Motorists entering Manhattan will save between $4 and $7 on the cost of new congestion pricing tolls if they already paid a toll to enter Manhattan, but it will mean charging a higher toll to all drivers once they get below 60th Street, MTA officials said Monday.
The revelation came at the third meeting of the Traffic Mobility Review Board (TMRB) — the six-person panel tasked with making recommendations on the cost and structure of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Central Business District Tolling Program.
The long-debated congestion pricing plan, which could take effect as early as May, aims to reduce traffic in Manhattan, and generate an additional $1 billion in revenue each year for the MTA.
After receiving recommendations from the board, the MTA is expected to issue its final toll structure later this year. MTA officials have said the range of the tolls during peak periods will be between $9 and $23 for E-ZPass users.
Monday’s meeting focused on potential discounts and exemptions that could be applied toward the new tolls, including credits for vehicles that already paid a toll at an East River crossing, like the Queens Midtown and Hugh L. Carey tunnels, which cost almost $7 for E-ZPass holders.
Juliette Michaelson, the MTA’s special adviser to the TMRB, noted that there were pros and cons to offering crossing credits. While doing so would reduce the overall cost to enter Manhattan for some drivers, it would necessitate charging a higher toll than the lowest possible amount, $9.
Offering no crossing credit would allow the MTA to keep the new tolls as low as possible, but would do nothing to reduce the problem of “bridge shopping,” as Michaelson called it. That's where some motorists drive out of their way to enter Manhattan at a free crossing, like the Queensboro Bridge, which causes traffic backups there.
Ultimately, Michaelson advanced four scenarios to the board that all provide a “moderate” credit for drivers who already paid a toll to enter Manhattan.
“They don’t create full parity between entries, but they do help move things in that direction,” Michaelson said of the proposed credits.
“I think what you saw today is that we’re coming to a consensus on several issues,” TMRB chairman Carl Weisbrod, said after the meeting. “I think what we were trying to do … is to balance two different goals. One is to keep our toll for everybody as low possible on one hand. On the other hand, try to even out, to some extent, what choices people make between free routes and paid routes.”
The size of the credit, between $4 and $7, will depend on several other variables, including the window during which the MTA would charge lower tolls overnights — 9 p.m. to 6 a.m., or 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. — and whether overnight tolls would be discounted by 50% or 75% compared to peak travel times.
Michaelson also revealed other new decisions made by the MTA about the toll structure, including that low-income New Yorkers will receive a 50% discount — greater than the 25% originally considered — that vehicles will only be charged when they enter the toll zone, rather than every day they drive within it, and that commuter buses will be exempt, “because they [get] people out of cars at the busiest times of the day.”
The MTA has also decided that taxis and “for hire vehicles,” like Uber, will pay a per-ride fee of between $1 and $2 for driving in the toll zone. The MTA previously considered tolling the vehicles once per day, but Michaelson said a per-ride fee “would be more easily passed along to the customers, who, after all, are the ones making the decisions to add to the traffic” in Manhattan.