The United States’ most populous city is looking at implementing “congestion pricing” to address traffic and climate concerns. On Wednesday the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) released a long-awaited assessment of New York City’s transit-related environmental impact. At the core of the assessment was the question of whether a congestion toll would relieve some of the city’s endlessly frustrating traffic and improve local air quality, all while financing future transportation improvements. The toll would work by discouraging residents from using private vehicles, the alternatives to which would be subways, buses, and walking, among other options.
According to the assessment, such a toll would make a difference. Setting up a congestion zone and charging private vehicles a variable fee to enter would reduce the city’s concentration of airborne carcinogens by at least 11 percent and clear up 19.9 percent of traffic. The toll would also help make buses more reliable as funds accumulate. The MTA reported that a toll ranging from $5 (for overnight entry) to $23 (during peak hours) would generate as much as $1.5 billion each year.
The toll’s implementation is already in the works. Governor Andrew Cuomo introduced the idea of a New York City congestion poll back in 2019, and the state legislature quickly signed it into law. But federal inaction under the Trump administration delayed the toll’s deployment by over a year. Two years after the toll’s initial introduction, The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) approved the MTA’s assessment this week. Residents now have the opportunity to publicly comment on the toll through Sept. 9, after which the agency will consider participants’ input. If all goes to plan, the toll could be in effect in as little as 10 months.
New York City plans to assuage any financial inequity concerns by offering a tax credit to residents making less than $60,000 per year. The credit would allow qualifying residents to recover most or all of the toll cost. Emergency vehicles and private transportation for people with disabilities will be exempt from the tolls entirely. It’s unknown at this point whether taxi and rideshare drivers will be expected to pay the toll every time they enter the congestion zone; if not, they could be exempt from the toll or only required to pay once per day.