Bloomberg proposes congestion pricing to help NYC hit 30 by 30 goal

bloomberg.jpgMayor Michael Bloomberg recently released the results of a carbon inventory that revealed New York City is responsible for almost 1% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, as much as the entire nation of Ireland.

The buried lede to the story is that New York City is home to almost 3% of the nation’s population. Per capita carbon emissions in the city are less than a third of the national average, thanks mostly to the subway system.

Bloomberg wants to get the number down futher. He’s pledged to reduce carbon emissions 30% by 2030, and on Earth Day he announced 127 (!) initiatives to help meet that goal. The most eye-catching — and sure to be most controversial — is a proposal for congestion pricing that imposes an $8 charge on passenger vehicles driving through downtown Manhattan during weekdays.

The proposal is patterned after a scheme in London that also met with strong resistance initially but eventually proved successful. The London plan is now meeting renewed resistance as the the city government there seeks to expand it. Whatever the ostensible benefits, people hate paying road tolls.

Nevertheless, congestion pricing is a good idea, and if it is successful in New York it may spread to other U.S. cities. As a New York resident, I hope this proposal passes, and leads to the implementation of one of my other favorite ideas for improving New York City: turning a number of the cross-town streets into pedestrian walkways.

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  1. Al Lewis - April 25, 2007

    Should be a rule for hotels in NYC (and elsewhere) that they must offer two rates — the current one plus a lower “green” one which only changes linens once a week. (If someone on a green rate changes their mind, they can order a linen change, for an added fee).
    The hotel industry would support this because lower rates mean more guests.
    You wouldn’t even have to specify how much lower. Market forces would take care of that. You could even “sunset” the law after a year. By then no hotel could abandon it without losing customers.

  2. Chad - April 25, 2007

    “Per capita carbon emissions in the city are less than a third of the national average, thanks mostly to the subway system”
    While I am a big supporter of public transportation and I am sure the subway system contributes significantly to reducing carbon emissions, this statement is mathematically impossible. Auto travel only accounts for about 25% of our emissions, so even if they managed to completely eliminate it, it would only result in a 25% reduction, not a 66% reduction. Clearly, there has to be another major factor. My guess is that it is because NYC has little manufacturing or agriculture, which are very carbon intensive. In this case, NYC’s emissions are so low because they are simply transporting their emissions elsewhere. When the farmer in Iowa, auto maker in Michigan, or sweat-shop worker in China makes a product for a New Yorker, the carbon gets tagged to IA, MI, or China respectively…even though the New Yorker really should get the credit. In most cases this more-or-less cancels, but not always. Since NYC is full of “low carbon” jobs, it appears to be low-emitting, yet it is fully dependant on and integrated with high emission economies elsewhere. Frankly, I find the 2/3 reduction baseless because of this.

  3. MsComment - April 25, 2007

    I certainly don’t know the numbers one way or the other but I think that the feeder rail lines into NYC that come from NJ should run late in the evenings and on weekends.. Now they are mainly commuter trains.. What a waste! Who would want to drive into NYC if there was good rail service?
    Plus I hope those 127 initiatives include switching to fluorescent lights. Toronto is doing it.

  4. Nobuta - April 25, 2007

    comment to Chad,
    While your analogy may be partially true, large city in general is much more efficient than living in suburb in many aspects. The density is the key factor here. Nearly all houses in NYC are apartment or condos. Grocery stores, cafes and laundries are everywhere, so that you don’t have to drive to get to one.

  5. Marcus - April 25, 2007

    I agree with Chad and would like to add the concept of source through end-use. If the electricity that the subway system uses is generated elsewhere, what is the carbon cost of that production and how should it be allocated? Is the cost of coal mining and firing or nuclear power costs taken into account when calculating the carbon footprint of electrical use within our NY subway system? How do the calculations take care of the upstream sources of the end-use?

  6. Karin - April 25, 2007

    Chad-

    I agree that we should look at ALL of the carbon that goes into the footprint of a place, and NYC certainly imports a lot of carbon intensity from things manufactured elsewhere. (Though I’m not sure the per-capita use of manufactured and agricultural goods would be higher there than other places, so including such numbers might be a wash, at least in comparison within the US.)

    That said, there are other factors besides public transportation that reduce per capita carbon output in NYC. Energy efficiency in housing is a big one. Living spaces for many residents in NYC tend to be smaller than in the rest of the country, so there’s less space to heat and cool. Also, because so much of the housing stock consists of units in larger buildings, rather than single-family homes, people often share walls with their neighbors on as many as five sides. These cozy arrangements result in dwellings that tend to be far better insulated than homes that are exposed to the elements on all sides.

  7. Adam Stein - April 25, 2007

    Chad and others –
    I think the other major factor you’re forgetting is the carbon intensity of the grid in New York is lower than in much of the country. New York’s electricity is some of the cleanest in the U.S.
    I would guess this is a much bigger factor than the manufacturing base.

  8. Aaron A. - April 26, 2007

    Al said:
    Should be a rule for hotels in NYC (and elsewhere) that they must offer two rates — the current one plus a lower “green” one which only changes linens once a week.

    I like the idea. I’ve known a few hotels that allow a discounted rate for corporate travel, with the caveat that maid service is only provided as often as the law requires (usually every third day). So it’s already an option, in a roundabout way.

    I’d rather see the idea as common practice, rather than a legal mandate. Why not write a letter to the hotel chains, casually mentioning the free publicity one might receive by offering a “green rate”?

    As for NYC, Bloomberg’s proposals can demonstrate that an eco-friendly lifestyle doesn’t have to mean huge taxes or living like hippies, and that caring for the planet isn’t just a concern for flaky West Coast millionaire movie stars.

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