NYC becomes the first city in the country to adopt a congestion pricing program

April 1, 2019

Via Flickr

Drivers traveling in the busiest parts of Manhattan will be charged an extra fee under a new initiative approved by state lawmakers Sunday. The first of its kind in the country, the “Central Business District Tolling” program installs electronic tolling devices on the perimeter of a zone that covers all neighborhoods south of 60th Street in the borough, with the exception of the West Side Highway and FDR Drive. While details for the program remain unclear, including how much it will cost drivers, the congestion fees will not be implemented until 2021.

The new policy is part of the $175 billion fiscal year 2020 budget deal reached between the New York State Legislature and Gov. Andrew Cuomo over the weekend. According to the agreement, revenue from the tolls will help fund the cash-strapped Metropolitan Transportation Authority, as well as reduce traffic in the city’s busiest areas.

Eighty percent of the funds will be directed to the subway and bus network, with 10 percent each going to the Long Island Rail Road and the Metro-North Railroad, the New York Times reported. Vehicles will only be charged once per day and tolls will be variable. To reach the $1 billion annually raised from the program, a task force convened by Cuomo last year said fees could cost cars nearly $12 one way and trucks more than $25.

Emergency vehicles and drivers with disabilities will be exempt from the fees. Credits will also be offered for those who live within the tolled district and for those who earn less than $60,000 per year.

A taxi surcharge went into effect in February, with a fee of $2.50 for yellow cabs and $2.75 for other for-hire vehicles. This raised the minimum taxi care to $5.80, and the minimum cost for services like Uber, to $10.75. A coalition of drivers in January sued to stop the fees, but a judge gave it the green light a month later.

The congestion pricing plan will be operated and maintained by the MTA’s Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority (TBTA). The agency will also create a six-member Traffic Mobility Review Board to come up with the “tolls, exemptions, and credits” for the program.

Some say the review board, which will have commissioners appointed by the MTA, gives suburban representatives a louder voice on setting the congestion fees and variables than city representatives.

Nicole Gelinas, a fellow at the Manhattan Institute, tweeted on Sunday: “A new panel that the MTA will appoint, and that includes only one city rep OKed by the MTA, is now in charge of city traffic. By statute, suburban reps outnumber city reps 2:1. This is a revenue grab from the city, not congestion-management plan.”

The budget also involves a reorganization of the MTA, which Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio called for in a joint plan released in February. The overhaul must be developed by the agency by June. The reforms to the MTA also force the agency to undergo an independent forensic audit, as well as requires major construction projects to be reviewed by outside experts.


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