For-hire companies that count on driving to and from Manhattan to make a living said the MTA’s proposed congestion pricing plan will cost them hundreds of dollars a day in new tolls. NewsdayTV’s Alfonso Castillo reports. Credit: Newsday/Howard Schnapp

Long Island for-hire companies driving to and from Manhattan to make a living said the MTA’s proposed congestion pricing plan could be "devastating" for business, costing them hundreds of dollars daily in new tolls.

Those companies want to be exempt from the Central Business District Tolling Program, which if approved by the federal regulators, could take effect by the end of 2023. But supporters of the plan said all motorists should pay their fair share, considering that for-hire businesses are significantly contributing to the congestion that the tolling plan is looking to address on Manhattan’s clogged streets.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority last week wrapped up a series of public hearings on congestion pricing. A public comment period will last until Friday, and the Federal Highway Administration is expected to rule on the proposal by the end of this year.

After covering project expenses, such as installing tolling technology, all revenue would go to the MTA Capital Program, which funds transit infrastructure improvements. About 80% would go to buses and subways, 10% to the Long Island Rail Road, and 10% to Metro-North Railroad. 


  • Long Island businesses that rely on driving into Manhattan say they’ll be hit especially hard by the MTA’s proposed congestion pricing plan, which would charge new tolls for operating a vehicle below 60th Street.
  • Long Island-based taxi companies, Uber and Lyft drivers, and coach bus operators are all pushing to be exempt from the new tolls, which they say will discourage customers from using their services.
  • Congestion pricing supporters say the tolls will help unclog Manhattan’s streets, reduce pollution and generate needed funding for transit infrastructure improvements, including on the LIRR.

Under the proposal, cars driving below 60th Street in Manhattan could be charged up to $23, and those without E-ZPass up to $34.50. While most drivers would be charged once per day, commercial drivers could be charged every time they enter the toll zone.

$23 What you'll pay if the maximum exemptions and toll caps are placed on taxis, Uber/Lyft drivers, and buses

$9 What you'll pay if no exemptions or caps are placed on taxis, Uber/Lyft drivers and buses

The plan has drawn the ire of many motorists, but none more so than those who drive for a living and believe they’ll be disproportionately affected. That includes so-called “gig” drivers, such as Jacky Lin, of Merrick, who drives for Uber and Lyft.

Manhattan trips are “very important” for ride-hail drivers on Long Island, but because the cost of tolls would be passed on to passengers, many potential fares likely will dry up, Lin said.

“It would ruin it,” said Lin, an organizer with Independent Drivers Guild, which estimates the new tolls could eliminate 40% of fares in midtown and downtown Manhattan. “It definitely would put [some drivers] out of work. … They might as well just take the LIRR … It’ll be a lot easier.”

MTA: Exemptions bad for others

The MTA is looking for recommendations from a six-member Traffic Mobility Review Board on fare structure and how much to charge. Among the options being considered are plans that would exempt for-hire vehicles, taxis and buses from the tolls. Other proposals would cap how many times a day they could be charged.

MTA officials, who said they have no preferred option, have noted that the more exemptions given, the more other drivers will have to be charged to hit the agency’s annual revenue goal. With no exemptions given, the toll could be as low as $9 during peak hours.

The MTA also has said that reduced congestion in Manhattan would benefit taxis and for-hire vehicles by allowing them to complete trips quicker and pick up additional fares.

John McCarthy, chief of external relations for the MTA, said the Uber and Lyft drivers who oppose the agency’s efforts are one reason Manhattan’s streets are so packed.

“Anyone who has been in New York City in the past decade knows that for-hire-vehicles are a part of the story of congestion in Manhattan’s Central Business District, which has harmful air quality impacts and slows down the economy,” McCarthy said in a statement.

Acknowledging the tolls’ potential impact on taxi and ride-hail drivers, the MTA has offered to help some become bus drivers for the transit agency, including by waiving a $70 exam fee.

In a statement, Uber spokesman Josh Gold rejected the MTA’s plan, and noted that for-hire vehicles already have “paid close to a billion dollars in congestion fees over the past three years.”

“Double taxation on future trips threatens to put tens of thousands of drivers out of work — despite the MTA’s plan to convert a handful to bus drivers,” Gold said.

Lyft senior policy manager Ruth Fasoldt similarly said that ride-hailing companies should “not shoulder the responsibility of paying a double congestion fee … that will hurt this shared economy industry, its drivers and passengers.”

'Too expensive to go into the city'

Other Long Island businesses also could be hit hard. Lawrence Blessinger Jr., vice president of All Island Transportation, which owns several taxi companies in Nassau County, said the fares could be “very devastating” to his business.

“There will be less fares into the city. I think you’ll see more people who are going out, socializing at night, that are going to wind up staying local, because it’s just going to be too expensive to go into the city,” Blessinger said. “That’s less work for the drivers.”

Transportation consultant Bruce Schaller, who led New York City’s effort to pass congestion pricing 15 years ago, said Long Island taxi and for-hire vehicle companies actually would be less impacted than most others by the new tolls, because their participation would keep the tolls as low as possible, and because the extra cost would be wrapped into what is “already a substantial fare for going that distance.”

“If you’re paying 80 bucks, and you get an additional $5 or whatever it is, that’s very different than if you’re paying $15,” said Schaller, who believes exemptions should be kept to a minimum. “Everyone is part of the problem, and everyone needs to be part of the solution. … The whole point is to give people some incentive not to drive to Manhattan.”

Michael Weiss, owner of Long Island Coach Bus/Metro Limousine Service in Freeport, said the pricing plan comes as those in the driving business already are feeling the pinch from higher gas prices and insurance rates, and a shortage of drivers. He noted that the cost of renting a coach bus for a trip into the city has climbed from around $1,450 to $2,250 in two years, and would have to go up even further to cover the new tolls.

“It’s horrible right now to own a transportation company,” Weiss said. “I do enjoy what I do, but if things get any worse, there’s not much profit left anymore.”

Andrew Lynch, vice president of Hampton Jitney, said at a congestion pricing public hearing on Aug. 29 that rather than charging them more, buses like the one his company operates should be encouraged to drive into Manhattan, because the dozens of passengers they carry might otherwise drive their own cars.

“Private bus operators, by their very nature, are actively reducing congestion, right now,” Lynch said. “You cannot and should not penalize a form of mass transit that is already part of the solution.”

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