Long Islanders can now weigh in on the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's congestion pricing plan, as the MTA Board on Wednesday formally advanced a proposal to charge most vehicles $15 for driving below 60th Street.
The approval by the MTA Board at its monthly meeting in Manhattan clears the way for the MTA to begin gathering public input for its Central Business District Tolling Program, including at a series of hearings expected to be held in February or March. The plan will then come back to the board for final approval.
“Once that’s all done, we’ll know that we’re ready to go,” MTA chief operating officer Alison de Cereño said. “We’re looking forward to going live in late spring, at which point we can finally start reducing congestion in Manhattan Central Business District.”
The board voted 9-1 in favor of moving ahead with the plan, with the lone "no" vote coming from Nassau County's board representative David Mack, who said congestion pricing would bring "an added burden" to New Yorkers.
WHAT TO KNOW
- The Metropolitan Transportation Authority Board on Wednesday adopted the recommendations of an advisory panel on its congestion pricing plan, clearing the way for public hearings to be held early next year.
- Most vehicles would be charged $15 for driving below 60th Street in Manhattan during peak hours. Few exemptions would be granted, but include vehicles transporting people with disabilities, emergency vehicles and specialized government vehicles, like garbage trucks and snowplows.
- Suffolk's MTA representative, Sammy Chu, voted in favor of the plan, which he said would reduce congestion and improve air quality. Nassau representative David Mack cast the lone vote against the plan, saying it would bring an "added burden" to New Yorkers.
The long-debated congestion pricing plan aims to reduce the number of cars in Manhattan’s gridlocked Central Business District below 60th Street, thereby easing traffic flow, reducing auto accidents and improving air quality. The MTA is also looking to generate $1 billion in new toll revenue that would be dedicated to transit infrastructure upgrades.
But opponents of the plan — including 72% of Long Island voters in a recent Newsday/Siena College poll — have called congestion pricing a cash-grab from a mismanaged transit authority that, just three months ago, raised fare and toll rates, including on the LIRR, where the average monthly ticket costs $320.
Huntington resident Stephen Ploska, who occasionally drives into Manhattan with his wife to dine in Little Italy and sightsee, called the board’s decision “terrible” and said it would “penalize” Long Islanders like him for traveling into Manhattan for leisure.
“It adds fuel to the fire of not wanting to participate in anything in the city. Just stay on Long Island, and forget about the city,” Ploska said in a phone interview.
A five-member Traffic Mobility Review Board, which included a Long Island representative, last week issued recommendations on toll rates and policies. They include:
- A $15 “base toll” for most vehicles. Non E-ZPass users would pay $22.50 — 50% more.
- Trucks would pay $24 or $36, depending on size. Motorcycles would pay $7.50.
- Tolls would be discounted by 75% during overnight hours, defined as 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. on weekdays and 9 p.m. to 9 a.m. on weekends.
- Tolls on most vehicles would only be charged when a vehicle enters the district.
- Vehicles entering the Central Business District through the four tolled tunnels would receive a credit of $5 for cars, $12 for small trucks and $20 for large trucks.
- Instead of a standard toll, taxis would pay a fee of $1.25, and app-based for-hire vehicles, like Uber, would pay $2.50 for every trip made within the toll zone. Those fees would be passed along to passengers.
- Low-income drivers would receive a 50% discount after their first 10 trips.
- Exemptions would only be given to vehicles transporting people with disabilities, emergency vehicles — including ambulances and those used by police and firefighters — and certain specialized government vehicles, including transit buses, snowplows and garbage trucks.
Before casting his “yes” vote, MTA Board member Sammy Chu, who represents Suffolk County, called it a “historic policy” that “sets a tone, as New York should, for the rest of the country.” Chu said having long commuted between Long Island and Manhattan, he’s “seen how much longer it takes, year after year after year.”
“Hoping that congestion will alleviate itself is not a policy,” Chu said. “We don’t live in a time of easy decisions. Nothing about this was easy. Going forward, it won’t be easy. But it’s the right thing to do.”
But Long Island’s other MTA Board member, Mack, rejected the proposal, calling it “ridiculous” that people looking to drive into Manhattan for dinner would have to wait until after 9 p.m. to pay a smaller toll. He suggested the agency consider other options to drum up new revenue, including seeking more federal aid.
“I cannot got for it, I’m sorry to say,” said Mack, a real estate developer. “And I would like to support it, because the MTA needs the help. There’s no doubt about it. But maybe there’s other ways.”
Before the vote, the MTA heard from several public speakers — some of whom praised congestion pricing, and some who railed against it.
“You continue to allow $700 million a year to be lost due to fare and toll evasion and you want me … to pay a new tax for your incompetence?” Manhattan resident Lee Berman said Wednesday at the meeting. “Before you attempt to stick it to the working middle class that is the lifeblood of this city … get your own house in order.”
Emma Ogunsua, who commutes from Long Island to Queens on the LIRR, said she hopes the revenue generated from congestion pricing can improve transit options for college students like her.
“Congestion pricing offers hope for more reliable transportation and the chance to fix vital issues in the LIRR and subway system,” Ogunsua said.
MTA officials said they will consider further adjustments to the plan, including a potential exemption for school buses.