New York Ramps Up Planning for Congestion Pricing

By Peter Aronson

As final plans for congestion pricing begin to take shape, the New York League of Conservation Voters (NYLCV) is urging the Transit Mobility Review Board to implement final rules that will provide the biggest possible boost to our environment.

“Transportation is the leading source of greenhouse gas emissions in New York State and the second leading source in New York City,” said Alia Soomro, NYLCV’s deputy director for New York City policy, in testimony before the City Council on August 17. “Congestion in New York City’s central business district contributes to delays for emergency vehicles, buses, delivery vehicles, and drivers. Compounding this, decades of disinvestment in our public transit system has led to an unreliable and inaccessible system.” 

Congestion pricing has been on the drawing board for more than a decade. It was first proposed in 2007 by Mayor Bloomberg and was finally approved as part of the state budget in 2019. On June 29, the federal government released a “Finding of No Significant Impact” in their review of the MTA’s plan, clearing a major hurdle and setting the gears in motion for the implementation of this first-in-the-nation policy. 

Now, the matter is before the six-member Traffic Mobility Review Board (TMRB), which met at the end of July to begin studying recommendations on the final toll pricing structure and the possibility of additional exemptions. The TMRB will make its recommendations to the state’s Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority (TB&TA), which will adopt the final rules. 

Once finalized, congestion pricing could start in the city as soon as spring 2024. The rules would apply to vehicles entering NYC’s business district, between 60th Street and Battery Park. 

NYLCV, along with two dozen other groups, is part of the Congestion Pricing Now Coalition (CPNC) that is urging the TMRB and TB&TA to accept the following recommendations:

  1. that passengers, not drivers, in for-hire vehicles, like Uber and Lyft, be responsible for paying the congestion pricing toll as part of a surcharge;
  2. that the program equalize tolls to reduce “toll shopping” to eliminate the disproportionate burden on poorer, disadvantaged communities; 
  3. that trucks and large vehicles should be charged more than passenger vehicles, based on a per-axle rate; and
  4. that public and private commuter buses be exempt, because a major intent of congestion pricing is to encourage use of public transportation.

The current plan only has three exemptions: for emergency vehicles, qualified vehicles transporting individuals with disabilities, and residents of the zone who earn $60,000 or less.

While New York City would be the first city in the United States to have congestion pricing, it has been implemented–and proven effective–around the world. 

Singapore (since 1975), London (since 2003), and Stockholm (since 2007) have had successful congestion pricing plans, lowering pollution levels, improving bus speeds, reducing car traffic and crashes and cutting asthma-related doctor’s visits.

New York’s current plan is expected to raise $1 billion a year for the MTA, allowing the agency to buy more buses and subway cars and improve service.

The New York Times recently reported that congestion pricing could help NYC’s subways by providing the necessary capital funding to pay for long-overdue upgrades and changes:

  1. Renovations to the subways aged tracks, trains and signal systems;
  2. Adding elevators and ramps to make more stations accessible;
  3. Installing platform barriers for safety; and 
  4. Installing fare gates and using surveillance software to reduce fare evasion, which cost the MTA $285 million in 2022.

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy recently filed a lawsuit seeking to delay the initiative. On X, formerly Twitter, NYLCV said this of NJ’s lawsuit: “When it comes to fighting climate change, investing in mass transit and improving the daily commute for hundreds of thousands of people – many of them New Jersey residents – the contrast on the two sides of the Hudson could not be more stark. Governor Murphy is going to court when New York City goes to work.”

In her testimony before the City Council, Soomro called for the full, swift, and effective implementation of congestion pricing through a coordinated effort by city and state leaders and agencies over the coming months. 

“Congestion pricing will help New York meet its statutory obligations to cut economy-wide greenhouse gas emissions by at least 85 percent by 2050,” she said. “We need this plan implemented as soon as possible.”

08.21.23 // AUTHOR: Devin Callahan //