New York City may begin charging motorists traveling into major parts of Manhattan as soon as April 2024.
The congestion pricing plan — the first of its kind in the U.S. — is expected to get final approval next month. It will charge E-ZPass motorists driving south of 60th street, the city’s central business district, as much as $23.
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which runs the city’s subways, buses and commuter rail lines, released on Friday a final environmental assessment of the plan that includes new concessions for low-income motorists as well as Uber and Lyft drivers.
The transit agency anticipates the U.S. Department of Transportation will give final approval after a 30-day public review period, a significant milestone that will allow construction to begin on the tolling gantries.
“Congestion pricing means less traffic, cleaner air, safer streets, better transit,” Janno Lieber, the MTA’s chief executive officer, said during a media briefing about the plan on Thursday.
MTA officials expect congestion pricing to bring in $1 billion in new revenue a year that the agency will bond against to raise $15 billion. Those funds will help finance major capital projects like expanding the Second Avenue Subway to Harlem, updating the subway signal system and adding more elevators and escalators to stations to make them accessible.
A six-member Traffic Mobility Review Board will determine the specific tolling structure and discounts or exemptions. Drivers using an E-ZPass may pay as much as $23 during peak hours and $17 during off-peak periods. But the final environmental assessment includes concessions.
Passenger cars, taxis and for-hire vehicles like Uber and Lyft would only be charged once a day.
“The MTA’s solution for rideshare would be an infeasible logistical nightmare,” a spokesperson for Lyft said in an emailed statement. “Instead of burdening drivers further, the MTA should acknowledge that our industry has for years already paid them a congestion pricing fee and focus on ensuring the program is funded fairly across all who use our roadways.”
A spokesperson for Uber declined to comment.
For the first five years of the program, E-ZPass drivers making less than $50,000 a year would get a 25% discount starting on their 11th trip within a calendar month. The MTA estimates there are about 16,000 drivers in the area who would qualify for that reduced rate, Lieber said.
Residents of the Manhattan district with incomes below $60,000 will be granted a state tax credit. The final review also includes lower overnight tolls than what the MTA projected in August, an attempt to encourage truck drivers to pay the new fee rather than bypass Manhattan and drive through the Bronx.
Officials estimate the tolling plan will reduce the amount of daily vehicles entering the district by as much as 20% and help boost mass-transit ridership, according to the final environmental review.
The MTA needs the additional riders. While subway usage has steadily increased since its pandemic-lows, weekday subway ridership is about 70% of 2019 levels, according to MTA data. And systemwide ridership may only reach 80% of pre-pandemic usage by the end of 2026, the transit agency estimates.
While New York Governor Kathy Hochul backs the plan, not everyone is on board. New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy has pledged to stop its implementation. He believes New Jersey residents shouldn’t have to pay for the MTA’s revenue troubles. US Representatives Nicole Malliotakis, a Republican from the New York City borough of Staten Island, and Josh Gottheimer, a Democrat from New Jersey, say congestion pricing would increase pollution and traffic in their districts while adding another toll for their constituents.
Lieber said the tolling initiative may face lawsuits.
“We studied the traffic intersections going down almost to Philadelphia, every possible air quality scenario, all the social justice and physical impacts,” Lieber said. “I’m confident that if anyone challenges this, this is going to stand up and that we’re going to implement congestion pricing for New York.”