President Joe Biden’s administration plans to allow New York City to go ahead with a groundbreaking plan to charge vehicles entering lower Manhattan after a public review period ends on Monday.
This fee is formally known as the Central Business District Tolling Program, but is commonly referred to as “congestion pricing.”
In practice, it works like any other toll station, but charges a special fee for driving in heavy traffic areas below 60th Street in Manhattan, making it the first program of its kind in the United States.
The proposals, which range from charging $9 to $23 for vehicles at peak times, are set to go into effect next spring.
After years of delays, the plan cleared a milestone last month when the Federal Highway Administration approved the release of an environmental assessment. The public has until Monday to scrutinize the report, and the federal government is widely expected to approve it soon after.
From there, the New York City Transportation Authority (MTA) can finalize toll rates, as well as discounts and waivers for certain drivers.
New York City is still emerging from the devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Congestion pricing proponents say it’s an important part of the city’s recovery and a way to reimagine it for the future.
“This program is critical to the long-term success of New York City,” New York Governor Kathy Hochul said last month.
The plan also marks the culmination of more than half a century of work to introduce congestion pricing in New York City. Despite the support of several New York City mayors and governors, car and truck owners in suburban and suburban areas contributed to the proposal’s rejection.
In 2007, Mayor Michael Bloomberg called traffic congestion the “elephant in the room” when proposing a toll system, but state legislators killed it. A decade later, longtime opponent of congestion pricing, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said congestion pricing was a “timely idea” after dozens were injured in subway delays and derailments. declared a state of emergency. Two years later, the state approved his MTA to design a congestion pricing program.
Ultimately, it was the need to improve New York City’s public transportation system that became the cry of congestion pricing.
700,000 cars, taxis and trucks enter Lower Manhattan every day. Manhattan is one of the busiest neighborhoods in the world and has some of the worst congestion in the United States.
The average speed of cars in the congestion price zone is only 11.1 mph, and that speed is trending downward. Public bus speeds have also fallen 28% since 2010, he said. By one estimate, a New Yorker loses an average of 117 hours a year sitting in traffic, costing him nearly $2,000 in lost productivity and other costs.
This fee is designed to reduce the number of vehicles entering the congestion zone by at least 10% each day and reduce the distance traveled by vehicles traveling within the zone by 5%.
Congestion also has physical and social costs. Accidents, carbon emissions and pollution increase as burping and honking cars take up space that can be optimized for pedestrians and outdoor dining.
Proponents also say it will improve public transportation, a vital part of life in New York. Approximately 75% of trips downtown are by public transit.
However, public transport ridership is down 35% to 45% compared to pre-pandemic levels. The MTA says congestion charges will generate a significant revenue stream to fund $15 billion in future investments to modernize the city’s 100-year-old transit system.
Yuki Iwamura/Bloomberg/Getty Images
Congestion pricing is aimed at improving New York City’s subways and buses, which have struggled to recover since the pandemic.
Improvements such as new subway cars and electrical signals are intended to attract new passengers and improve speed and accessibility, especially for low-income and ethnic minority residents who are least likely to own a car. Critically important, plan proponents say.
New York City “relies on public transportation,” said Kate Slevin, vice president of the Regional Planning Association, a city planning and policy group. “We use the proceeds for the upgrades and investments necessary to ensure reliable and superior transport services.”
Improving public transportation is also key to New York City’s economic recovery post-pandemic. If commuting is too erratic, people are less likely to visit the office or shop at stores near work. Proponents of congestion pricing hope the program will create more space for amenities such as wider sidewalks, bike lanes, squares, benches, trees and public toilets.
“100 years ago we decided the car was the way to go, so we narrowed the sidewalks and built the highways,” says Sam Schwartz, former New York City Transportation Commissioner and founder of the consulting firm of the same name. said. “But the future of New York City should be that the walker is king and queen. All should follow the walker.”
Other cities in the US have yet to introduce congestion charges, but Stockholm, London and Singapore have for years.
Benefits such as less carbon pollution, higher average speeds and less congestion have been reported in these cities.
Just one year after London added the toll in 2003, traffic congestion decreased by 30% and average speed increased by the same percentage. In Stockholm, a study found that doctor visits for acute asthma among children had decreased by about 50% compared to before the program started in 2007.
But some groups are vehemently opposed to congestion charges in New York City. Taxis and rideshare drivers, mostly low-income and migrant workers, fear that drivers who are already struggling to make ends meet will be hit. The MTA said congestion pricing could reduce taxi demand in the area by up to 17%.
Commuters and legislators in suburban New York City boroughs and New Jersey say the program will adversely affect drivers who have no other effective means of getting to downtown Manhattan other than by car, and disproportionately affect low-income drivers. claims to be deaf. (However, only an estimated 16,100 low-income people drive to work in Lower Manhattan in an area of 28 million people, according to the MTA.)
Other critics say it could divert more traffic and pollution from Manhattan’s diesel trucks to low-income neighborhoods such as the Bronx, which have the highest rates of asthma hospitalizations in the city.
However, the MTA and other agencies have plans to mitigate many of these negative effects.
Taxis and rental cars are charged only once per day. A driver who earns less than his $50,000 a year, or who is enrolled in certain government aid programs, gets his 25% discount after his first 10 rides each month. Trucks and other vehicles are at his 50% discount at night.
In addition, the MTA has $10 million to install air filtration units in schools near highways, $20 million to programs to combat asthma, and $20 million to improve air quality and the environment in areas where more traffic can be diverted. promised other investments.
The stakes are high for New York City’s program, and leaders in other cities are watching the results closely.
If successful, congestion pricing could serve as a model for other U.S. cities seeking to recover from the pandemic and facing similar challenges such as climate change and aging public infrastructure.
The Los Angeles Times editorial board said last month, “We are pleased that New York City’s plans are moving forward.” “Los Angeles should be seen, learned, and moved on.”