There is now a detailed plan of how to toll drivers heading into Manhattan's central business district. Even as roadblocks remain, the proposal is continuing to move toward a start date in the spring of 2024.
Few drivers want to pay more money but the proposal appears to have the potential to achieve its intended goals of significantly reducing traffic, improving air quality, and bolstering the region's economy. It'll take time and effort to get this right, but if that happens, everyone could benefit from a Manhattan that's safer, cleaner and more vibrant.
New Yorkers will have to see a tangible result, a better metropolitan region, to support these tolls. If the "congestion" remains, the "pricing" will be criticized as a heist by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and quickly become politically unsupportable.
Under the MTA's plan, most drivers would pay a once-a-day charge of $15 to drive into the district, which covers all of Manhattan below 60th Street. Trucks and many buses, depending on their size, would pay either $24 or $36. Exemptions are few and far between, an easier system to understand and administer. Motorcycles will pay half-price, as will residents whose incomes fall below a certain threshold and who make more than 10 trips per month. While taxis and for-hire vehicles won't be charged upon entering, their passengers will pay a per-ride fee to go south of 60th Street. The MTA is right to also consider an exemption for school buses carrying students.
Among the wiser moves: providing a steep discount during overnight hours. Traveling into the district between 9 p.m. and 5 a.m. weekdays, and between 9 p.m. and 9 a.m. weekends, will cost 75% less. That should encourage delivery drivers and others to travel off hours, lessening traffic during the day.
The plan, however, may not do as much to stop toll shopping — choosing between a free East River bridge rather than tolled tunnels. Those who pay the $6.94 tunnel toll will get a $5 credit on their congestion cost if they're heading into the central business district. That may not be enough to lure people away from free bridges, and it may require tweaks if there are traffic jams in Williamsburg and Long Island City.
The MTA board has voted overwhelmingly to take the next step and launch the State Administrative Procedure Act process, required whenever a new toll or toll increase goes into effect. That kicks off another comment period and ultimately, another MTA vote next year. Federal authorities, too, will take another look. There is also a lawsuit from New Jersey officials that could delay implementation.
Once congestion pricing begins, the Traffic Mobility Review Board and the MTA board must develop procedures to evaluate real-time data and make it public. Most important, the MTA must make public transit a desirable alternative — one Long Islanders and city residents will want to choose.
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