Long Island motorists could pay as much as $35 to drive into Manhattan beginning in 2023, according to newly released details of the MTA’s congestion pricing plan.
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority last week disclosed the range of prices it is considering for driving inside New York City’s "Central Business District" — defined as below 60th Street in Manhattan. E-ZPass users, who make up the majority of drivers, could pay as little as $9 for the new tolls, or as much as $23.
That figure could reach as high as $35 for drivers without E-ZPass. Prices also would fluctuate depending on the time of day.
The MTA aims to generate $1 billion annually in new toll revenue, which would be used to bond billions more for infrastructure investments. The Long Island Rail Road stands to get 10% of the revenue.
"It’s a toll that will pay for … better train cars on the Long Island Rail Road. It will pay for better signals and better tracks and better stations," said Lisa Daglian of the LIRR Commuter Council. "You’re not paying something and getting nothing. You’re paying for something and getting a lot."
A key factor in how much drivers will pay is how many won’t have to pay at all. The MTA is weighing exemptions for various populations, including communities in the city with limited access to public transportation.
The MTA already has said that qualifying emergency vehicles and vehicles transporting people with disabilities will not have to pay the new tolls. And people who live within the toll zone and earn less than $60,000 annually would be eligible for a tax credit.
"All things being equal, the more credits and exemptions are given, the higher the toll must be to meet the project’s purpose, needs and objectives," Allison de Cerreño, deputy chief operating officer for the MTA, said Thursday.
De Cerreño’s comments came Thursday during the first of a series of virtual public meetings on the congestion pricing plan, which is expected to take effect in early 2023. A meeting for Long Island residents is scheduled to take place Wednesday from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. More information is available at www.mta.info.
Daglian plans to speak at the Wednesday meeting, and said she understands the potential toll amounts are "scary." She hopes the final amount is on the low end of the MTA’s estimated range, but said drivers should keep in mind what the tolls are going toward reduced traffic congestion in Manhattan and improved public transportation for those who opt to take the train instead.
Some have criticized the plan for favoring high-earning Manhattan residents, who are less likely to drive within the borough, while punishing those who live further away and for whom public transportation is not much of an option. Assemb. David Weprin (D-Queens) said some of his constituents live in communities where "people have to take two buses before they reach the subway."
"Taxing working families who use a car to avoid a long, tiring commute will only add additional expenses to budgets that are already too tight," Weprin said during Thursday's meeting.
Ultimately, the toll amounts will be set by the MTA’s Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority Board, following the recommendations of an environmental study and of a six-member "Traffic Mobility Review Board" that will include a Long Island representative.
Eric Alexander, director of Vision Long Island, a planning group, said that while he supports congestion pricing as a means of getting more cars off the road, the "ability-to-pay question" must be considered.
"Thirty-five dollars is hugely excessive to working people," Alexander said in an interview Friday. "If millionaires are going to pay it, great. But if working people have to pay that or small businesses, that’s brutal."