Transportation Alternatives: Mayor Backs Bridge Tolls and (Surprise!) Airport Slot Auctions


Mayor Bloomberg’ congestion pricing plan, tabled indefinitely in Albany, might have been been good for the environment, but it definitely would have been great for the City’s treasury: on top of the $354 million in Federal funds the mayor anticipated if the plan passed, there were all those eight-dollar commuter fees — not to mention the fines, penalties, and interest the City could expect to charge non-compliant, delinquent, and confused motorists.

But that’s over for the moment, so the Mayor is looking at other revenue streams, perhaps in other than obvious ways.

On Friday he told a caller to his WOR-AM radio show that he’s still interested in putting a four-dollar toll on bridge traffic entering Manhattan, reports the New York Daily News. The State’s Traffic Congestion Mitigation Commission predicted an $859 million payday from such tolls. While the Mayor clearly wants to resurrect congestion pricing, he may be signaling that he’s willing to take half a loaf, at least for now.

That may not be all he’s looking for. The New York Sun reports that Bloomberg sent a letter this weekend to U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters and Port Authority executive director Christopher Ward, asking for their assistance in developing a “pilot program” to auction off landing slots at LaGuardia, Kennedy, and Newark airports:

“While there is legitimate disagreement on the details of the proposal, given its promise, the City would like to work with the federal government and the Port Authority to develop a limited pilot program, similar to what the Bush Administration has recently proposed at Newark, to determine whether it would be successful in encouraging airlines to utilize larger aircraft in peak-hour slots,” Mr. Bloomberg wrote.

The Bush Administration has indeed been trying to auction slots at Newark, but has been relentlessly opposed by the Port Authority, which last week threatened to ban airlines that used such slots. Each side claims it has control over the slots, and legal action has been expected. Through a trade group, the big airlines have sided with the PA.

The Feds insist that the auctions would fulfill the mission begun with the Federal Aviation Commission’s cap on the number of flights per hour that JFK and Newark were allowed to handle. It was expected that the cap would force these major flight hubs to better space their arrivals and departures, relieving congestion in New York and throughout the country. (Perhaps expectedly, since the cap was imposed U.S. airport delays have become notorious.)

Bloomberg opposed the caps when they were first proposed, and opposes them still. So his support for Phase 2 of the so-far-unsuccessful Bush plan is puzzling, unless we consider political ramifications. Secretary Peters has interceded on Bloomberg’s behalf in Albany before, on the congestion pricing plan. So they’re hardly strangers. Bloomberg’s “pilot” is pitched as a compromise between the PA and the DOT. Might not Bloomberg, as an honest broker, expect something for the City as part of the deal? The Bush Administration is weak, but it can still disburse Federal funds, such as those proposed by Travers for a “discretionary Metropolitan Innovation Fund that will award funds to cities that effectively combine peak period highway pricing, expanded transit options and technology into a single mobility strategy.” With both the City and the State hurting financially, it might not be a bad thing to reaffirm relations with folks who still have money to give away.