After facing years of delays New York City seems set to become the first American metropolis to enact a congestion charge on drivers passing through its crowded Midtown and Downtown streets.
The proposal, issued by the “Fix NYC” task force would hit drivers of passenger vehicles with a congestion charge of $11.52, if enacted, while trucks would pay $25.34. Even taxis and ride-share vehicles would have to pay between $2 and $4 a ride. If approved by state officials, New York would join cities like London, Milan, Stockholm and Singapore that have been using congestion charges to try to reduce central city gridlock.
The measure is backed by Governor Andrew Cuomo and some lawmakers who opposed similar proposals in the past now appear to be ready to sign on. “Though I have been a critic of congestion pricing in the past and still remain skeptical, the plan released today … offers a wide variety of innovative suggestions,” said Democratic Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr.
Traffic in Manhattan has generally been rated some of the worst in the world, with average speeds in Midtown estimated at just 4.7 miles per hour. One study estimated that it now takes longer to travel between the Hudson and East rivers – the borough’s eastern and western borders – than it did in the late 1800s by horse-drawn carriage.
(London waging war on diesels in the city. Click Here for the story.)
Congestion charges meant to keep drivers, especially “bridge-and-tunnel” commuters from regional suburbs, have been raised for a number of years. But a push by former Mayor Michael Bloomberg ran into sometimes fierce opposition from state and local legislators like the Bronx’s Diaz. With traffic flow continuing to deteriorate, however, Gov. Cuomo threw his weight behind the idea, and commissioned the Fix NYC study.
The amount of the congestion charges will likely be debated by state lawmakers and New York City officials once they begin formal debate on the proposal. Those who use access routes like the Lincoln and Holland tunnels could wind up getting some form of credit for the $15 tolls they now pay. Meanwhile, the commission said that fees would be waived for those who enter the city via the Brooklyn or Queensboro bridges and then take the FDR Drive highway along the East River to exit the congestion zone.
Among those questioning the plan is New York’s current Mayor Bill de Blasio. The Democrat opposed the idea when his predecessor was in office and has suggested he might now offer his support if the money raised by the plan were to go towards the city’s mass transit system.
(Click Here for details on how traffic jams will cost NYC more than $90B by 2026.)
Indeed, the commission indicated congestion fees would only go into effect once the city’s struggling mass transit system were upgraded. With some subway lines offering limited service and others crowded near to the breaking point, observers declared that the city faced a “Summer of Hell” last year. While there have since been improvements, skeptics warn that without improving public alternatives the congestion charges would simply amount to another form of taxing the public.
The city’s transit woes aren’t entirely of its making, however. New Jersey’s former Gov. Chris Christie pulled out of a plan to build an additional rail tunnel connecting his state and Manhattan’s Penn Station. Though the project was eventually revived, the Trump Administration has since held up federal funding.
There’s no guarantee the congestion charge plan will be approved by the state. Among the critics is John Flanagan, the Republican Senate Leader. The AAA has also blasted the Fix NYC plan as it contains no mention of funding for roads, bridges or tunnels. And the Independent Drivers Guild, which represents both taxi and ride-hailing drivers, warned that if fees aren’t passed onto passengers the impact would be “devastating.” But Uber said it favored the measure if the revenues raised were put into mass transit.
If the congestion fees are finally approved – after nearly four decades of debate – the city would join other major urban centers charging motorists to enter their most traffic-snarled districts. That includes London, the first city to enact such a fee, Milan, Singapore and Stockholm.
(To see more about the costs of traffic congestion, Click Here.)
Meanwhile, more than a dozen Chinese cities, including Beijing and Shanghai, have placed limits on the number of new vehicles that can be registered each month, a move aimed at both curbing both traffic and air pollution. But those restrictions are waived for those who buy qualifying “New Energy Vehicles,” that include battery-electric and some plug-in hybrid models.