Traffic cameras installed to collect tolls for the start of...

Traffic cameras installed to collect tolls for the start of congestion pricing. The final plan was approved Wednesday. Credit: AP/Ted Shaffrey

With the passage Wednesday of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's Central Business District Tolling Program, New York became the first city in the United States to adopt a congestion pricing program.

While supporters say the plan will reduce traffic, improve air quality and help fund transit improvements, opponents say the new tolls will overburden motorists and could drive them out of the state.

Here's what you should know about New York's congestion pricing plan.

What is congestion pricing?

Congestion pricing aims to reduce traffic in Manhattan by charging new tolls — projected to bring in $1 billion annually — to vehicles entering the “central business district.” Although similar plans have been adopted by major cities in other countries, the MTA's Central Business District Tolling Program will be the first of its kind in the United States.

Who came up with this plan?

Following the State Legislature's adoption of congestion pricing in 2019, the MTA worked with the U.S. Department of Transportation on an environmental review process that included several public hearings and a 4,000-page report. After receiving approval from the federal government, a six-member Traffic Mobility Review Board, which included a Long Island representative, made recommendations to the MTA on how the plan should be implemented. The MTA held four public hearings in recent weeks and made some changes to the plan before putting it up for a vote Wednesday.

How much will I have to pay?

Most vehicles, including sedans, SUVs, pickup trucks and small vans, will pay an E-ZPass toll rate of $15 during peak hours — 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. on weekdays and 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. on weekends. Motorcycles will pay $7.50 during peak hours, and trucks will pay between $24 and $36, depending on size. Rates will be 50% higher for vehicles without E-ZPass. Tolls will be 75% less during overnight hours — $3.75 for passenger vehicles. Passengers in app-based for-hire vehicles, like Uber, will pay $2.50 per trip, and taxi passengers will pay $1.25.

When will the tolls start being charged?

MTA officials hope to implement congestion pricing by mid-June, but have acknowledged the program could be delayed by several pending lawsuits, including ones filed by elected officials in New Jersey and Staten Island.

How is this going to work?

Vehicles would be tolled much like they are now at MTA crossings. Detectors and cameras mounted on poles and mast arms at entrances to the Central Business District, including on the avenues between 60th and 61st streets, will scan vehicles' E-ZPass transponders or license plates. Drivers without E-ZPass will receive invoices by mail.

Are there any discounts or exemptions?

Among those exempt from the tolls are vehicles transporting people with disabilities, emergency vehicles, transit and commuter buses, school buses under contract with New York City, and “specialized government vehicles,” including, but not limited to, snow plows, garbage trucks and other city vehicles needed to transport equipment to and from work locations. 

A 50% discount will be available for low-income vehicle owners and a tax credit is available for low-income residents of the Central Business District. Vehicles entering the Central Business District through the Queens Midtown, Hugh L. Carey, Lincoln or Holland tunnels will receive a $5 credit during peak periods.

Who won't have to pay?

  • Authorized emergency vehicles
  • Authorized vehicles carrying people with disabilities
  • School buses contracted with the NYC Department of Education
  • Buses providing scheduled commuter services open to the public 
  • Commuter vans licensed with the NYC Taxi and Limousine Commission
  • Specialized government vehicles

A 50% discount will be available for low-income vehicle owners and a tax credit is available for low-income residents of the Central Business District. Photo credit: Getty

Where will the money go?

After covering the expenses of the new tolling system, which the MTA paid a contractor $507 million to design, build, operate and maintain, all revenue from the new tolls would be dedicated to the MTA’s Capital Program, which funds infrastructure investments, including the purchase of new trains and station upgrades. The MTA plans to use the $1 billion generated from the tolls annually to finance $15 billion in bonds. Under state law, 80% of the money generated would go to New York City subways and buses, and the remaining 20% would be split evenly between the Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North. MTA officials have noted than about 90% of Manhattan's 1.5 million daily commuters use transit.

How much of a difference could this make?

The MTA projects its congestion pricing plan will result in around 100,000 fewer vehicles entering the Central Business District each day, a reduction of around 17%. Vehicle miles traveled also would be reduced throughout the region, including by up to 9.2% in Manhattan and up to 0.1% on Long Island, as more people use public transportation to get into and out of Manhattan. Other major cities throughout the world that have implemented congestion pricing have seen some impact. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, London saw a 15% reduction in traffic and a 30% reduction in travel delays after implementing its plan two decades ago. Singapore and Stockholm had similar results.

Who supports congestion pricing?

The congestion pricing plan has garnered the support of several transit, environmental and disability rights advocates who believe in its potential to lessen harmful vehicle emissions, reduce traffic accidents and generate funding for critically needed transit investments. The Regional Plan Association — a nonprofit planning and sustainability group — and Partnership for New York City, which represents businesses employing more than 1 million New Yorkers, are among the plan's supporters. The MTA Board voted 11-1 in favor of the plan.

MTA chairman and chief executive officer Janno Lieber on Wednesday...

MTA chairman and chief executive officer Janno Lieber on Wednesday after the MTA board passed the congestion pricing plan. Credit: Craig Ruttle

Who is against congestion pricing?

The plan is decidedly less popular in suburban areas that rely more heavily on cars, including Long Island, where 72% of registered voters said they are against congestion pricing in a recent poll. Long Island's Republican congressional members and two county executives have also come out against the plan, as has Sen. Monica Martinez (D-Brentwood), the only Long Island lawmaker to join a lawsuit challenging the plan. The MTA Board's Nassau representative, David Mack, was the only member to vote against the plan, which he has said could drive businesses and residents out of New York.

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