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Congestion pricing in NYC: What you need to know

It’s not yet clear how the fee would change the way Long Islanders commute into and out of the city.

Traffic jams the southbound West Side Highway in

Traffic jams the southbound West Side Highway in Manhattan on Jan. 11, 2018. Photo Credit: AP / Seth Wenig

What is congestion pricing?

It is a fee charged to drivers traveling in highly congested areas during the times of day when traffic is at its heaviest to help reduce gridlock.

Enacting congestion pricing for some of Manhattan’s high-traffic neighborhoods has been a point of debate for at least the past decade. Now, it looks like the concept could see a revival.

What’s being proposed?

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said details of a congestion pricing plan will be released by his Fix NYC panel by Friday.

Cuomo recently said the FIX NYC proposal “doesn’t toll bridges” into and out of Manhattan that are currently free like the Queensboro Bridge but would charge drivers for entering the most congested parts of Manhattan during certain times.

The recommendations will detail the boundaries of a “pricing zone,” the area where drivers would face a congestion charge, Cuomo said Tuesday.

What’s been proposed in the past?

In 2008, Mayor Michael Bloomberg pushed for a congestion plan that would have charged motorists $8 a day for cars and $21 for trucks if they drove south of 60th Street between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. on weekdays.

The proposal would have raised an estimated $500 million annually for mass transit improvements. It died in Albany when state lawmakers, arguing drivers already faced steep parking fees and tolls, refused to bring it to a vote.

Another push was made to implement congestion pricing beginning with a 2015 proposal. The Move NY plan tweaked Bloomberg’s model, adding a “toll swap.” Tolls would be charged to use the city’s East River bridges while reducing existing tolls on outer-borough bridges.

How would it affect Long Islanders?

It’s not yet clear how congestion pricing would change the way Long Islanders commute into and out of the city.

The State Department of Transportation estimated in 2008, in advance of Bloomberg’s congestion pricing proposal, that vehicle trips from Long Island into the Manhattan zone would drop 13 percent and that 6 percent more commuters would switch to public transit.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority also estimated 3,500 of the daily car commuters from Long Island would switch over to public transit.

About 26 percent of Long Islanders who work south of 86th Street drive while the rest use public transit, the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, a Manhattan-based nonprofit, said in 2008.

How would tolls be collected?

Cuomo has said the system would be similar to the cashless tolling recently rolled out across all Metropolitan Transportation Authority bridges and tunnels.

When a vehicle enters the pricing zone during the designated congestion hours, sensors will automatically deduct a toll from E-ZPass accounts. If the vehicle does not have an E-ZPass, a camera will take a picture of the license plate and send a bill by mail.

Who would need to approve a congestion pricing plan?

Cuomo’s proposal would need approval from the State Legislature, where it may face stiff opposition.

After Cuomo delivered his annual State of the State address in Albany, Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan said he couldn’t currently support imposing congestion pricing on commuters. Asked if he thought it could win support from Senate Republicans, Flanagan added: “Not from what I’ve listened to.”

Does this exist anywhere else?

London implemented a congestion fee beginning in 2003. Drivers are currently charged 11.50 pounds — about $16 — to drive within the zone on weekdays from 7 a.m. through 7 p.m. Ten years after its implementation, there was a 10 percent reduction in traffic volume, according to London’s transit authority.

Singapore has had a congestion pricing scheme since 1975. In its current form, all drivers moving through the restricted zone on weekdays from 7 a.m. through 7 p.m. must pay a fee.

Stockholm adopted a congestion tax in 2007. Motorists driving in the city’s center are charged from 6:30 a.m. through 6:30 p.m.

Do NYC politicians support congestion pricing?

Mayor Bill de Blasio said at a recent news conference he likes the idea of getting more cars off the streets but that there are “serious fairness issues when it comes to congestion pricing.” De Blasio has said he would prefer drumming up revenue for the city’s subways by imposing higher taxes on the rich.

The new City Council Speaker, Corey Johnson, whose district represents Chelsea, Greenwich Village and other parts of midtown, has come out in favor of the proposal.

What are the arguments for and against congestion pricing?

Proponents say the plan would reduce traffic both in Manhattan and on major roadways in the outer boroughs, while boosting the city’s air quality. It would also provide a much needed revenue stream for the MTA, which has proposed an $836 million plan to reverse failing subway performance.

Others say it would be too big a burden for commuters, many of whom already pay for parking or bridge and highway tolls.

“This is going to have a negative effect on working people, small-business people and seniors who have appointments in Manhattan,” Brooklyn state Assemb. William Colton recently said.

With AP and amNew York staff

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