Advocacy group Move NY has suggested that the city impose a congestion charge on motorists driving on Manhattan’s most crowded streets. Similar proposals haven’t fared well in the state legislature–but the group cites a 1957 state law that says cities with a population of over a million can toll their own roadways and bridges. The Wall Street Journal reports that Move NY will offer the City Council’s transportation committee a new proposal today under which the city would impose a $2.75 charge on automobiles entering Manhattan’s central business district below 60th Street. The fee for trucks would be higher; for-hire vehicles including taxis would pay a congestion surcharge based on trips within the zone.
Department of Transportation spokesman Scott Gastel said the city would look into the legal theory, saying “This subject has been reviewed closely over the years and the legal experts in both the current and previous administrations determined the city does not have this authority.”
New York University professor Roderick Hills rendered Move NY’s legal opinion, which was signed by four specialists from NYU, Columbia and Fordham law schools and an attorney at the Brennan Center for Justice. According to Hills, the politics involved in actually implementing the charge is more complex than the law that gives the city the power to raise the tolls: “Unless you’ve got the guts and the coalition, you can’t use it.”
Opposition from motorists in the city’s suburbs and outer boroughs has traditionally been a hurdle for congestion pricing, though the City Council has endorsed it in the past. Move NY campaign director Alex Matthiessen says New York City could raise about $1 billion a year using the plan, rather than having to share revenue with the state. The money could be used for transportation infrastructure like improving roads and bridges, subsidizing MetroCards for low income riders and upgrading bus service.
Currently drivers pay tolls of up to $17 for trips back and forth via state and bi-state owned bridges and tunnels, but there is no charge for crossing city-owned bridges like the Brooklyn Bridge and the Manhattan Bridge, which worsens congestion in certain parts of the city as cars and trucks are attracted to toll-free routes.
One plan by Mayor Michael Bloomberg a decade ago proposing an $8 fee on drivers entering Manhattan below 60th Street on weekdays between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m., modeled on on a toll that is in place in London, didn’t make it past the state assembly. Last year Move NY advocated an alternative plan that suggested more modest tolls on city bridges while actually lowering tolls on outer bridges, but that, too, foundered in the state legislature due to lack of support from Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
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