Congestion Pricing = Security Pricing

Dan Miner, Sierra Club NYC Group’s Energy Committee Chair, explores the topic of congestion pricing from another perspective:

“Our dependence on cars and trucks is a national security issue… By getting more drivers out of cars and onto mass transit, congestion pricing increases our economic resiliency to fuel price shocks. Because of its many benefits, congestion pricing could be more accurately called the transit relief fund, the mass transit incentive, or the rush hour fee, according to Joe Brewer, research fellow at George Lakoff’s Rockridge Institute. It could also be called security pricing.”

Here’s the whole article:

Despite the new enthusiasm for green initiatives in New York City, the congestion pricing at the core of the PlaNYC transportation program is still getting the cold shoulder from a substantial number of City residents and lawmakers. Hoping to redirect some travelers to mass transit, Mayor Bloomberg wants to charge a fee to cars and trucks entering midtown Manhattan during the day. The fees, with city and state contributions, would fund $31 billion in metro area mass transit projects and would help unclog our streets and reduce carbon emissions.

Critics agree that more mass transit funding is needed, but oppose the fees as a punitive tax on working class outer-borough residents. Both critics and supporters implicitly assume that the price of gas will remain basically stable, a faith shared by the general public, as shown in a recent Gallup poll where 58% of Americans expected gasoline to reach $4 this summer but almost all doubted it would go higher. In addition, most said that higher prices would not convince them to get to work by carpooling, biking, telecommuting or mass transit.


In spite of the general public’s inability to imagine much higher gasoline prices, a growing number of corporate leaders, military analysts and national security advocates worry that even slight disruptions to our oil imports will cause abrupt price spikes to over $100 a barrel, leading gasoline and heating oil prices to rise to over $5 per gallon. Gasoline prices could rise suddenly for many reasons: an attack on Iran causing a blockade of the Straits of Hormuz, the shipping channel for over a third of the world’s oil, turmoil in Nigeria or Venezuela, terrorist attacks on oil shipping and refining infrastructure, or Gulf Coast hurricanes. Even without a crisis, the U.S. Government Accountability Office warns that depleting world oil supplies, combined with rising demand, will make energy markets increasingly volatile – and supply disruptions inevitable.

With this national energy security in mind, energy policy makers now recognize that our addiction to oil and our growing dependence on imported fuel are dangerous liabilities with severe economic consequences if the flow of foreign oil is disrupted. Joining environmentalists in calling for massive increases in energy conservation and renewable energy, these new voices include the Council on Foreign Relations, Senator Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), former Secretary of State George Schultz, former CIA Director James Woolsey, and Frederick Smith, CEO of FedEx. Manifesting this concern, the Army Corps of Engineers calls for all Army facilities to go green and the Pentagon warns that the military must take immediate steps toward running on alternative and renewable fuels or the increasingly costly and dwindling supply of oil – the lifeblood of fighter jets, warships, and tanks – will make the US military’s ability to respond to hot spots around the world “unsustainable in the long term”.

We can imagine what those Pentagon analysts might tell outer-borough commuters. How would a sharp spike in oil prices affect trucks bringing groceries to supermarkets? Winter heating fuel prices? The restaurants and theaters dependent on tourists? Fire, police, ambulances, and garbage trucks? Would commuters still choose to drive into Manhattan, or would they flock to mass transit?

Our dependence on cars and trucks is a national security issue. With the threat of price shocks and fuel shortages, such as those resulting from Hurricane Katrina in 2005 or political turmoil in oil-producing regions in the 1970s, efforts to shift our transit needs to less fuel-guzzling modes is as vital to our future as NYPD’s anti-terror task force. By getting more drivers out of cars and onto mass transit, congestion pricing increases our economic resiliency to fuel price shocks. Because of its many benefits, congestion pricing could be more accurately called the transit relief fund, the mass transit incentive, or the rush hour fee, according to Joe Brewer, research fellow at George Lakoff’s Rockridge Institute. It could also be called security pricing.

While we need both short-term and long-term responses, the critical starting point of all energy policy should be rapid energy conservation planning. To address this challenge, the newly released Sierra Club report, “Moving New York City toward Sustainable Energy Independence” urges the City Council to resurrect the bill, drafted in 2004 by its own Environmental Committee, to create City contingency plans for energy volatility. Similar bills have been passed in San Francisco and Portland, Oregon, where they are already working to identify vulnerable areas of municipal operations and then create responses to fuel price increases of varying duration, rapidity and magnitude. Highway speed limits, reduced public transit fees, car pooling, telecommuting, and compressed work weeks of fewer but longer days are some of the responses recommended by the International Energy Agency and the engineering firm Parsons Brinkerhoff.

Improving rail, subway and bus service to underserved areas, preventing impacts to neighborhoods with transit hubs, increasing police enforcement, and making biking and walking safer will not only address the concerns of congestion pricing critics, but will enhance PlaNYC implementation. There’s clearly room for compromise, so we shouldn’t wait for future disasters to force crisis decision making. If the Administration and City Council collaborate with the private sector and civic groups to implement congestion pricing and develop rapid energy conservation plans, the City will become more resilient to price shocks, reduce carbon emissions, cut energy costs and create jobs. It’s a win-win solution. New York’s example could lead the U.S. toward sustainable energy independence. Let’s start moving beyond oil, and toward better mass transit, today.

“Moving NYC Toward Sustainable Energy Independence” has been endorsed by a number of groups, including New York Public Interest Research Group, INFORM, Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, the Pace Energy Project and Sustainable South Bronx. It was cited as a Report of the Day by Gotham Gazette. The full report is available online here; references and links are available here.

One Response to “ Congestion Pricing = Security Pricing ”

  1. Now might be a good time to call your representatives in the state senate and assembly and ask them why they have failed to move forward on congestion pricing in New York.

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