The Metropolitan Transportation Authority released the recommendations of its congestion pricing advisory panel, which said motorists would pay $15 to trek into Manhattan below 60th Street. Credit: Newsday

Motorists would pay $15 to trek into Manhattan below 60th Street under recommendations released Thursday for a first-in-the-nation congestion pricing plan that has pitted working drivers and suburban motoring commuters against public transportation advocates and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority...

MTA officials have said they want to implement the plan by spring, but have acknowledged that a pair of federal lawsuits by New Jersey officials challenging the legality of the program could delay it.

Though lower than the $23 maximum E-ZPass toll considered by the MTA, the $15 “base toll” arrived at by the Traffic Mobility Review Board was well over the $9 minimum that was also on the table. That amount would have required that almost no drivers be exempt from paying the tolls.

Ultimately, the panel chose to add exemptions only for commuter buses and “specialized government vehicles.” State law already exempted emergency vehicles and vehicles transporting people with disabilities.

WHAT TO KNOW

  • An MTA advisory panel recommended Thursday a base toll of $15 for most vehicles entering Manhattan below 60th Street. Rates would be discounted by 75% during overnight hours.

  • While the MTA and transit advocates praised the recommendation to ease traffic and reduce pollution, Long Island business owners said it'd be another burden on them.

  • After public hearings, the MTA Board will decide on the recommendations of the panel.

The MTA is aiming to reduce the number of cars in the toll zone by around 17%, while also generating a $1 billion in revenue from the new tolls that would be dedicated to transit infrastructure investments.

Advisory board chairman Carl Weisbrod said the five-member advisory panel “really made an effort to keep the base toll as low as we possibly could,” while prioritizing transit riders, who make up the majority of commuters. MTA officials have said of the approximately 100,000 people commuting from Long Island to Manhattan each day, only about 20,000 do so by car.

“The guiding principle for us was: How do we satisfy, in the first instance, the many, not the few?” said Weisbrod, who stood by the benefits of the controversial congestion pricing plan. “Absent this, we’re going to be choking on our own traffic for a long time to come.”

Chair of the Traffic Mobility Review Board Carl Weisbrod speaks...

Chair of the Traffic Mobility Review Board Carl Weisbrod speaks to the media Thursday on the toll structure recommendations for congestion pricing at MTA headquarters in Manhattan. Credit: Louis Lanzano

But critics of the plan — including many Long Island motorists — say the new tolls, compounded by a rising cost of living and transit fares that just went up in August, may push some New Yorkers past the brink, and potentially out of the state.

“We are having a very difficult time now surviving in this economic climate that we have,” said Richard Bivone, Nassau chairman of the Long Island Business Council, who called the new tolls “an added burden” to Long Islanders whose jobs require them to drive into Manhattan. "We really don't know or see any benefit to the business owners."

Debated for decades, congestion pricing aims to ease traffic on Manhattan’s busy streets, while also reducing pollution and auto accidents, and generate revenue for the MTA.

The $15 toll would apply to most vehicles with E-ZPass. Trucks would be charged $24 to $36, depending on their size. Non E-ZPass customers — about 5% of all vehicles — would pay 50% more, making the “base toll” $22.50.

Rates would be discounted by 75% during overnight hours — 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. on weekdays and 9 p.m. to 9 a.m. on weekends — and drivers meeting low-income guidelines would pay 50% less after their first 10 trips.

Taxis and for-hire vehicles, like Uber and Lyft, would not pay the daily $15 toll but rides will be charged smaller amounts for every ride to, from or within the tolling district. Taxis will have $1.25 added to each ride while for-hire vehicles will face a $2.50 per ride toll.

Passenger vehicles taking the Queens-Midtown, Hugh L. Carey, Holland and Lincoln tunnels would get a $5 credit toward the congestion pricing cost. There would be no credits given to vehicles entering Manhattan over bridges, including the George Washington Bridge.

The transit agency released the recommendations of its congestion pricing advisory panel Traffic Mobility Review Board at a news conference at the MTA’s Manhattan headquarters. Public hearings will be held in February, before the MTA Board will decide on the recommendations of the panel.

MTA chairman and CEO Janno Lieber said the panel's report "points the way forward for effective implementation of congestion pricing.” A contractor hired by the MTA to build out the new tolling system has already completed installation of the needed hardware, including pole-mounted cameras and sensors, at 60% of locations, the MTA said.

While the MTA moves full speed ahead, congestion pricing remains a highly-polarizing issue among New Yorkers. A Newsday/Siena College poll released last week found that 72% of Long Island voters oppose the plan.

Among the concerned Long Islanders is Great Neck resident David Emanuel, founder of Emanuel Entertainment Services. He said the new tolls would put a strain on the entertainment industry and on those who attend shows in Manhattan, while benefiting an agency that he believes has not been running efficiently.

“We’re funding their mismanagement,” Emanuel said.

Julie Tighe, president of the New York League of Conservation, defended the MTA's planned use of the new toll revenue — 10% of which will go to the LIRR “to make it easier for people to get into the city on the train rather taking a car.”

She said the recommended amounts would give "people reasons to get out of their cars. We know that we can't drive our way out of the climate crisis."

Tom Wright, president and CEO of the Regional Plan Association, a nonprofit research group, agreed that congestion pricing will “benefit the vast majority of commuters” who rely on mass transit.

“No proposal will satisfy every constituency, and we do think this proposal can be improved,” said Wright, who suggested the MTA consider offering higher credits to drivers already paying tolls to enter Manhattan.

New York City Mayor Eric Adams also offered suggestions to improve the plan recommended by the review board, including by considering exemptions for vehicles driving into Manhattan for “medical treatment.”

"We don’t want to overburden working class New Yorkers," said Adams, who believes the board’s recommendations should be just “the beginning of the conversation.”

After meeting publicly three times since July, the review board’s work is officially done with the release of its 35-page report. But the board’s Long Island representative, John Durso, said he hopes the board can eventually reconvene “to see if there have to be adjustments made, one way or the other.”

Durso said he also intends to continue advocating for transit improvements to help Long Islanders who may be pushed to leave their car in the driveway and take the train instead, including by addressing safety concerns in the MTA system and creating more low-cost parking near LIRR stations.

“That was something that was out of our purview, but it didn’t stop us from making suggestions,” said Durso, who described his experience on the board as a positive one. “We didn’t all agree on everything. We had quite the robust discussions. But we believe that we have followed the guidelines that we were given and addressed the issues.”

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