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Manhattan on $8 a day -- just for the driving

The mayor advocates `congestion pricing,' fees on autos between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m.

July 07, 2007|Walter Hamilton | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK — Joe Korbl totes up the cost of driving in New York City.

Gas for his plumbing van is $20 a day. Insurance is $5,000 a year. And parking tickets -- a routine expense for businesses like his -- tack on $250 a month.

Add one more potential levy: $8 a day just for the right to drive into Manhattan.

No one will ever mistake Fifth Avenue for the Santa Monica Freeway, but Gotham's midday gridlock is worsening. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg's plan to reduce it calls for charging drivers a daily fee in the hope of nudging some of them out of their cars.

If the plan is approved by the Legislature, all cars driving into Manhattan south of 86th Street between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. would pay $8. Truckers would cough up $21. Drivers starting their trips within the fee zone would shell out $4; truck drivers would pay $5.50. The fee would only be charged once a day per vehicle.

Supporters of the traffic fee -- including New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer -- want to see a special session of the Legislature approve it by July 16 so the city would be eligible for a pool of federal transportation funds. A fee would take 18 months to implement after approval, according to the mayor's office.

As the idea has started to sink in among those who would pay, opinion has sometimes split along class lines.

Some embrace it as an environmentally astute way to make the dreaded crosstown commute bearable.

Others scoff that Bloomberg, a billionaire who made his fortune on Wall Street, doesn't realize the bite that $8 a day would take.

"It's another scheme for them to milk the middle class," said Korbl, who lives in Queens. "Nobody I know likes the idea."

The plan would hit small businesses that have no choice but drive into the city, said David Gat, a locksmith from Queens.

"It's for rich people like Bloomberg," Gat said as he hurried down 32nd Street to a job. "Bloomberg lives in a bubble."

Backers counter that so-called congestion pricing will ultimately save money because companies won't have to pay workers to sit in traffic.

One study found that gridlock saps about $13 billion a year from the New York economy, said Paul Steely White, executive director of Transportation Alternatives, a nonprofit advocacy group that has dubbed New York's traffic situation "Carmageddon."

"If you can squeeze in an extra job a day, $8 is certainly worth it," White said.

And the hit won't be as bad as some people fear, proponents say, because the $8 charge would be reduced by the price of tolls drivers pay to enter Manhattan.

Bloomberg's proposal is modeled on a plan enacted in London in 2003 that officials there credit with slashing traffic by 20% and carbon dioxide emissions by 15%.

New York officials expect the fees to raise about $400 million a year, which would be used for public transportation and other transit needs.

Some New Yorkers say they'd pay almost anything to escape cramped intersections and spewing tailpipes.

DeJuan Stroud, an event decorator from TriBeCa, was so frustrated that he dumped his car last month in favor of a Vespa scooter.

"You're always late and you're always apologizing," he said. "It's just not the way you want to start a meeting with clients."

Adria de Haume, a jewelry designer from Greenwich, Conn., says the fee would prompt her to switch to the suburban commuter train.

"In the scheme of things, it's worth doing because it's for a greater good," she said. "It's for the environment. It's for peoples' health."

But not everyone is so sure that the plan will have its intended effect.

Marc Betesh, a New Jersey real estate consultant, thinks that a lot of people would do exactly what he plans to do -- grudgingly fork over $8 and look for other ways to recoup it rather than part with his car.

"This will definitely cost me more money, [but] I don't think it's going to save me that much time," Betesh said. "It's not going to stop me from driving in. I like my car."

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