New York City residents hope that the city’s new congestion pricing plan could help reduce traffic concerns in central Manhattan (Erik Drost, Wikimedia Commons).
The New York City Council recently approved final plans to build the first congestion pricing program in the United States. The program is designed to collect billions of dollars to modernize the public transit system and reduce traffic in Midtown Manhattan.
The Congestion Pricing Plan
According to the outline, constructed by a panel appointed by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), 120 electronic detection points will be placed at entrances and exits of tolling zones. These devices will detect vehicles passing through the tolling zone and issue the charge.
To then collect payments, MTA will use the E-ZPass system, which is already utilized for tolls on bridges and highways. Non-E-ZPass users will alternatively be identified by cameras and mailed the bill, but they will face higher charges. People may also buy prepaid “Reload Cards,” which act like credit or debit cards and can be reloaded with cash.
It is predicted that, on average, drivers who enter Manhattan south of 60th Street will be charged up to $23 during rush hour and $17 off-peak hours. A fee cap will also be in place for certain vehicles, such as noncommercial passenger vehicles, assuring that each vehicle will not be tolled more than once a day.
To enforce the new plan, the MTA will likely issue late fees similar to those used for existing tolls. The city is also likely to create a law enforcement arm within MTA to suspend vehicle registration, ban vehicles from the region’s bridges and tunnel toll facilities, and seize vehicles of repeated offenders.
This new system is primarily modeled after similar tolling programs in urban centers like London, Singapore, and Stockholm, all of which saw significant improvements in the form of less traffic, decreased dioxide pollution, higher average car speeds, and congestion reduction after implementing the program. As a result, there are high hopes for New York’s plans. “We are setting the standard right here in real time for how we can achieve cleaner air, safer streets, and better transit,” Gov. Kathy Hochul said during a news conference. “Other cities are paying attention. How is it going to work here? Well, we’re going to show them.”
New Jersey Lawsuit
On July 21, 2023, New Jersey Governor Philip D. Murphy, Senator Robert Menendez, and Representative Josh Gottheimer filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Transportation. The lawsuit seeks to block the congestion pricing plan, arguing that it is an insufficiently researched “rubber-stamp” plan that will adversely affect the state of New Jersey financially and environmentally. It primarily claims that the 4,000-page environmental assessment, approved by the federal government, violated laws that would require a more exhaustive environmental impact statement.
It also argues that New Jersey would generate nearly one billion dollars annually for the MTA, which handles only New York’s public transit. Eighty percent of New York City workers are New Jersey residents, and 80 percent of them take public transportation. In total, nearly 400,000 New Jersey residents commute to Manhattan every day. In the lawsuit, officials express concerns that New Jersey will bear many pricing burdens but will not receive any financial benefits. They also said that there would be more chemicals and pollutants in New Jersey, higher rates of adverse health consequences, and more traffic.
The MTA responded to New Jersey’s threatening lawsuit, saying, “Contrary to any claim that there was insufficient study, the environmental assessment actually covered every conceivable potential traffic, air quality, social and economic effect, and also reviewed and responded to more than 80,000 comments and submissions… We’re confident the federal approval – and the entire process — will stand up to scrutiny.”
The suit asks the court to put the congestive pricing on hold until more studies are conducted. It specifically requests that studies that assess the impact on traffic and air quality are completed before the continuation of the plans. This process, however, could take years to complete.
Separately, Staten Island Borough President Vito Fossella announced that he planned to follow New Jersey’s lawsuit with his own. He claims the borough will file a separate case, but the details have yet to be finalized. As justification, Fossella argued that Staten Island residents would see increased vehicle traffic as drivers attempted to avoid tolls. He also claimed that it would force Staten Island residents to commute by ferry, paying more when they lack financial resources. Both cases have yet to make their way through the courts, but New York’s innovative traffic systems could face serious legal challenges moving forward.
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