NEW YORK – Joe Korbl totes up the cost of driving in New York.
Gas for his plumbing van is $20 a day. Insurance is $5,000 a year. And parking tickets – a routine expense for businesses like his – tack on $250 a month.
Add one more potential levy: $8 a day just for the right to drive into Manhattan.
Gotham’s midday gridlock is worsening, and Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s plan to reduce it calls for charging drivers a daily fee in the hope of nudging some of them out of their cars.
If approved by the state legislature, all cars driving into Manhattan south of 86th Street between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. would pay $8. Truckers would cough up $21.
Cars originating in Manhattan would shell out $4 and trucks would pay $5.50.
Supporters of the traffic fee – including New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer – want to see a special session of the state legislature approve it by July 16 so the city will be eligible for a pool of federal transportation funds. Once adopted, the fee would take 18 months to implement, according to the mayor’s office.
As the idea has started to sink in among the people who would have to pay it, opinion has sometimes split along class lines.
Some embrace it as an environmentally astute way to make the dreaded crosstown commute bearable. Others scoff that Bloomberg, a billionaire who made his fortune on Wall Street, doesn’t realize the bite $8 that a day takes.
“It’s another scheme for them to milk the middle class,” said Korbl, who lives in Queens. “Nobody I know likes the idea.”
The plan would hit small businesses that have no choice but drive into the city, said David Gat, a locksmith from Queens.
“It’s for rich people like Bloomberg,” Gat said as he hurried to a job. “Bloomberg lives in a bubble.”
Backers counter that “congestion pricing” will ultimately save money because companies won’t have to pay workers to sit in traffic. One study found that gridlock saps about $13 billion a year from the New York economy, said Paul Steely White, executive director of Transportation Alternatives, a nonprofit advocacy group that has dubbed New York’s gridlock as “Carmageddon.”
And the hit won’t be as bad as some people fear, proponents say, because the $8 charge would be reduced by whatever tolls outsiders pay to enter Manhattan.
Bloomberg’s proposal is modeled on a plan enacted in London in 2003 that officials there credit with slashing traffic by 20 percent and carbon-dioxide emissions by 15 percent.
Some New Yorkers say they’d pay almost anything to escape cramped intersections and spewing tailpipes.
DeJuan Stroud, an event decorator from TriBeCa, was so frustrated that in June he dumped his car in favor of a Vespa scooter.
“You’re always late, and you’re always apologizing,” he said. “It’s just not the way you want to start a meeting with clients.”
But not everyone is so sure that the plan will have its intended effect.
Marc Betesh, a New Jersey real-estate consultant, thinks that a lot of people would do exactly what he plans to do – grudgingly fork over $8 and look for other ways to recoup it rather than part with his car.