ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.
In Midtown Manhattan this holiday season, traffic is expected to move at a frustrating crawl. And some business leaders are saying enough is enough, and they're looking at some drastic measures to reduce congestion in Manhattan. Here's a report from Andrea Bernstein of member station WNYC.
(Soundbite of traffic)
ANDREA BERNSTEIN reporting:
This is what traffic sounds like in Midtown Manhattan.
(Soundbite of traffic)
BERNSTEIN: This is what it sounds like in London's Central Business District. Almost three years ago London's mayor, Ken Livingstone, introduced so-called congestion pricing. Every driver that enters the congestion zone during peak hours has to pay about $10 for the privilege via the Internet, phone or at a kiosk. There were predictions London would become a ghost town and that mass transit would choke from the demand.
Mr. RICHARD DODD (Spokesperson, London Transport): Actually, that's not what's happened, not by any means.
BERNSTEIN: Richard Dodd is a spokesman for London Transport.
Mr. DODD: It has reduced congestion. It's reduced delays by about 30 percent. And the amount of traffic within the zone has gone down by about 18 percent. And a lot of money has been generated from the congestion charge itself to be invested in public transport...
BERNSTEIN: Not only that, Dodd says, business productivity is up. And that's caught the attention of New York City's business leaders, who see congestion as their enemy. Kathryn Wylde is president of the New York City Partnership, the city's leading business group.
Ms. KATHRYN WYLDE (President, New York City Partnership): New York is competitive for business not because we have low costs--we have high costs--but because people think they can get things done faster and better in New York. That's productivity. And we want to make sure, since our prime competitor in today's world in many respects is London, that we don't miss a beat.
BERNSTEIN: Transit groups couldn't be more cheered by this sentiment. Paul White is executive director of the group Transportation Alternatives.
Mr. PAUL WHITE (Executive Director, Transportation Alternatives): For decades, I think not just New Yorkers but all city dwellers have thought about traffic as something--as this immutable force, you know, like the weather. And what London and a number of other cities are showing is that the real trick is to stop accommodating traffic.
BERNSTEIN: Despite the business leadership's enchantment with the idea, on the ground, small business is nervous. Narleen Pacheko(ph) is the assistant director of the Skechers USA Shoe Store in Times Square.
Ms. NARLEEN PACHEKO (Assistant Director, Skechers USA Shoe Store): If people are going to have to pay to come into the city, it's definitely going to take everyone away. There's a lot of people that commute by train, but there's also a lot of people will not like taking trains.
BERNSTEIN: But not every driver is saying `Forget about it.' Restaurant worker Gabriel Forte(ph) is a driver who is for congestion charging. He says he'd pay if it meant getting around Manhattan more quickly.
Mr. GABRIEL FORTE (Restaurant Worker): Yeah, they have to charge because if they charge, there's going to be less cars, and you can drive better at that time. You know, it's a good idea. It's a really good idea.
BERNSTEIN: New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg recently batted away questions about congestion pricing.
Mayor MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (Republican, New York City): The city is always trying to solve traffic problems and will continue to do that, but congestion pricing is not something that we're talking about. And...
BERNSTEIN: But business leaders say that congestion pricing could get on the mayor's agenda. And Bloomberg's transportation commissioner, Iris Weinshall, isn't ruling it out.
Ms. IRIS WEINSCHAUL (Transportation Commissioner): You know, I think that, look, it's going to be part of the discussion no matter what. What we're looking at as a transportation agency is a lot of things, and we're not just putting our eggs in one basket.
BERNSTEIN: Meanwhile, in London, congestion pricing is so popular the congestion zone is being expanded to twice the size. For NPR News, I'm Andrea Bernstein in New York.
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