NY congestion pricing: See what you may soon pay to enter Manhattan; what comes next

·6 min read

NEW YORK – Drivers entering the heart of New York City would pay an extra $9 to $23 as soon as the end of next year under a plan aimed at reducing congestion in the country’s most congested city.

Details on the Metropolitan Transportation Authority plan, known as congestion pricing, were included in an environmental assessment released Wednesday that is part of the federal regulatory process. The study looked at the traffic, pollution and tolling outcomes could be in seven different scenarios with varying credit options and exemptions; it also looked at what would happen if the agency does not go forward with congestion pricing.

The tolls aren’t expected to be put into effect until the end of next year at the earliest, and would be the first of their kind used in the U.S. Other cities including London, Stockholm and Singapore have used similar plans.

The new tolls to enter the Central Business District of Manhattan, the area below 60th Street, could range from $9 to $23 during peak hours, $7 to $17 during off-peak hours, or $5 to $12 overnight, according to models used by the report's authors to study the tolling program. Drivers would be charged electronically.

According to the environmental assessment, travel speeds in Manhattan’s central business district decreased 22%, to an average of about 7 mph, between 2010 and 2019, and drivers experience about 102 hours of lost travel time per year as a result. Local bus speeds have decreased 28%.

While the report does not favor any scenario, the authors predict all congestion pricing scenarios would lead to reductions in traffic and increased transit ridership to get to midtown Manhattan — which are the ultimate goals of the program, along with raising $1 billion annually for the MTA's capital fund to improve subways and buses.

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What are the possible rates?

While the rate structure – which likely will include a maze of discounts and exemptions − will be finalized by a six-person board, Wednesday’s report offered several scenarios describing how much drivers could pay.

Tolls would be higher during peak periods in general, but the scenarios listed Wednesday offered shifting rates depending on a few factors – primarily, which discounts are given to drivers already paying tolls at bridges and tunnels entering Manhattan – which range from $11.75 to $16 for cars – and whether there is a cap on the number of times a car or truck can be tolled in one day.

For example, tolls would peak at $23 under a scenario in which cars, trucks, taxis and for-hire vehicles would be capped at one toll per day and drivers already paying tolls at seven bridges and tunnels into Manhattan would receive credits; conversely, tolls would top out at $9 in a scenario in which taxis, for-hire vehicles and trucks would have no cap on how often they could be charged and drivers at the seven crossings wouldn’t receive credits.

Only one of the seven scenarios includes a credit for drivers crossing the George Washington Bridge from New Jersey in upper Manhattan, and three of the seven credit drivers crossing into Manhattan by the Lincoln and Holland tunnels.

"When you have crossing credits apply, what the crossing credits do is they help balance in terms of parity," a senior MTA official said. "It also changes the balance of where the traffic is coming from and who is more or less affected in terms of traffic reductions.

Manhattan residents who live in the tolling area and make less than $60,000 per year would be eligible for a tax credit to cover the cost of tolls they pay, under the current proposal.

Wednesday’s report acknowledged that for-hire vehicle drivers – whose numbers tripled in Manhattan between 2010 to 2019, to 120,000 – will be adversely affected even if customers are responsible for paying the toll, as is expected. If the final plan calls for them to be charged more than once per day, the MTA would waive fees for drivers who want to work for the MTA or its affiliated vendors.

What are officials saying?

Officials in Rockland County criticized the plan Wednesday for burdening commuters they said often have to drive into Manhattan because public transit options are scarce.

“Despite everything we contribute we are never on the receiving end of these capital program investments and that needs to change now,” County Executive Ed Day said in a statement.

Several New Jersey lawmakers have sharply criticized the tolling plan as an unfair tax on New Jerseyans who commute to New York, since none of the money would go toward mass transit in New Jersey.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy made it clear last week that he would not support a congestion pricing tolling program that does not give credit to New Jersey drivers at all three Hudson River crossings.

U.S. Rep. Josh Gottheimer has been one of the most vocal opponents of congestion pricing, saying it would put an unfair additional financial burden on New Jersey residents. On Tuesday, he pitched — along with state Sen. Joe Lagana, D-Paramus, Assemblywoman Lisa Swain, D-Fair Lawn and Assemblyman Chris Tully, D-Bergenfield — a newly proposed incentive package to entice more businesses to open offices in New Jersey so residents won't have to commute to New York City.

"Just read MTA spelled backwards and it tells you exactly what you need to know," Gottheimer said. "It tells you exactly what you need to know and how New York looks at New Jersey: as their personal ATM."

Govs. Murphy and Kathy Hochul of New York have spent months assuring residents the two states are getting along, but this could potentially disrupt that harmony. It also comes at a time when the two states are trying to get agreements in place about how they will finance and split the costs associated with the first phase of the Gateway program, a slate of $14.6 billion in projects to replace the Portal North Bridge, build new train tunnels into New York Penn Station and repair the old ones.

What comes next?

The public can weigh in on the MTA's congestion pricing report by submitting comments and participating in one of the six virtual public hearings scheduled to take place in a few weeks. The dates and times of those hearings are:

  • Aug. 25, 5 to 8 p.m.

  • Aug. 27, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

  • Aug. 28, 1 to 4 p.m.

  • Aug. 29, 1 to 4 p.m.

  • Aug. 30, 5 to 8 p.m.

  • Aug. 31, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

The Federal Highway Administration is expected to issue a decision on the environmental review in January 2023. If the agency determines there are no significant impacts expected, the Toll Mobility Review Board will have 310 days to issue a report with recommendations and details about how the tolling structure should work, what crossings should receive credits and how exemptions would work. In that time frame, the infrastructure needed to process the tolls will also need to be put in place.

Staff reporter Colleen Wilson and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

This article originally appeared on Rockland/Westchester Journal News: NYC congestion pricing possibilities released in study