August, 2007




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