New York is the first major city in the USA to introduce a nationwide road user fee. But there shouldn’t be better roads with the billions in revenue – just fewer cars. The flexible toll system could also serve as a model for chronically congested German cities.
Peter Weißenberg, Spotpress
Somehow Jay Schultz now only feels “like half a New Yorker”. The man in his mid-forties is actually part of the typical cityscape of the Big Apple: in the mornings, Schultz sells coffee and bagels to bankers and brokers in a hurry in the financial district. In the afternoon and evening he continues to work in a bar a few corners. Manhattan is expensive.
Maybe soon too expensive, because Schultz has to cross the Hudson every day in his old Ford Taurus, then takes the subway at the very edge of the city. “So far I have crossed one of the bridges that are still free. That costs nerves in the constant traffic jam – but no money.” But the latest decision of the city council puts an end to that.
Schultz will soon have to pay road tolls. Every day. The equivalent of ten euros – at least. “The way into the city is hardly worth it,” fears the bagel man. For some politicians that should be just fine. Because the declared goal of the first nationwide road toll in a major US city is to drastically reduce traffic.
The revenue from the city toll – which is calculated at one billion euros per year – will primarily benefit the subway with its squeaky, screeching ancient wagons from 2021. The streets and bridges, which are at least as ailing, are at best still beneficiaries. And not at all Jay Schultz. “I already earn more than the minimum wage,” he says. But only those who have to get by with the equivalent of 12 euros an hour can hope for a social discount on the toll.
The majority of the more than 850,000 car commuters will therefore have to pay for their cars in the future. And if, like Schultz, they drive into the city at particularly busy times, the fees should be even higher. Cities like Stockholm or Singapore have had good experiences with this method of traffic control for years. Big crowds, high prices: that drives people into buses and trains or in car pools.
Or they can afford it: Free travel for rich citizens – that is the main criticism of the toll, which was devised in the era of billionaire and mayor Michael Bloomberg. The acceptance of the tax will therefore also depend on how quickly local public transport is expanded and what it will cost. Jay Schultz, for example, could get used to “if there was a subway discount for commuters”. Such tariffs are under discussion. And there is an urgent need: Because currently commuting in and out by public transport costs 30 euros a day. “We’re already paying enough to get to Manhattan,” criticized New Jersey’s Senator Bob Menendez on Twitter.
Foto: Peter Weißenberg
However, the Big Apple still has an exceptional position in the USA with a comparatively well-developed bus and train network. “New York is a good example of cities where something like this can work,” says John Short, transportation expert at the University of Maryland Baltimore County. In many other cities, local public transport had been criminally neglected for decades. Los Angeles, for example, has only a very patchy network, a measly subway and buses that resemble socially disadvantaged areas on wheels. Then better in permanent traffic. Or, recently, breakneck on the electric scooter across the holey concrete sidewalks of the city.
In Europe, on the other hand, the conditions for public transport are usually much better in comparison. For Germany’s commuter capital Munich – 360,000 commuters daily – a researcher from the Bundeswehr University there has already calculated the effect: With variable prices between free (at night) and 1.25 euros per kilometer during rush hour, such toll models would bring in up to 370 million euros. However, as everywhere in Germany, it often takes decades before new underground or S-Bahn lines improve public transport sustainably.
And whether all of the traffic controllers’ plans will work out in the end is by no means certain. In London, for example, the numbers have risen again after the car commuter rates initially fell significantly. Commuting has only just become more expensive again; The return trip costs 13 euros. Like in New York or Dublin, cameras are used for surveillance. It reads the license plate, uses a database to compare whether the owner has paid via the app or online – and otherwise immediately sends out a three-digit penalty.
However, there is always one way to avoid possible fines and toll costs and still drive into town individually by car: Taxi, Uber, Lyft and Co. These providers have welcomed the toll plans. Mitchell Moss, a traffic researcher at New York University, predicts a boom in all types of chauffeur services – and the streets will continue to be congested.
Jay Schultz is even skeptical that the toll will not be collected again at all; the Americans are after all “a people of motorists”. There are elections in 2020, for New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio from the Democrats – and for the President. “Once Donald Trump realizes what a great campaign topic this entry fee is, it will be buried again very quickly.”