Unpause the Pause: Implement Congestion Pricing Now

By Peter Aronson

Drivers heading into Manhattan’s Central Business District should be being tolled today, but instead we are in the middle of an indefinite pause which is already wreaking havoc with the MTA’s capital plan.

Congestion pricing, which was scheduled to start June 30, would require vehicles entering Manhattan’s central business district (CBD), between 60th street to the southern tip of Manhattan, to pay varying tolls based on the vehicle type and the day and time of entrance. The tolls were expected to raise $1 billion a year, which when bonded would add $15 billion to the MTA’s current mass transit capital budget. This would help the MTA modernize, improve and add services to its overall public transportation system, creating easier and more sustainable public access to the CBD by enhancing bus and subway service and adding more and safer bike lanes.

As a result of the pause, last week we saw the MTA Board compelled to initiate a retreat on system improvements and electric bus purchases, while city residents can expect the same poor air quality and the same gridlocked streets.

“We cannot drive our way out of the climate crisis – and we shouldn’t let a small number of drivers who refuse to take mass transit in the most transit-rich region of the country dictate transportation policy,” said NYLCV’s President and CEO Julie Tighe. “Congestion pricing is the signal that people need to get out of their cars and onto our region’s trains, subways and buses.” 

Judge Lewis Liman’s recent decision to dismiss litigation is another vindication for congestion pricing. In addition, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) recently confirmed what the MTA’s exhaustive yearslong study concluded: that congestion pricing will improve air quality by reducing traffic and the resultant pollution it causes. The FHWA report further supports and also underlines the conclusions of the original environmental assessments, by saying that congestion pricing will bring economic benefits by reducing travel time, improving travel reliability and reducing vehicle operating costs.

In a letter sent on June 17 to the governor, the NYLCV joined 29 other environmental and advocacy groups in urging the governor to immediately change course.

Without congestion pricing, much-needed funding for the MTA’s capital program will be jeopardized, including its zero-emission bus program, the letter states.

“The MTA’s commitment to replacing its diesel and compressed natural gas bus fleet with a 100 % zero-emissions bus fleet by 2040 represents a significant step toward combating climate change,” the letter states.

Zero-emission buses are expected to eliminate 500,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions annually, “thus improving public health, particularly in the historically underserved communities that suffer disproportionately from air pollution,” the letter continued.

The MTA desperately needs the $15 billion for capital and service improvements that congestion pricing is expected to raise. Studies in London, Singapore and Stockholm of their congestion pricing programs have all shown positive environmental outcomes: traffic has been reduced by 20 % to 45 % and in London, carbon emissions have decreased by 15 percent.     

The governor, the MTA, the MTA Board, and the people of New York all want to see these benefits. The only question is when. With billions of dollars, 100,000 jobs, and the city’s air quality on the line, the answer should be now.

Now, with the first summer heat wave and multiple air-quality alerts already behind us, we urge Gov. Hochul to unpause the pause and implement this climate-friendly policy as soon as possible. 

07.01.24 // AUTHOR: admin //