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Monday, July 22, 2024 | Back issues
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‘A big mess’: New Yorkers split after MTA approves congestion pricing plan

Under the plan, passenger vehicles entering Manhattan's busiest stretch will be charged $15.

MANHATTAN (CN) — In an 11-1 vote on Wednesday, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s board approved its final congestion pricing plan, bringing the agency one step closer to collecting tolls from drivers entering the busiest part of Manhattan.

According to the approved plan, passenger vehicles will be charged $15 a day to enter Manhattan below 60th Street between 5 a.m. and 9 p.m. on weekdays, and between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. on weekends. Motorcyclists will have to pay $7.50, while large trucks and tour buses will be billed $36.

Wednesday’s vote finalizes a yearslong battle to launch the initiative. First approved by the Legislature in 2019, the plan aims to reduce traffic in one of New York City’s most congested areas by encouraging train and bus use. The toll is also expected to raise $1 billion annually to improve the city’s public transit.

It’s the first toll of its kind in the United States, but it’s hardly a new idea globally. Cities like Singapore and Stockholm have their own versions of the initiative, while London has been charging a flat daily fee to enter its downtown since 2003.

But New Yorkers are split on the issue.

“London is not New York and New York is not London,” said Ellen Levitt, a teacher living in Midwood. “I really think it’s going to be a big mess.”

Levitt said she usually takes public transit whenever she leaves the house, but likes to take her car into Manhattan to run errands on occasion. The new congestion pricing plan might change things for her.

“It’s going to make me think twice about going to certain parts of Manhattan on a regular basis,” she said.

The MTA says the revenue generated by the new toll will go towards bettering the entirety of the public transit system through accessibility upgrades, new electric buses and signal improvements on some of the most popular subway lines.

Still, some residents are peeved that their daily commute in the most expensive city in the country just got even pricier. 

“This is one of the most expensive cities to live in,” said Garry Redman, a Central Harlem computer consultant. “We should already have a transit system that is basically the envy of the world.”

A lifelong New Yorker, Redman believes the MTA has long suffered from public trust issues. He doesn’t see the new tolls as helping matters, especially if the agency falls flat on some of its improvement goals after the tolls are implemented.

“Will the transit system improve?” he asked. “You got an agency screaming, ‘We need money.’ You already raised the fares… If we don’t start seeing any headway, where we’re seeing at a minimum, cleaner trains, cleaner stations, better service from the subways, then all of this is a waste of time.”

Not everyone is dreading the toll, though. Some riders are optimistic of the new funding set to come the MTA’s way, and believe that targeting cars is the perfect solution.

“I think it’s a really important first step in the right direction,” said Benjamin Berry, a Bedford-Stuyvesant resident who works in tech. “I’m really excited; more money for better services, fewer cars on the road. I’m proud of the MTA for sticking to their guns.”

New York is the only city in the United States where a majority of commuters opt for public transit. Barry hopes that the toll represents a new attitude from the city that reflects that sentiment. 

“The only way we’re going to get nicer stations and newer tracks is to spend money,” he said. “After all these years of prioritizing drivers, I think it’s time to give the majority of us without cars something nice.”

The congestion toll isn’t quite a done deal. The final plan is being reviewed by the Federal Highway Administration, which is expected to approve it. Even if it does, a number of lawsuits brought in New York and New Jersey could still derail the initiative.

Mayor Mark Sokolich of Fort Lee, New Jersey, brought one suit in November, claiming that the toll could bring more pollution to New Jersey residents because drivers will take alternate routes to skirt the new fee.

He adds that New Jersey’s own public transit will face “significant overcrowding and delays,” as it will likely see a wave of new riders without any upgrades to its system.

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy, who brought a lawsuit of his own over the congestion pricing plan, called the tolling scheme a “blatant cash grab” that “discriminates against New Jerseyans.”

“This is far from over and we will continue to fight this blatant cash grab,” Murphy said in a statement Wednesday. “The MTA’s actions today are further proof that they are determined to violate the law in order to balance their budget on the backs of New Jersey commuters.”

Barring any hold-ups in court, the toll can start taking effect in mid-June once it gets federal approval.

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Categories / Environment, Government, Regional, Travel

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