Motorists would have to shell out $11.52 to drive into the busiest parts of Manhattan under a new proposal commissioned by Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo to ease traffic congestion and raise vital funds for mass transit.
Trucks would pay even more – $25.34 – while taxi cabs, Uber rides and for-hire vehicles would be charged between $2 and $5 per ride. The pricing zone would cover Manhattan south of 60th Street.
The idea, called “congestion pricing,” involves using electronic tolling to charge vehicles for entering certain parts of town during especially busy times. The proposal is expected to face stiff opposition in the Legislature, which must approve portions of the plan. Similar plans have failed before after concerns were raised about the impact on commuters.
The exact amounts of the surcharges could change as state lawmakers, Cuomo and city leaders debate the details. Officials could also vary the surcharges based on the time of day, with the highest fees during rush hour.
“There are going to be some naysayers,” said former Bronx Borough President Freddy Ferrer, a Metropolitan Transportation Authority board member who served on a task force created by Cuomo to study the idea. The panel released its proposal Friday. “It’s clear that the status quo is no longer acceptable.”
London and Singapore already have similar congestion surcharges in place. Supporters of the idea say it will address gridlock and raise money for mass transit. Skeptics, including Democratic Mayor Bill de Blasio, worry that tolls could be a burden, especially to middle class and low-income commuters. Similar concerns doomed a congestion pricing plan from former Mayor Michael Bloomberg a decade ago.
Yasmin Sohrawardy, who drives from Queens into Manhattan twice a week for her job as a financial software developer, opposes any proposal to charge drivers.
“The people in the outer boroughs, who don’t have access to public transportation the way people do in Manhattan, can’t possibly afford this,” said Sohrawardy, 47. “It’s going to be extraordinarily expensive. If you live in Manhattan, you can take subways, buses or taxis.”
Cuomo stopped short of fully endorsing the proposal’s details but said it’s clear something must be done to address traffic and raise money for a subway system beset by breakdowns and delays. He noted that as a Queens native, he’s sensitive to the concerns of commuters.
“I have outer borough blood in my veins, and it is my priority that we keep costs down for hard working New Yorkers, and encourage use of mass transit,” he said.
Only 4 per cent of those who live in Queens, the Bronx, Brooklyn or Staten Island commute to Manhattan in a vehicle, according to figures released by the task force. Of those commuters, fewer than 5,000 are considered poor.
The fees on taxis and for-hire vehicles could take effect within a year, followed by trucks and then cars in 2020, according to the report. The task force said that none of the fees should be charged until mass transit repairs are made.
The task force calculated the amount of the fees based on existing bridge tolls. They suggested that tax credits could be created for low-income motorists to reduce the cost of the surcharges on those who can least afford them.
Cuomo created the task force last year after he declared a state of emergency in the subways. Details from a draft of the proposal were first reported Thursday night by The New York Times.
De Blasio said he wants a guarantee that revenue from the surcharge will go toward public transportation. He said the proposal is a “step in the right direction” compared to earlier versions, though he continues to push for a millionaires’ tax to raise revenue for transit.
“We need to know a lot more,” he said on WNYC radio Friday. “What we still don’t see is money … being put in a lock box that would only fund transit in New York City.”
State lawmakers are likely to ask their own questions. Some say they’d like to see exemptions for drivers heading to medical appointments or driving children to and from school.
Republican Senate Leader John Flanagan of Long Island told reporters earlier this month that while he’s open to discussing congestion pricing he wasn’t ready to support the idea.
“No, not what I’ve listened to,” he said. A spokesman said Friday that Flanagan hadn’t yet reviewed the specifics of the new proposal.
Congestion pricing has long been a goal of many environmental groups and transit advocates, and several cheered the proposal Friday.
Nick Sifuentes, executive director of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, noted that travellers using the subway, buses, ferries and trains already pay a fare to reach Manhattan.
“The only folks who don’t pay at all are drivers – and those cars are clogging our streets, polluting our air, and harming the economy,” he said. “If you choose to drive into the most transit-rich neighbourhoods in the United States, it’s only fair that you also pay your fair share too.”
Traffic congestion will cost the New York City region an estimated $100 billion over the next five years, according to a report from The Partnership for New York City.