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“American Cities Set to Transform as Downtown Drivers Are Charged”


Jun 10, 2023

President Joe Biden’s administration is set to allow New York City to introduce a groundbreaking plan called the Central Business District Tolling Program, otherwise known as “congestion pricing”. This program would charge a special toll for driving in Manhattan’s heavy traffic areas below his 60th Street, making it the first program of its kind in the United States. The proposals range from $9 to $23 for vehicles at peak times and are set to go into effect next spring. Despite years of delays, the plan cleared a milestone last month when the Federal Highway Administration approved the release of an environmental assessment.

The public has until Monday to scrutinize the report, and the federal government is widely expected to approve it soon after. From there, the New York City Transportation Authority (MTA) can finalize toll rates, as well as discounts and waivers for certain drivers. Congestion pricing proponents say it is an important part of the city’s recovery and a way to reimagine it for the future. New York City is still emerging from the devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Approximately 700,000 cars, taxis, and trucks enter Lower Manhattan every day. Manhattan is one of the busiest neighborhoods in the world and has some of the worst congestion in the United States. The average speed of cars in the congestion price zone is only 11.1 mph, and that speed is trending downward. Public bus speeds have also fallen 28% since 2010. By one estimate, a New Yorker loses an average of 117 hours a year sitting in traffic, costing them nearly $2,000 in lost productivity and other costs.

The congestion pricing fee is designed to reduce the number of vehicles entering the congestion zone by at least 10% each day and reduce the distance traveled by vehicles traveling within the zone by 5%. Congestion also has physical and social costs. Accidents, carbon emissions, and pollution increase as burping and honking cars take up space that can be optimized for pedestrians and outdoor dining.

Improving public transportation is also key to New York City’s economic recovery post-pandemic. If commuting is too erratic, people are less likely to visit the office or shop at stores near work. Congestion fee proponents hope the program will create more space for amenities such as wider sidewalks, bike lanes, squares, benches, trees, and public toilets.

Taxi and rideshare drivers, mostly low-income and migrant workers, fear that drivers who are already struggling to make ends meet will be hit. Commuters and legislators in suburban New York City boroughs and New Jersey say the program will adversely affect drivers who have no other effective means of getting to downtown Manhattan other than by car and disproportionately affect low-income drivers.

The MTA and other agencies have plans to mitigate many of these negative effects. Taxi and rental car charges will only apply once a day, and a driver who earns less than $50,000 a year, or who is enrolled in certain government aid programs, gets his 25% discount after his first 10 rides each month. Trucks and other vehicles at night get a 50% discount. The MTA has also promised other investments, such as $10 million to install air filtration units in schools near highways, $20 million to combat asthma, and $20 million to improve air quality and the environment in areas where more traffic can be diverted.

By Editor

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