New York City Congestion Pricing and Tolls: What You Need to Know and What’s Next
New York City Congestion Pricing and Tolls: What You Need to Know and What’s Next

New York completed a crucial final step Wednesday in a decades-long effort to become the first American city to introduce a comprehensive congestion pricing program that aims to push drivers out of their cars and onto mass transit by imposing new fees for drive into Midtown and Lower Manhattan.

The program could begin as early as mid-June after the board of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the state agency that will install and operate the program, voted 11 to 1 to approve the final tolls, which will charge most cars $15 a day for entry at 60th Street and below in Manhattan. The program is expected to reduce traffic and raise $1 billion a year to improve public transportation.

It was a historic moment for New York’s transportation leaders and advocates after decades of failed attempts to improve congestion pricing, even as other gridlocked cities around the world, including London, Stockholm and Singapore, have proven that similar programs can reduce traffic and pollution.

While other American cities have introduced similar concepts by creating toll roads or closing streets to traffic, New York’s plan is unmatched in ambition and scale.

Congestion pricing is expected to reduce the number of vehicles entering Lower Manhattan by about 17 percent, according to a November study by an advisory committee reporting to the MTA. The report also said total miles traveled in 28 counties in the region would be reduced.

“It was the right thing to do,” Jano Lieber, the authority’s chairman and chief executive, said after the vote. “New York has more traffic than any other place in the United States, and now we’re doing something about it.”

Congestion pricing has long been difficult for New York City, where many people commute by car from outer Manhattan and the suburbs, in part because some lack access to public transportation.

New York state lawmakers finally approved congestion pricing in 2019 after Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo helped push it through. A series of recent breakdowns in the city’s subway system have highlighted the need for billions of dollars to update the aging infrastructure.

It took another five years to reach the starting line. Before the tolling program can begin, it must be reviewed by the Federal Highway Administration, which is expected to approve it.

Congestion pricing also faces legal challenges from six lawsuits filed by elected officials and residents from across the New York region. Opponents have increasingly mobilized against the program in recent months, citing the cost of tolls and the potential environmental effects of shifting traffic and pollution to other areas as drivers avoid the tolls.

A court hearing is scheduled for April 3 and 4 in a case filed by the state of New Jersey, which is considered the most serious legal challenge. The mayor of Fort Lee, New Jersey, Mark J. Sokolich, has filed a related lawsuit.

Four other lawsuits have been filed in New York: by Rockland County Executive Ed Day; by Vito Fossella, president of the Staten Island Borough and United Federation of Teachers; and from two separate groups of townspeople.

Amid the litigation, MTA officials have halted some capital construction projects that were supposed to be paid for by the program, and they said at a commission meeting Monday that crucial work to upgrade subway signals on the A and C lines has been delayed .

Almost all toll readers are installed and will automatically charge drivers for entering the designated congestion zone at or below 60th Street. There is no charge to leave the zone or drive into it. Traffic on Franklin D. Roosevelt Drive and the West Side Highway will not be tolled.

Under the final charging structure, which is based on recommendations from the advisory panel, most passenger vehicles will be charged $15 per day from 5am to 9pm on weekdays and from 9am to 9pm on weekends . The fee will be $24 for small trucks and charter buses and rise to $36 for large trucks and tour buses. It will be $7.50 for motorcycles.

Those tolls will be reduced by 75 percent overnight, bringing the price per passenger car down to $3.75.

Fares will increase by $1.25 for taxis and black cars and by $2.50 for Uber and Lyft. Passengers will be responsible for paying the new charges and they will be added to any journey that starts, ends or takes place in the congestion zone. There will be no night discounts. (The new charges come on top of an existing congestion charge that was imposed on rental vehicles in 2019.)

Tolls will be collected primarily through the E-ZPass system. Electronic signaling devices are placed at the entrances and exits of the tolled area. Drivers who don’t use E-ZPass will pay significantly higher tolls — for example, $22.50 instead of $15 during peak hours for passenger vehicles.

Emergency vehicles such as fire trucks, ambulances and police cars, as well as vehicles transporting people with disabilities, were exempt from the new tolls under the state’s congestion charging law.

As for rebates, low-income drivers who make less than $50,000 a year can apply to receive half of the daily fee after their first 10 trips in a calendar month. In addition, low-income congestion zone residents who make less than $60,000 a year can apply for a state tax credit.

All drivers entering the zone directly from four toll tunnels — Lincoln, Holland, Hugh L. Carey and Queens-Midtown — will receive a “passage credit” that will be applied to the daily toll. The credit will be $5 round trip for passenger vehicles, $12 for small trucks and intercity and charter buses, $20 for large trucks and tour buses and $2.50 for motorcycles. No credits will be offered overnight.

Grace Ashford contributed reporting.

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