Tuesday, June 18, 2024

The symbolism of congestion pricing

Congestion pricing readers on the FDR Drive at 60th Street

Since Governor Hochul announced her "indefinite pause" on congestion pricing on June 7, I've been one of several people who pointed out that it would have improved almost everyone's lives. The people who currently walk, bike or ride transit would have a lot less cars to deal with, and a lot more funding for the transportation modes they use. The people who would pay the toll would spend a lot less time stuck in traffic than they do now. The people who wouldn't pay the toll would have a better commute by transit than their crappy current driving commute. And people who don't commute would benefit from cleaner air, less noise, less carnage and less wasted space.

So it's kind of puzzling why there's a group of people who really hate the idea of congestion pricing. And they're not all just upset about losing their discounted trip at taxpayer expense. Some of them are intensely, viscerally offended by the very idea, and desperate to stop it at almost any cost.

The people who are intensely offended are completely immune to reason on this. You and I may know that their business would save money by not having its workers stuck in traffic. We may know that the subway is way less violent than the highways. We may know that everyone's long term prosperity will be much greater if we're not wasting money, space and fossil fuels transporting three-ton easy chairs around with every individual. But they won't hear it.

They are intensely offended by the idea that they should pay extra every time they want to bring a large, heavy piece of machinery with them into Manhattan, just as they are offended by the idea that they should pay to leave that vehicle on the street overnight, that they should not be allowed to leave the vehicle in the middle of the street blocking a bus, or on the sidewalk, that sometimes a bus full of people or a person on a bicycle might be moving faster than them.

Why are they so offended? Because they were taught for years that cars are a mechanism for prosperity. Not only that by buying a car they raised themselves up in the social hierarchy, but that our government, and in fact all of our society, is aimed at helping them to prosper through their cars.

For these drivers, the government raises them up through free parking, or at least cheap parking. Powerful government figures give them free parking on holidays, free parking on residential streets, in the suburbs, at their country houses. These patrons do what they can to keep the tolls cheap, gas prices cheap, and parking cheap when it isn't free. They provide parking placards to hardworking civil servants and to people who do favors for them. And they look the other way when drivers double park, park on the sidewalk, go faster than the speed limit, and maybe even kill somebody once in a while. Because these drivers were just trying to take care of themselves and their families.

This free parking, cheap parking, cheap gas, cheap tolls, free sidewalk parking, and the occasional free killing are all aimed at lifting people up. Not lifting everyone up, but just the people who deserve it. And they know who deserves it because those people have bought into the system by buying a car and busting their asses to make the car payments, insurance payments, repair bills, gas, tolls, tickets.

Of course that's all bullshit. Of all the possible ways you could lift people up and generate prosperity, subsidizing driving is one of the most dangerous and destructive, and in a lot of ways it's just fucking mean. The fact that someone owns a car doesn't make them any more deserving of anything. The way cars enable people to bully other people is hugely problematic. See the entire rest of this blog for details.

And this is why a certain group of people is so deeply offended by congestion pricing. It calls them on this bullshit. Like bus lanes, bike lanes, open streets and pedestrian plazas, congestion pricing says that there is nothing about owning and using a car that makes a person any more deserving; in fact, they're causing damage, destruction and death everywhere they pilot the thing. And so many of them have built their lives around owning a car as their ticket to prosperity.

Congestion pricing offends drivers the same way that tearing down Confederate statues offends my cousins in Texas. The same way that providing decent housing and food for people who just got here from South America offends some people.vCongestion pricing is an official recognition by the government of the State of New York that driving is an antisocial activity. And that's why it would be such a victory for humanity, decency and compassion if it happens, and such a setback if it doesn't.

Thursday, June 6, 2024

Long Distance Jitneys to Pennsylvania

It's another guest post from long time reader George K!

Jitneys in the NY/NJ area are known for serving areas paralleling local bus routes. However, there are only a few limited examples (such as the Chinatown jitneys) that operate with no anchor.

What I found is that the NY-Pennsylvania market has a sizable amount of long-distance buses that operate on a semi-jitney model with no official anchor. They do have approximate departure times, and their schedules are set up to minimize the amount of deadheading (so trips usually leave from the outer end in Pennsylvania starting early in the morning until the early evening, and then leave from the NY terminal 3-4 hours later...there's usually no peak-only trips, since that requires purchasing a whole extra bus and not fully utilizing it throughout the day). Headway vary from every 1-3 hours, with most companies choosing a bihourly headway.

On the outer end of the route, the jitneys typically offer door-to-door service. For example, the jitneys out to the Poconos stop at predetermined locations off I-80 (e.g. gas stations or restaurants) ...all of them have a Paterson stop (taking advantage of the fact that I-80 runs through the city), and most have one or more stops in Stroudsburg. On the outer end, the companies offer door-to-door service to either Scranton, Wilkes-Barre, or Hazleton (Interesting enough, no single company served all three cities). They also included the immediate suburbs of those cities in their door-to-door service area. The benefit of course is comfort and convenience for the passenger in not having to worry about taking a connecting bus to reach the main intercity station in the Downtown neighborhood of these respective cities, but it comes at the expense of reliability to a certain extent, since the distribution of riders who want a particular trip might not necessarily line up with the quickest route to the highway.

For the routes to Lehigh Valley and Reading, they all have a stop at Newark Airport, which makes sense given its proximity to I-78. Most also have a stop in Union City. Surprisingly enough, none of the Reading companies stop in Allentown, despite its proximity to I-78. (The closest thing to a direct connection between those two cities is OurBus, which runs once a day and only stops at the Wescosville Park & Ride).

Interestingly enough, one of those companies (Caribe Tour Express Transportation) also operates from Reading to Philadelphia, with 4 round-trips per day. (Those trips start earlier and end later than the Amtrak Thruway Express service which is contracted out to Krapf Coaches). It would be a mutual benefit to both Amtrak and Caribe Express if those trips were able to be thru-ticketed with Amtrak trains, hopefully leading to a virtuous cycle of service being expanded on the corridor. (For the door-to-door service in Reading, they might want to consider taking the most direct route to/from the BARTA Transportation Center, and then performing the door-to-door service for any remaining passengers.)

To elaborate on the concept that these jitneys operate with no anchor, the Poconos jitneys serve Washington Heights and Paterson, which are far enough from Midtown Manhattan (where most of the intercity buses operate) that in the event of an issue with their preferred jitney, most people would likely look around for another jitney company rather than backtrack all the way to Midtown for an intercity bus. For Scranton, Stroudsburg, and Wilkes-Barre, the individual jitney companies roughly match the frequency of the Martz Trailways buses, and there's multiple jitney companies, so the total number of vehicles moving towards your destination is much greater in Washington Heights or Paterson compared to Midtown Manhattan. For Hazleton in particular, there's one single round-trip to NYC on Fullington Trailways, and it's basically a reverse-peak trip, so that's serving a completely different market than the jitney companies. It is the same situation for reading, with its one single round-trip to/from NYC on OurBus/Klein Transportation (which also doesn't stop in Union City like the jitneys do).

TransBridge and the Lehigh Valley jitneys are arguably the closest example of an anchor/jitney cascade relationship (simply because TransBridge and the jitneys share a stop at Newark Airport...though the frequency to any given point in Lehigh Valley isn't much better than any individual jitney company). But again, TransBridge doesn't serve Union City, and doesn't serve Upper Manhattan, Fort Lee, Paterson, or Irvington, so it is still for all intents and purposes an independent market.

This service opens up a significant amount of opportunities for both commuters and leisure travelers. The flat-rate pricing makes it appealing for budget-conscious travelers (with the risk that the jitney might be sold-out at the last minute, though that is of course a concern even for variable-rate pricing models). Some of the companies add a few extra trips at times when it is expected to be busy (holiday weekends, or weekends in general).

Better-publicizing these services can tap into the market of people who are looking for leisure destinations that don't necessarily require a car rental. For example, a hiker can take a jitney to Stroudsburg, take the Monroe County Transit Authority River Runner up the Delaware River and go for a hike. (Unfortunately, the hours of the River Runner are limited, and it only runs on Saturdays, though I believe it runs on Sundays if it's a 3-day weekend, since it's designed for people who want to canoe down the Delaware River and camp overnight ...they leave their car at Kittatiny Vistor's Center or Delaware River Water Gap Park & Ride, put the canoe on the trailer at the back of the bus, take the bus up north, and then canoe down the river). There's definitely room for improvement on the shuttle (an extension from Milford Beach to Port Jervis to connect with Metro-North would be nice, as well as having the midday trips run the extra mile to the Martz Bus Terminal instead of just the park-and-ride, as well as service that runs past 3:05pm from Milford Beach), but of course that would require additional resources. (Right now, they use 3 buses for the operation. Those expansions would likely require them to add a fourth bus...which they should probably do anyway, since the bus route is actually fairly popular with park visitors, and loading and unloading the canoes often causes buses to run behind schedule ...last year, Raymondskill Falls was restricted to shuttle passengers only). With all that in mind, I think it would definitely be a wise investment.

When gauging demand for intercity service, Amtrak would definitely be wise to look not just at traffic patterns and ridership on established intercity companies (e.g. Greyhound, FlixBus, Martz Trailways, etc), but also ridership on these smaller services. If Stroudsburg - Upper Manhattan is able to sustain 8 small companies who depend on social media and word-of-mouth for advertising, then it seems reasonable that the Amtrak service proposed up to Scranton should be considered for a better frequency than 3 round-trips per day. (Granted, it's possible NJ Transit might decide to supplement it with a few of their own trips in an arrangement similar to the Hartford Line, but in that case, they should be paying attention to this demand as well). The markets don't necessarily overlap 100% (I'm sure the Paterson riders and even a lot of the Upper Manhattan riders will likely stick with the jitneys even if Amtrak service is available), but I suspect that the latent demand is much higher than what's being projected.