New York City will be the first city in the US to charge motorists extra to enter the busiest areas, after the state agreed to a congestion pricing plan as part of its fiscal year 2020 budget hours before the April 1 deadline.
The plan, billed by state governor Andrew Cuomo’s office as “Central Business District tolling” will charge a yet-to-be-determined fee to vehicles entering Manhattan below 60th Street. The toll is designed to reduce traffic and increase vehicle speeds in the busiest part of Manhattan, and to raise more than $1 billion a year for the city’s decrepit public transit systems. The New York Post reported March 29 that 80% of congestion revenue could go to the city’s subway and buses, and 10% each to the Metro-North and LIRR commuter rails.
The governor’s office said that the congestion pricing would be enforced using electronic tolling devices, passenger vehicles would pay just once per day, and the pricing would be variable. While not specified, tolls will presumably drop at night and on weekends when traffic is lighter.
Congestion pricing has long been popular with transit and policy wonks, but politically unviable in the US. We live in a car-dependent society, and vehicle owners understandably chafe at the idea of having to pay more money to get where they need to go, especially if those fees affect a regular commute. A 2008 push for congestion pricing by former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg famously died in Albany.
This time last year, a Quinnipiac University poll found that 44% of New York City voters were opposed to using congestion pricing to fund mass transit. But in a January 14 poll by Siena Research Institute, opposition to congestion pricing was down to 39% of New York state registered voters and support up to 52%. In fact, support for congestion pricing outweighed opposition across almost every demographic—liberals, moderates, New York City, suburban households, upstate, white, black, Latino, every age group, every religion, and every income level.