Congestion Pricing Questions

Who's skeptical about the mayor's traffic plan? The companies bidding to run it.

The mayor's plan would charge trucks $21 and cars $8, but bidder Consystec says that a system charging by vehicle weight would be tricky and expensive to install. Plus, Bloomberg also wants to exempt certain vehicles, which can be done via EZ-Pass, but the plan would still require inspectors to eyeball the cars and make sure that they are, in fact, exempt.

The consultants also cite a range of technical problems that would crop up with the cameras. People will vandalize them. Motorists can duck them by tailgating or switching lanes. Dirty license plates can also foil them. New Yorkers' love of double parking will also cause headaches. Snow, salt, and dirt can also confound the cameras, as will harsh sunlight and the differing designs of state license plates. The city's mass of buildings will make it difficult to transmit data via wireless, and setting up antennas to strengthen the signal will be hugely expensive. Finally, the transmitters used to send vehicle data can't be mounted near apartment buildings, because they tend to heat the body fluids of people who are sleeping or dormant for long periods of time.

At least the program has created some catchy new jargon. People who staunchly refuse to pay are the "motoring underclass," while "herd compliance effect" is the notion that if enough people agree to pay the tax, everyone else will fall in line.

And a new class of workers will also emerge, whose entire job will be to watch video screens to make sure the computer is correctly reading license plates. A good checker, one consultant claims, can read 600 images per shift. Sounds like fun.

In the end, it's going to be interesting to see how much of the plan survives the legislature. A poll released last week said that New Yorkers hate the idea, unless it results in improved mass transit.

But David Weprin, a former Democratic city councilman, said after Thursday's meeting that even a softer version would still be a "regressive tax that unfairly affects the middle class."

Stay tuned, and keep your wallet handy.

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