Congestion Pricing Plan Enters Next Phase

By Peter Aronson

Barring a last-minute interruption by the courts, congestion pricing is set to begin in Manhattan this spring, 17 years after Mayor Bloomberg first proposed the idea.

It would be the first city in the country to implement such a program.

“Congestion pricing is a long overdue policy that will reduce traffic congestion and air pollution and raise critical revenue to upgrade the entire MTA system, including the commuter rail systems,” said Patrick McClellan, NYLCV’s Policy Director, speaking at the MTA’s public hearing on March 1. 

Lawsuits trying to derail the tolling system from going into effect have been filed by the United Federation of Teachers and New Jersey lawmakers.

We strongly believe congestion pricing needs to move forward now.

The Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority is accepting public comments through March 11 and then the MTA will decide if the plan needs to be revised before implementation. The plan’s expected start this spring would include a 30-day testing phase. During the first 60 days, only currently existing tolls will be collected.

NYLCV President Julie Tighe said starting congestion pricing is an essential component to reducing traffic and the pollution that comes with it, while raising the critical revenue for mass transportation, which in turn also reduces traffic by cutting reliance on cars.

“We can’t drive our way out of the climate crisis” Tighe said when addressing the MTA Board. “Simply put, reducing emissions from the transportation sector, which accounts for nearly one third of total greenhouse gas emissions in the state – is critical to fighting climate change.”

Tighe cited a 2023 study that ranked New York City as the worst in the country for traffic congestion. She said that politicians and experts have been studying and debating traffic congestion in the city for 45 years and that “studies overwhelmingly pointed to congestion pricing as the most effective tool.”

The plan would call for drivers entering the city’s Central Business District (CBD), between 60th Street and Battery Park, to pay a toll based on the type of vehicle. (The FDR, the Westside Highway and portions of the Hugh L. Carey, aka Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel, are exempt.)  EZ pass users would pay less. Certain vehicles are exempted. (According to the MTA: Vehicles entering the Manhattan CBD tolling zone will be detected by the tolling system equipment and charged a toll. Customers will be able to use their E-ZPass tags as they do to pay tolls on other roads, bridges and tunnels today. For those who do not have E-ZPass, a bill will be sent by mail to the registered owner of the vehicle.)  

For full details on the plan, see the MTA’s answers to frequently asked questions and the current charging plan.   

It’s important that all New Yorkers understand the reasons and justifications for this plan. The financial ripple effect is one major reason.

As ridership on the city’s subway system continues to rise post-pandemic, it is critical that the MTA reap the financial benefits of congestion pricing, so it has the necessary resources for capital improvements as well as staff, maintenance, and improved and more reliable service, which is key to encouraging people to ditch their cars for public transportation. The plan is expected to raise approximately $1 billion a year for the cash-strapped MTA, which when bonded would add $15 billion to the current MTA capital plan, allowing the agency to electrify its bus fleet, and upgrade and modernize its subway system to improve service and protect it against climate change, thereby making public transportation more attractive.

Congestion pricing will lead to an expected 20% decrease in car use and an 80% decrease in truck use. This is critical, because studies show that the areas in New York City hardest hit by the pollution caused by traffic are some of the poorest, most disadvantaged communities in the city. These studies show that communities populated by people of color have a disproportionate share of air pollution, and this causes asthma, greatly impacting children.

Not many policies are adopted where the change happens right away,” said Tighe. “With Congestion Pricing, on day one, everyone will see a difference. We strongly support the congestion pricing plan as proposed and urge the city to adopt it and implement it as quickly as possible.”

03.11.24 // AUTHOR: Devin Callahan //