Congestion Pricing is Coming to NYC

As part of the agreement on the state budget, New York State legislators agreed to impose a first in the nation congestion toll on vehicles entering Manhattan below 60th street. The provision would amend the New York Vehicle & Traffic Law to create Article 44-C. The legislation includes a section on legislative findings, which notes that the condition of the tracks, switches, signals, and other infrastructure of the NYC subway system “pose an imminent threat and have vast and deleterious impact on the health, safety, and livelihood of commuters, tourists, resident New Yorkers, as well as business and commerce. . . .” The legislature also noted that NYC has the second worst congestion among cities in the U.S. and third worst among cities in the world.

The “congestion tolling program”, as it is designated in the short title, currently comprises 11 1/2 pages of text in the state budget (P. 295-306).  Section 1704 covers the establishment of the congestion tolling program. Under subsection 1, the MTA is responsible for establishing the program. Under subsection 2, the congestion tolling zone will include any roadways, bridges, tunnels, approaches or ramps located within or entering into the area of Manhattan south of and including 60th Street “to the extent practicable but shall not include the FDR Drive.” Subsection 3 outlines the important role the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority (TBTA) plays in the congestion tolling program. The TBTA must plan, design, and construct the infrastructure and system for tolling and may occupy sidewalks, roads, approaches, etc. in order to do so. The TBTA will also have to establish a customer service center. The TBTA will also be responsible for maintaining the infrastructure and tolling system once installed. The TBTA will have the power to set the tolls, subject to agreements with bondholders and at a level that would provide $15 billion for capital projects.

There are exceptions to tolling already in place. For-hire vehicles that are already subject to a surcharge under Article 29-C of the tax law for a for-hire transportation trip will not be subject to congestion tolling if it enters or remains in the congestion toll zone as part of that trip.  Owners of emergency vehicles defined under § 101 of the chapter will not be required to pay congestion tolling. Vehicles that enter the congestion tolling zone using the Queens-Midtown Tunnel, Hugh Carey Tunnel, Holland Tunnel, Lincoln Tunnel, or Henry Hudson Bridge will be credited the cost of the toll for those crossings towards the congestion toll charged. Some reports have also floated the idea of exemptions from payment for those with handicap placards as well as for repeat medical appointments within the congestion zone.

The operation date for beginning congestion tolling has been defined as no earlier than December 31, 2020. One year after the operation date and every two years thereafter, the TBTA will need to issue a report on the effect of the congestion tolling program on congestion in NYC in the congestion zone and on mass transit, the volume and type of vehicles entering the congestion zone, average bus speeds within the congestion zone, and all receipts and expenditures on the program.

The mechanics of toll collection as well as the actual charges and exact location of the congestion zone have not been determined as of yet. Some reports believe that the TBTA may expand the use of E-ZPass technology to include collection of congestion tolls. The cashless E-ZPass is collected through tag readers that also snap a picture of license plates and send bills to those cars without an E-ZPass tag. However, this would require placing the readers in many different locations throughout the city. Estimates are that the congestion tolls will be over $10, but an exact amount has not been determined.

The question of how to use the funds collected through congestion pricing is also in debate. Original plans suggested that all money should be go to improvements of the NYC subway system. However, since commuters will be footing the congestion pricing bill, they would like to see some of the money go to Metro North and the Long Island Railroad to improve service so that more people can reliably take mass transit instead of driving. New Jersey has suggested that some money should also go to New Jersey Transit and Path trains as well. Finally, drivers would like to see some of the money set aside for road infrastructure projects including pothole repair and repair of bridges.

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