Wednesday, February 14, 2007

More About Fattah's Car Tax

This is just an observation, and a cynical one at that, but one reason that a politician like Chaka Fattah might prefer a congestion tax over a parking-garage moratorium is because the tax would be borne by scattered individuals, many of whom don't vote in the city and don't make campaign contributions. On the other hand, parking operators and condo developers are a prime source for campaign contributions. As John Street might say, that's how it works in Philadelphia. So, don't expect a parking moratorium any time soon - although, limiting the supply would be beneficial to owners of existing garages because they'd be able to raise prices.

The central issue is still Septa. As I wrote in a recent column about Suburban Station, Septa has invested $5 billion rebuilding its decaying infrastructure and is in pretty good shape physically (with the big exception of City Hall station). Now it's time to invest in service, so that people don't spend as much time waiting for a bus or train as they do traveling on Septa. An improved transit service, which could compete with the roads for users, will pay off economically for Philadelphia. Although I think it was foolish for Fattah to promote the congestion tax, he deserves credit for making improved transit a campaign issue. His full plan contains quite a few good ideas, including a proposal to re-establish the city Office of Transportation, discontinued by the car-loving Street. If he could achieve everything on his list, I'd tip my hat to him - if I wore the sort that was tippable.

24 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree that philadelphia would benefit from improved SEPTA operations - but i wonder if is easy to do so.

does the $5 billion invested in decaying infrastructure come from a different pot of money than could be used to improve operations?

2:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I also need to chime in with some of the others and say that ticketing the double-parked delivery trucks on Walnut and Chestnut during rush hour will dramatically cut congestion and will make money.

It almost seems like all the delivery drivers got together and bribed the city because they're never ticketed.

2:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would love to see more extended hours on the subways and regional rail lines. I think more people would use SEPTA if it ran later. It would definitely be a great alternative to drinking and driving when the bars let out on Friday and Saturday nights.

2:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Inga for mayor!

Although I always love Inga's thoughts and have the utmost respect for her work, I think perhaps her point is off the mark.

A congestion tax is not necessarily a BAD idea, as part of a larger comprehensive transportation and development plan. It should be studied, and I don't think Inga has studied it, as far as I know. It may not represent that exact emphasis and chronology of policies that Inga may prefer, but that does not mean a congestion tax should be ruled out entirely.

As a simple point, the fact the tax would be born by a disparate group, and particularly non-residents, is not entirely contrary to good public policy. It may have the corollary of being politically expedient for Fattah, as well. Passing tax burdens onto non-resident drivers should be an option left on the table, as should policies designed to limit the evil parking garages Inga so eloquently espouses!

2:49 PM  
Anonymous Eigenwelt said...

A congestion tax is not a bad idea. However congestion tax in Philadelphia is a very bad idea. (at this time)

Why? Because we don't have the transit system needed to make such a plan work. London did, and so does NYC should they decide to follow suit.

3:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Doesn't this congestion tax debate seem like a chicken or the egg problem. Septa is not in a condition to support the congestion tax, but maybe the congestion tax is what would get SEPTA in shape. SEPTA and the powers that be don't seem motivated to offer better service. Drivers have no incentive to demand better service since it is so easy to drive into the city. Maybe a congestion tax is the catalyst to get SEPTA going?

4:53 PM  
Blogger rasphila said...

Congestion tax or no congestion tax, Philadelphia and the surrounding suburbs need better public transit. There's no real need to choose between the two if they are part of a comprehensive package—which should also include a moratorium on parking garage construction, unlikely as that is (Inga's post is right on target on this point).

Transit and a congestion charge could work together, as they do in London. One effect of the London congestion charge was to make it easier and much faster to travel by bus in central London. The subways are expensive and very hot in summer, but until the congestion charge they were the only practical alternative for many journeys. Buses are now much more efficient than they were. For a tourist, they also offer a chance to see the city. And they are a good deal cheaper than the subway.

5:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There's more to the SEPTA problem than better funding or cosmetics. The system is just fundamentally wrong from the bottom up. The basic problem is that it is seen by both city pols and suburbanites as a system for hauling poor people around. The fares, schedules, stops, etc., are all oriented this way. Nobody in control of the system can really envision it as a transportation system for all classes of people, as an actually better way of getting around than driving for most people. This is the way most public transit systems in most of the world work. In Berlin, for example, you can ask your bus driver to call a cab for you to pick you up when you arrive at your stop. This kind of thing is just inconceivable to the people in charge of SEPTA, and until this changes, we will have no really viable public transportation in Philadelphia.

5:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Do you think someof that $5 BILLION could have been used for a El stop between City Hall and 30th St. Station?

The bus system we currently have in place only adds to the extensive gridlock (stopping at EVERY block). The entire subway system amounts to a "T" which leaves access to the majority of the city inaccessible! Noline up through the parkway and Fairmount. What a joke...

So much untapped potential, arghhh.

Please help Inga, please!

6:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think Chaka is being paid by KOP. This can't appeal to anyone outside a few self annointed progressives. Let's face it, congestion in Philadelphia isn't that bad. The city struggles to compete with the suburbs as is. Add one more tax like this, and watch the city's share of office jobs plummet below 20%. London isn't eactly known as a city friendly to regular people and Philadelphia is not known as a city full of overpaid progressives. Square peg, meet round hole.

7:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

For the record Septa has "two" budgets.

Capitol - Building stuff, buying stuff.

Operations - Running stuff, maintianing stuff.

They have Capitol...but hurt for operational cash.

Hence why we have new stations but crap service or new cars but they get dirty.


Wanna know why we don't have a new City Hall Station?

The American with Disabilities Act.

You touch something...then it better be ADA when your done.

It's very expensive to make things ADA... so they let it rot instead.

Fattah's plan is actually quite good..minus the commuter tax.

7:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Funny. I would think Philadelphia should be looking for all sorts of opportunities to cut taxes, cut fees, etc. Not the other way around.

7:44 AM  
Blogger rasphila said...

The basic problem is that [SEPTA] is seen by both city pols and suburbanites as a system for hauling poor people around. The fares, schedules, stops, etc., are all oriented this way. Nobody in control of the system can really envision it as a transportation system for all classes of people, as an actually better way of getting around than driving for most people. This is the way most public transit systems in most of the world work.

This is right on the money. Good transit systems are integrated, so that trains coordinate with buses, buses with cabs, etc. Berlin's level of coordination is extraordinary, but it would be a good model to emulate.

7:58 AM  
Blogger ACM said...

part of what would really pull SEPTA into a different class of operations would be better coverage downtown, where people's ability to use the service is directly dependent on being able to get to a line in reasonable order (while suburbs can use park & ride, etc.). I seem to remember reading that in Paris no resident is ever more than 2 blocks from a subway line -- imagine what that would take here! even a couple of additional lines -- say, resurrect the 11th St. trolley, or run a N-S line along each river -- would make a huge, huge difference in letting more people incorporate public transit into their everyday lives.

2:55 PM  
Anonymous sbp said...

In Montana they charge $217 plus other local fees to register a car from 0 to 4 years old. Thereafter the registration goes to $87 per year plus other local county fees. PA should have a minimal registration fee of $100 per car per address for the first car resitered; 150 for the next car registered at the same adress; and $200 for the 3rd etc. Money raised through the fees of people who feel they have to have more than one car; use precious resources; contribute to global warming and/or simply live selfishly should pay through the nose to help make public transportation publically useful to the greatest number of people.

10:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very Simple Philly is not NYC or London. Not that much congestion here since many jobs have moved to suburbs. Unlike the booming employment market in Manhattan, Center City has been suffering from DECONGESTION for years. Question - DO WE REALLY WANT A MORON LIKE CHAKAH FATTAH RUNNING THE USA"S 5th LARGEST CITY? IF THIS IS HIS BEST IDEA... LET HIM BUY A CONDO AT DRANOFF"S RED FINGER ON BROAD STRRET!!!

9:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Congestion is caused by many actions. Last night I drove in to Center City around 6:30pm and there was some event on Chestnut St. so the traffic on 15th and Market was backed up.
1. Trucks should be banned during high volume times.
2. Valet parking should be more expensive to pay for the congestion caused by double parking while passangers unload.
3. Construction permits for dumpsters should be eliminated. Why should whole streets be used for this when there is a shortage of parking.
4. Loading zones should be more for the residents who must be picked up. Cabs should not stop in the middle of the block.
Those who come to the city are supporting the economy by spending on sales tax and the increased employment of the workforce. To add taxes to those who like the city is kind of RobinHoodish. What would be better would be to spread the positive human capital of Center City outword so that the congestion would be eased. The congestion on a Saturday night is because of the congestion of the Arts.

9:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rather than bashing Chaka Fattah for one of the few fresh ideas on transportation that we've heard anyone in a position of influence utter in years, I feel we should support his ideas to help Philadelphia improve its transportation system. He did, after all, only suggest that we consider the idea of congestion pricing for Center City, not that it should be implemented exactly as it has been in London.

The idea of pricing roads is not new. In addition to London, Stockholm, New York and Portland are considering its merits. Congestion pricing simply means that a charge of some sort is placed on transportation infrastructure so that those who use it the most are also asked to bear a fair share of the cost. There are dozens of tolled roads and bridges around the country, some of them within the Philadelphia region. We SEPTA riders are also well-aquainted with the idea, its called busfare. It seems that SUV drivers from the suburbs feel that they should not be asked to pay their way. This makes no economic sense.

While I agree that setting a limit on the number of parking spaces in Center City is a good idea, it is a different, if related, issue than a congestion fee. They can both be implemented at once.

And as far as whether SEPTA should first increase service before a congestion fee is instituted, the answer here is obvious. There is no money anywhere to fund such an increase. The idea is to use the congestion fee to fund the service increases. The two go hand in hand. Unless one has a different plan for funding SEPTA service increases, it is inconsistent to propose that a congestion fee can't be implemented without transit improvements.

The comparisons of our levels of congestion with London and New York are irrelevant. If Philadelphia studies the idea and finds it to be a good way to fund improved transportation and make our Center City cleaner, safer and less congested, then we should do it. If not, the we shouldn't. But either way, we should not be afraid to study new ideas that are being tried elsewhere.

11:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To the previous anonymous @ 11:19 Let's study something like how to create more high paying jobs in the city, not some silly expensive study about a congestion tax or the irrational sale of the airport to support the poor. How about taking the 2 billion profit from the airport sale / lease and try to attract some Fortune 500 companies or fund nono technology startups and require them to stay in the city for 10 to 15 years.

7:39 PM  
Blogger Michael said...

I have to agree with Inga that the congestion tax/commuter tax/whatever you call it is thinking a little too far ahead. People are right when they say that Philadelphia is not THAT congested all of the time. However, when it is congested, it is awful-cases in point, the last 2 times I picked up my girlfriend from work in rittenhouse square, it took me over 90 minutes to get there from east falls. This is a result of a lot of things, though, not simply volume of cars (though taht certainly is one factr.) Philadelphia is a fairly old city, and one that was developed (or whose downtown was developed, at least), before tha rise of the automobile. Center city consists mainly of one way, one lane streets. When large trucks and valet parkers convergeon the city in the evening hours they add greatly to the congestion cause by the number of commuters. The fact that no one in Philadelphia seems to understand or pay attention to the "Don't Block the Box" signs at every corner, resulting in blocked intersections, makes things far more frustrating.
As someone else noted, the number of buses, and the fact that they stop at almost every corner, (especially with subway/el/rail lines so few and far between) makes things far worse as well.
SEPTA is indeed viewed as a means of hauling around poor people, and that view has become a reality. There are only 2 types of people who ride SEPTA:
1. the lucky few who live near a train station, or are traveling straight up/down broad street, or along the peculiar route of the Market-Frankford Line with its highly insufficient number or location of stops
2. People who don't own/can't afford a car

Even people like myself (who would prefer to take SEPTA), find it far
cheaper and time efficient to drive. (Ie taking the train from my home i East Falls to Templ U: I must make the ridiculous uphill trek to the most bizarrely designed station I have ever seen, then get there on time- ecause if I miss it I am waiting at least an hour until the next train- pay $2.80 if I buy my tickets in advance $5.00 if I get them on the train, then walk half half a mile to the campus buildings I need to go to. All in all, the process takes about 45 minutes from door to door and costs between $5.60 and $13.00. If I get in my car parked out front, drive and find street parking, which I have been able to do for the past 7 years, it takes 15-20 minutes door to door and the only cost- gas- is negligible.
Contrast this with the 3 months I lived in Washington- I could get from my home in SE Capitol Hill to anywhere in the city in a half hour or less, and the wait forr the train was never more than a few minutes, even at off hours.

SEPTA is, without a doubt, an unmitigated disaster and a disgrace to the city and state. More rail lines/stops have to be added. Trains need to run more frequently. Fares need to not only stop rising, but to go down.

So while Fattah's tax is thinking too far ahead, I take some comfort in the notion that he at least has out SOME thought into the issue of transportation in Center City (and as Inga said, the rest of his plan is indeed a good one), and if things went well, if SEPTA was improved, if parking garages were limited, if other regulations (regarindg truck traffic at certain hours, valet use, intersection blocking, etc... )were put into place and enforced, then Fattah's tax would be sonmething I would welcome.

9:47 AM  
Blogger Michael said...

Please excuse my horrendous typing/spelling the previous post!

9:48 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How about an audit of SEPTA's operations? I mean, we have a fraction of the population in Philadelphia as we did in the 1950s, yet twice as many buslines.

12:34 PM  
Blogger Michael said...

An audit wouldn't be a bad idea. The reason for the additional buslines is probably that the population has de-cenralized a lot since then- the Northeast, for example, is far more populous now, and the highly poplulated areas extend farther out.
But its a good point nonetheless- not just about Septa but about city government and agencies in general- while the poplulation has shrunk over the last half century, the number of employees of the city and its agencies has grown inversely.

10:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you compare a map of Philadelphia's transit system in the 1950's with today's map you will actually find many fewer transit routes. SEPTA has reduced service as funding failed to keep up with needs and ridership declined.

An audit has just been completed by the Governor's Task Force on Trnasportation Funding and Reform. You can find a copy on their website.

I don't see why we couldn't study both innovative ideas for transportation and economic development. One thing that is certain is that Fortune 500 companies, any companies really, like to see good quality infrastructure and an ability on the local level to solve problems.

10:35 AM  

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