$15 Tolls Likely for New York’s Congestion Pricing Program

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By Ketrin Agustine

$15 Tolls Likely for New York’s Congestion Pricing Program

New York wants to discourage drivers from contributing to some of the world’s heaviest traffic. After decades of delays, the plan is nearly a reality.

The first congestion pricing program in the United States is taking final shape in New York City, and most drivers appear likely to pay $15 to enter some of the busiest streets in Manhattan as soon as next spring.

Transit officials on Wednesday provided the clearest picture yet of the tolls they hope to implement to collect roughly $1 billion annually to fund improvements to the subway and bus networks.

After various failed attempts over decades, New York seems poised to join a handful of other global centers with a toll program that aims to encourage the use of public transit, reduce pollution and unclog some of the world’s most traffic-choked streets — roughly the southern third of Manhattan.

In a 19-page report, transit officials narrowed down a dizzying list of tolling possibilities that had been studied over the past year to a single set. Cars will pay a toll of up to $15 once per day, and commercial trucks will pay as much as $36. Taxis will add $1.25 per fare and ride-hail apps like Uber and Lyft will tack on an extra $2.50 per ride. The report also showed who will get the biggest discounts, credits and exemptions, which have been hotly debated questions.

“It’s a huge step forward for the region,” said Carl Weisbrod, the chairman of the Traffic Mobility Review Board, an advisory panel that wrote the report. “We’ve seen it work elsewhere around the world and now it is becoming concrete.”

London, Stockholm and Singapore have congestion programs that are considered models because they have successfully reined in traffic.

The board of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which would oversee the program, could still make tweaks to the pricing structure. When the advisory group’s report is released on Thursday, it will be opened to public input. And opponents of congestion pricing are still trying to derail it in court.

The plan had stalled for decades because of a litany of complaints from commuters and civic and business leaders: Many drivers feared having to pay new tolls on top of existing ones and other critics worried that traffic and pollution would be diverted to other parts of the city.

Various groups have sought exemptions, including taxi and Uber drivers and suburbanites, dragging out the program’s approval. The most aggressive objection has come from New Jersey lawmakers, who sued the federal government in July for signing off on the plan. Officials in that state cited concerns that the tolls would place unfair financial and environmental burdens on residents. The lawsuit remains unresolved.

But for now, nothing is stopping the M.T.A. from moving forward with the program and unveiling a pricing structure that is most likely approaching its final version.

The most recently proposed toll of $15 falls in the low-middle end of the fee scale that the authority had been considering, which ranged from $9 to $23. The advisory group’s tolling structure also has minimal exemptions, discounts and credits, which Mr. Weisbrod said was done in order to benefit “the many, not the few.”

Low-income drivers will get 50 percent off tolls during the day after the first 10 trips in a calendar month. It will also be much cheaper to drive at night: Between 9 p.m. and 5 a.m., fees will be reduced by 75 percent.

Drivers of passenger vehicles who enter the congestion pricing zone through the Queens-Midtown, Hugh L. Carey, Holland and Lincoln Tunnels will receive a $5 credit during daytime hours. Motorcycles will get a $2.50 discount, small commercial trucks will get a $12 credit and larger trucks will get $20 off.

Certain vehicles carrying people with disabilities and authorized emergency vehicles will not be charged. People whose primary residence is inside the tolling district and whose income is below $60,000 would be eligible for a state tax credit equal to the amount of their tolls.

The report’s authors had struggled to decide how much to charge commercial trucks because of concerns that some of New York City’s poorest neighborhoods could end up with dirtier air from diverted traffic. But the M.T.A. has since formally committed millions of dollars in investments for those communities, including $20 million for a program to fight asthma and $10 million to install air filtration units in schools near highways.

The hope, Mr. Weisbrod said, is that commercial drivers will opt to drive at night in order to ease daytime traffic and prevent new choke points from forming.

The group had also grappled with how much to charge taxis, because cabbies fear that higher fares will shrink taxi demand. The new report recommends charging yellow cabs less than for-hire vehicles, to assuage concerns that added costs would put them at a disadvantage against Uber and Lyft. But it does not give cabbies the full exemption they had sought.

The rates proposed this week will be subject to public hearings before a final vote, which could come as soon as early next year. The M.T.A., meanwhile, said that it had already installed 60 percent of the electronic equipment needed to toll drivers.

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