Driving into Manhattan below 60th Street could cost motorists more than $11 by 2020 under a congestion pricing proposed by a governor-appointed panel Friday.
The Fix NYC report offers a multipronged solution to alleviate crippling traffic congestion in what its authors label the city’s “Central Business District” — an area encompassing much of what makes New York New York, including Wall Street, midtown and Broadway. At the same time, the plan would generate up to $1 billion a year in dedicated revenue for the city’s ailing subway system.
“This is a smart, comprehensive plan to address the challenges of New York while also taking into account the needs of all New Yorkers,” said traffic engineer Sam Schwartz, who was part of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s Fix NYC panel.
The three-phased approach offers several other measures to ease traffic in the city: stepping up enforcement of moving violations, such as “blocking the box” and double-parking, adding new surcharges that could range from $2 to $5 per trip for taxis and “for-hire vehicles,” like Uber, and making major improvements to the city’s transit system.
Under the plan, Manhattan zone pricing would not take effect any earlier than 2020, and would be first rolled out for trucks — paying as much as $25 per visit to the area south of 60th Street during peak hours — defined as 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday-Friday. Once the system is “deemed to be functioning properly and smoothly,” it would be extended to all vehicles.
Though Schwartz said it is not a “hard and fast number,” the plan considered having cars pay $11.52 once a day to enter the pricing zone — about the same as round-trip E-ZPass tolls at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s major crossings. That would generate between $810 million to $1.025 billion annually for the MTA, depending on whether the pricing times would be extended to weekends, according to the plan.
Drivers coming into Manhattan from any of the MTA’s tolled East River crossings would not pay the additional toll for driving inside the zone. Manhattan residents living within the zone would not be exempt from the tolls, although the panel did urge the consideration of a tax benefit for “working poor” who would be adversely affected.
Cuomo, who empaneled the 15-member Fix NYC task force in August, said Friday that he will carefully review the proposal and discuss alternatives over the coming months with the State Legislature, which would have to vote on a plan.
“There is no doubt that we must finally address the undeniable, growing problem of traffic congestion in Manhattan’s central business district and present a real, feasible plan that will pass the legislature to raise money for MTA improvements, without raising rider fares,” Cuomo said.
The Republican majority in the State Senate has said it will draw the line this year on increasing taxes and hasn’t embraced congestion pricing. Senate GOP spokesman Scott Reif said Friday that the conference is “always wary of imposing additional cost burdens on hardworking taxpayers and doing anything that makes it less affordable to live and work in New York.”
“In the meantime, there are fundamental issues related to the funding of mass transit that still haven’t been adequately addressed by the mayor and are leading to much of the congestion we are experiencing today,” Reif added.
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, speaking on WNYC’s “The Brian Lehrer Show,” said the plan was “a step in the right direction” and an improvement over past congestion-pricing plans, but does not achieve the key goal of creating a guaranteed and reliable funding stream for the MTA. He’s pushed for a new tax on the city’s highest earners earmarked for transit.
The plan also faced some skepticism from the American Automobile Association, which said it “offers no benefit for drivers while using them as the sole source of revenue for the bailout of the MTA.”
The MTA-run Long Island Rail Road would not see any of the money generated by the plan. But members of the governor’s panel suggested Long Islanders stand to gain, both because of the potential to alleviate traffic and because, by creating a dedicated funding stream for the MTA’s subways, the LIRR would no longer have to compete with them for the same dollars.
Schwartz noted that most Long Islanders who drive into Manhattan now already pay a toll to enter Manhattan’s central business district — at the Queens Midtown Tunnel, the Hugh L. Carey Tunnel or the RFK Bridge. “They will see no change,” he said.
Fix NYC panel member Kevin Law, president of the Long Island Association, a business group, cautioned against viewing the report as something that pits Long Island against the city.
“From a Long Island perspective, I feel good in terms of the recommendations that we’re making to the governor and the State Legislature,” Law said. “The Long Island and New York City economies are inextricably linked.”
The Long Island Rail Road Commuter Council, its official watchdog group, called the proposal a “thoughtful effort,” and said the need for new revenue streams for the MTA is shared at “all its operating agencies,” including the LIRR.
Although congestion pricing plans have been successfully implanted in cities throughout the world over the years, including London, Singapore and Stockholm, past proposals to toll Manhattan streets have failed. But proponents say much has changed since then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg last unsuccessfully proposed congestion pricing a decade ago, including a rapidly deteriorating subway system, and the rise of Uber and Amazon, which have both put substantially more vehicles in New York’s already sluggish streets.
Although the Cuomo panel drew some inspiration from Schwartz’s previously proposed Move NY plan, unlike it, the Fix NYC plan does not lower tolls at outer-borough crossings, like the Throgs Neck Bridge, nor does it propose to direct some of the newly generated revenue to fixing roads, bridges and suburban transit agencies, including bus systems in Nassau and Suffolk.
Still, Alex Matthiessen, campaign director for the Move NY plan, said he was “on the whole, very pleased” with the Fix NYC proposal.
“This is the beginning of the process,” Mathiessen said. “I think we still have a lot of debate ahead of us, both politically and in terms of the plan.”
With Vin Barone, Michael Gormley and Yancey Roy
By the numbers
Below 60th Street: The proposed “pricing zone” where vehicles would be charged for entering during peak periods.
6.8 miles per hour: The average travel speed within Manhattan’s central business district.
Up to $11.52: The potential cost for a car entering the pricing zone.
$2 to $5: The proposed per-trip surcharge for taxis and for-hire vehicles, like Uber, traveling within the zone, which could be extended to 96 Street for them.
$1.025 billion: The yearly revenue the congestion pricing plan could generate for the MTA’s subway system.
Up to 14 percent: The estimated reduction traffic congestion in Manhattan if the plan is implemented.
Source: Fix NYC report