Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Chaka Skips Ahead Two Steps

If a politician thought that promising to invent the wheel was a good campaign strategy, you can bet he'd make it his central platform. So today, we have mayoral candidate Chaka Fattah in the Inquirer suggesting that Philadelphia impose a congestion tax on motorists to discourage driving into the city during rush hour and raise money for transit. (It's a tax similar to the one that London instituted.) Will someone tell Chaka he's been away from Philly too long? Proposing such a tax for modestly congested Philadelphia suggests he doesn't have a clue about the real nature of the city's car problem. Center City isn't suffering from too much congestion; it has too little. Right now, it's way too easy to drive into town.

Don't get me wrong. I think it's urgent that city officials do something to constrain the growing dominance of the automobile in Center City and its environs. But not because traffic congestion is the monster about to consume Philadelphia. It is true that Philadelphia does experience some traffic congestion on certain streets for certain limited periods of time. But the real consequence of increased car use in Philadelphia has to do with the destructive force of parking garages on the city fabric. Garages require big chunks of land that Center City can't afford to sacrifice. Consider the Jefferson Garage on Chestnut Street as Exhibit A. That hunger for land to build garages is wrecking the walkability of Center City, making its neighborhoods less attractive and less livable, and destroying the architecture that gives the city its character.

A congestion tax is two steps ahead of the problem. Before Philadelphia resorts to such an extreme measure, it first needs to start seriously pumping up Septa and make mass transit the mode of choice. As part of that effort, the city should impose a moratorium on stand-alone garages, as well as limits on "accessory" garages in condo and office towers. Limiting the supply of parking is one way to increase the appeal of transit, although a lot else has to be done. If it takes those steps and the traffic still becomes unbearable, then Philadelphia might turn the conversation toward congestion taxes. But I doubt it will ever need to happen.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

inga, once again you're a breath of fresh air! i nearly choked when i read about this ridiculous tax. is fattah trying to discourage people from going to center city??? because that's what this tax will end up doing. i'm sure the tourism industry will love him for it.

10:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A breath of fresh air INDEED.... Yet another instance that clearly shows he is not the best person for this most critical job... we need someone who "knows" the city and its many challenges.. not another washington bureaucrate bent on perpetuating the very thing that has got us in trouble to begin with...

11:12 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Furthermore, the city already has at least a couple "congestion taxes"

- The wage tax
- The BPT (businesses located outside the city that do business within city limits are required to pay it)

You could also arguably add the extra 1% sales tax and additional city liquor tax (if the city would actually enforce it -- talk about short-changing the school district)

11:42 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

We do NOT have a traffic congestion issue in Philadelphia. We have a lack of public transportation issue and a corrupt public transportation system.

Penalizing people who don't live near efficient public transportation (see most areas of South Phila as an example) is NOT the solution.

11:44 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bravo, Inga. You nailed it exactly. I can't believe Fattah would propose something like this. As you said, it just goes to show he has no clue. I tell people all the time that it's easier driving around center city then the areas outside of it. How can he be a serious mayoral candidate if he doesn't even understand this aspect of Philadelphia.

12:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There's no comparison between Philadelphia and London. London has an absolute world-class transit system. To me this more about an insatiable appetite for tax dollars while trying to look "progressive" doing it.

12:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There's no comparison between Philadelphia and London. London has an absolute world-class transit system. To me this more about an insatiable appetite for tax dollars while trying to look "progressive" doing it.

12:15 PM  
Blogger Joshua Vincent said...

Perhaps a congestion charge could serve as the elusive magic dedicated funding source for SEPTA? Just a thought.

Traffic is not as bad as London's once was because there are fewer jobs - and people - in Philadelphia relative to the suburbs.

I'd rather see a land value tax and/or a higher parking tax to discourage the corrosive effects of the parking "industry." either that or let parking become a public good or service like police and fire protection.

Let's get jobs back, lots and garages out. Then,hopefully, we will then have too-crowded streets, and deal with it then. Two steps ahead is a perfect description.

12:28 PM  
Blogger rasphila said...

In fairness, Chaka Fattah didn't propose a congestion charge. He said it should be studied. Other large cities like New York are also studying the London experience.

That said, I agree that Inga is right on target here. The transportation problem in Philadelphia is inadequate public transit, not traffic congestion. If the city reforms its tax structure to increase the number of jobs, how will all those people get to work? With SEPTA in its current state, they will probably drive, and they will need parking—which in turn will damage the city fabric even more than it already has.

It's worth noting that in London, just about everybody uses public transit to get to work, including famous stage actors and high-ranking judges and members of Parliament. They can do this because London transit is abundant and efficient, although it is very expensive by U.S. standards.

12:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Chaka's congetsion tax makes no sense; In the UK, London is the essential destination. Philadelphia hardly carries that rank. And together with our anti-business tax structure, it would give businesses yet another reason not to locate here. As for SEPTA, I live in Germantown, served by two SEPTA lines. But SEPTA is useless for the type of travel to center city that we do, because the last train leaves before midnight, and the trains in off hours are an hour apart. It's not like Washington's Metro stops with their 5-minute intervals and lively bars and restaurants nearby--SEPTA stops are scary and deserted. SEPTA must be reinvented from the bottom up before it's even worth mentioning as an alternative to driving to town.

1:02 PM  
Anonymous brendan said...

I believe that fattah has also said he wants to restructure SEPTA as well.

When i started your article my first reaction wa "of course we need a congestion tax", but by then end I realized that without bringing SEPTA up to snuff (ie, metrocard system, dedicated funding, etc), that such a tax would be useless.

1:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I believe that the citizens of Philadelphia should be taxed as much as possible.This is their reward for continually electing the most crooked and liberal morons to run the city.

1:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Driving from Melrose Diner to 2nd and Market took 15 minutes yesterday at 2:30 in the afternoon.

The lack of congestion was a little scary.

Fattah obviously doesn't work in town.

1:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

We wouldn't need all these parking garages, at least at night, if the city would do away with valet parking.

1:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Congestion tax? What????

Is this a sign of how out of touch Fattah is with local issues?

1:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you want to give septa dedicated funding through a local tax, use the parking tax... it's, like, already there (so are the wage tax and BPT), problem is the city wastes it all. Don't vote for any incumbents for city council in the May primary, and for a decent mayoral candidate (not Fattah or Brady) and maybe we'll get some change around here (here's to hoping...)

1:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In Paris some of the garages are underground. What would help those of us who come into the city would be more late night service on the trains so one could go to a play and have a drink after. Even NJ Trans has trains that run to NY late. The other problem that keeps me from the city is the lack of metered parking. Why not give the center city residents free parking in the garages so that shoppers could find a parking place.

2:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As usual, you have the right perspective but were considerate to voice your disdain for his dumbest idea using that old "iron fist in a velvet glove".

2:31 PM  
Blogger David Wade said...

Regarding the congestion charge, London’s experience shows that it did not have a damaging effect on business. After the charge was introduced in February 2003, the Retail Traffic Index for the congestion zone recorded a year-on-year rise of 4.7% in January 2004. That was a higher increase than the rest of London or the Southeast region of Great Britain. A poll of 500 businesses within the congestion charge zone conducted after the first 12 months of the program found that 64% said charging had no impact on their bottom line while 11% said charging had a positive impact.

Fattah has suggested we examine this idea. In that examination, the city may determine that this system would not be ideal for Philadelphia. But in order to be a great city, Philadelphia must be willing to look at different ways of doing things.

Congressman Fattah’s transportation plan addresses many other transportation issues. The plan calls for supporting efforts to secure a dedicated funding source for SEPTA and for using the upcoming lease negotiations to change the city’s relationship with SEPTA. It also calls for promoting successful initiatives like the Commuter Options Program and PhillyCarShare to increase people’s access to individual transportation options.
David Wade, Policy Advisor
Fattah for Mayor

2:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I totally disagree with Inga Saffron's comments, particularly the idea that it's too easy to drive into Philadelphia. I live in Gladwyne and I've almost given up entirely on driving to center city because of all the traffic congestion. The Schuylkill Expressway is almost always backed up. After sitting in traffic that does not move for 40 minutes, I'm ready to turn around and return to Gladwyne. Finding a parking spot in center city Philadelphia is almost impossible. On street parking is easier to find in New York City. I know this because I now spend more time in New York City than in downtown Philadelphia.

2:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Inga: You're on the mark suggesting we limit downtown parking supply. But decreasing DEMAND for that parking also must be part of the solution. This means improving SEPTA (by funding it right), expanding PhillyCarShare, and taxing autos -- all part of Chaka Fattah's proposal. Fattah's transportation platform is super progressive -- literally a breath of fresh air.

2:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Let's not condemn the man for suggesting new and innovative ways to address Philadelphia's failing transportation system. He's merely suggesting studying congestion pricing along with other approaches.

I agree though that the problem is not congestion, but rather SEPTA. Congestion Pricing does not work without an alternative to auto-commuting. Let's start there.

3:02 PM  
Blogger Lee said...

I want to comment on Inga's idea that the real problem is bad public transportation, and why I think Fattah's idea has weight. Let me submit that when I drive my car on the highway, I'm using public transportation. The road is built and maintained by the gov't, and there are various taxes associated with owning and operating a car. Add up all of the costs, and it's not cheap.

Being someone who doesn't live or work in Center City, I'm not going to abandon a car, regardless of how good Septa becomes.

Septa is one of the most expensive public transportation operations in the county. Philadelphia also has one of the highest overall tax rates in the country. (right up there with NYC when you count the wage tax.) So, you want to pour more and more effort (money) into improving one form of public transportation and ignore the advantages of another form, driving?

Progressive bloggers may howl at the idea of driving be a superior form of moving about, but with driving comes two things that don't come with a Septa: real convenience and personal responsibility. I won't pretend this is a black and white issue, but I want to at least submit that the 'all driving is bad' mantra is coming from the far-left field.

So, if someone accepts that
1) Driving isn't all that bad when you consider it as flat cost to an individual, and that Septa-style public transportation is an add-on cost to that individual.
2) Anything that requires any amount of diligence to operate, like Septa, will be done poorly by this area government.
3) People who live IN the city, shouldn't be unfairly burdened by non-city folks in the area of parking.

...then you may agree that at least imposing some kind of penalty on those who drive into the city (and park) makes some sense. You raise the value of city living by making those who don't live there, pay more for parking in the form of a drive-in tax.

Even as a write this and know there are many other implications for all of this. But that's good, to realize that it's a complex issue and not one that can be immediately written off or rallied around.

3:03 PM  
Blogger Evan said...

So glad you're back Inga.

3:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The real way to generate appeal of mass transit is to fire everybody at SEPTA and start over again. Inefficient, overpriced, surly staff--and a subway that is little more than a latrine. You could make SEPTA free and many would still refuse to ride it.

3:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Its nice to suggest such a tax when you ride around in limis all the time. By the way, what would happen to the taxis?

3:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Inga's idea of limiting parking on condo/residential projects may be a good idea, but the Zoning Board of Adjustments won't even consider approving a project w/o at least one space for each living unit, and if you want community support, you need "extra" spaces for visitors. This makes the projects more expensive then they otherwise would be, because the big garages generate a big cost.

3:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why don't we make it illegal for delivery trucks to double park on Chestnut and Walnut?

I moved here 2 years ago and this constantly perplexes me. It must not be illegal because everyone does it flagrantly.

I go from 23rd to 9th everyday and I don't think I've ever gone one day without seeing at least one truck double parked with the driver nowhere in site (or if he's around, he's got a two-wheeler and unloading Coke or something).

4:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree that a congestion tax is a bad idea, but so is reducing parking garages. Without parking garages there is no where for people who live in or visit Center City to park. Try getting a space on the street near Rittenhouse Square at 8pm on a Saturday - it is just about impossible.

4:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't know much about Fattah and what he's done as a Representative, and that is probably a problem. But, if this tax idea is an indication of the quality of his work I wouldn't think of voting for him.

5:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"lee" wrote:

Septa is one of the most expensive public transportation operations in the county [sic].

Read the TFRC report. Or don't, if you can't stand anything that contradicts the SEPTA-is-horrible-and-expensive conventional wisdom.

Let me submit that when I drive my car on the highway, I'm using public transportation.

Do you routinely let strangers ride in your car? No? Then it's not public transportation. The road is public; the transportation isn't.

If you want anyone to take you seriously, learn to make an argument without muddling the issue with gimmicky word games.

7:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

While I'm no great supporter of Chaka Fattah, I do think that the best and least expensive way to promote the use of mass transit is to make driving cars more expensive.

A use tax on the city's streets could have an immediate impact, especially if implemented as way of paying for various capital improvements to the city's bus, light rail and subway service. Inga is correct insofar as the infrastructure impprovements (or at least improvements to service), paid for invariably by way of a bond issue, must precede a driving tax, but the tax could very much work as a way of paying bond holders'returns.

8:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Auto congestion tax + The calamity that is Septa = center city turning into a slum.

Fattah, center city isn't all that congested.

As somebody else said,start ticketing the UPS + Fed Ex drivers that double park on Chestnut + Walnut for 20 minutes and your congestion problem is completely solved.

This guy should be worrying about getting people into center city not thinking up ways to keep them out.

8:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The congestion charge, in my opinion, is a revamp of the parking meter.
The parking meter, invented by Carlton Cole Magee in 1932 in response to the growing problem of parking congestion, has developed into revenue system for the city.

If put in place, my guess is like London over a short period of time both the daily rate will increase, along with the boundaries of the “congestion area”. No different from meters expanding throughout the city and increasing meter rates.

We will have to build a motoring system along the lines of a CCTV used in London which will have upsides e.g. (catching criminals) and downsides e.g. (CCTV privacy concerns). Regardless it has the potential to be much more of a money maker for the city than a reliever of traffic congestion.

More likely than not, given the pressures of the campaign, there has not been enough time to for Mr. Wade and Representative Fattah to give this a thorough think through.

I have been following the London CCTV and cclondon for some time now and at this point in time do not believe it to be a good fit for Philly.


I expect the city will be using its EarthLink Wi-Fi network soon to monitor parking meters. This will allow:

1) the resetting of the meter clocks when a car pulls away, preventing a new car from using any time remaining from the previous meter usage.

2) the notification to meter readers of expired meters allows the readers to efficient and timely approach the meter.

3) real-time monitoring of meters that need repair.

9:50 PM  
Anonymous CM said...

Amen to all you folks who think SEPTA needs fixing. Management is bloated and the board is not representative of the majority of the org's ridership.

But I part company with many of you on the issue of congestion. Philly is congested at rush hour. All the major highways, all their on and off ramps in town, and plenty of Market, Chesnut, and Walnut streets are swollen with traffic at that time of day.

Plenty of intersections in university city are ugly at that time as well.

How is that not congestion? Sorry folks, but from my vantage point(I'm a Delaware County to CC bicycle commuter 9 months of the year and septa for the rest...) that is congestion.

I laud Fattah for bringing up the idea of a congestion tax. Maybe he watched Contested Streets. Here's hoping that the other candidates follow suit.

10:37 PM  
Anonymous fante said...

I see Inga and the Ingbots are in full drool mode. The weird collection of tax cut freaks, Ayn Randiacs, conservative goons, Philly haters, hermits, recluses, and other assorted wackaloons and losers, all howling like a pack of wild dogs fighting over a dead mongoose over nothing more than a suggestion that maybe we look at new ways to meet city challenges.

Fattah made a suggestion as part of a broad base proposal of looking at how to meet the challenges of the city's transportation systems. Inga picks on one narrow suggestion, gives it her usual treatment of purposely misleading the suggestion into something that it isn't, and the Ingbots go wild; squealing like little piglets at suppertime. Inga feeds them the raw meat of their prejudices and they devour it, without any concern of nourishment.

I wonder how many of those who tout London's tube, ever stood in a jam-packed subway car stuck between stops for upwards of 30 minutes for reasons unknown? I wonder how many actually paid the $4 fee for a single ride on the tube?

Maybe Chaka Fattah has been working on national issues for too long. Maybe he forgot that to look at truly progressive ways of meeting urban challenges would be met with total disdain by people who want the city to fail, so that it mirrors their own worthless lives.

11:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In a country devoid of personal expression there is no possability that individuals will willingly give up their bling. Those that can afford a $50,000 + car will go where they want. This idea just tries to cash in on that wealth. I'll just find other places to watch the world go by.

6:32 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

For 75 years, New Jersey residents have been paying a "congestion tax" with the bridge tolls. That's why the Patco high-speed line works.

6:40 AM  
Blogger That Dude said...

The answer is to privatize Septa, thereby vastly improving the transit system and reduce taxes then MORE people will come to Phila.

9:00 AM  
Blogger Smarty Bones said...

How true, both the column and the comments. I don't think anyone has mentioned that London has 6 or 7 million people living in it, thus the tax base, thus the ability to have a great subway system, and thus the ability to place certain restrictions on who may drive, i.e. the tax.

9:36 AM  
Anonymous Bill said...

That's the dumbest idea I've ever heard. In your scenario, here's what happens. People drive to the city (after all, there's no "congestion tax"). People find no place to park. People drive home with a very negative impression. People don't want to come back because of that negative impression. Need proof? Look at every avenue shopping district in every neighborhood throughout the city. Remember the neighborhoods? No parking, no shoppers. Under your proposal, folks might eventually return to Center City without cars. But how long do you expect this great Downtown transformation to take? A year? Please. Five years? Not likely. Ten years? We'll be bankrupt by then. This is not to say that Fattah has the solution -- I agree with you that much. But your "solution" is even worse.

11:04 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think his intention is more to generate debate and ideas about traffic congestion, which isn't necessary a bad idea.

12:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

1. Parking is a problem because new buildings are allowed to be raised without providing adequate parking for the tenants.

2. SEPTA does not provide the coverage or timing needed for a restrictive parking/driving scenario. When you can get them to provide stops within two blocks every 30 minutes, then you can revisit this.

3. Lets see all of City Hall forgo their vehicles and rely on SEPTA first. Come to think of it, that would free up a bunch of (currently) free parking spaces that could generate fees!!

1:28 PM  
Anonymous drinker said...

Speaking of SEPTA:

Any chance they could run a train at 2:30am on Friday and Saturday?

It would make it so much more attractive to use transit if people could stay until last call.


4:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is what happens when Wharton allows people to graduate from their school without having a undergraduate degree first.

9:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I really don't think that Inga Saffron has ever been to Penns Landing and walked uptown from any point and back.

I live on Penns Landing and don't know what all the problem is, we travel on I-95 and so do our friends. Rather than wait 10 years for Penn Dot to redo the problem. Can't we get Penns Landing proper done so tourists have a place to go that has been renovated and has shops and restaurants.

Penns Landing has fallen apart over the last 10 years partially due to the Skateboarders who have ruined the granite and Inga wants to have a skateboard park on Penns Landing near Walnut!!!!!! Come on, is this where a skateboard park and amusement park should be, no resident near the river would want that with all the problems it brings.

2:13 PM  

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