In the News: Digesting congestion pricing (say that five times fast)

I’ve wanted to get a handle on what congestion pricing will mean to us downtowners, especially now that it has picked up traction in the state legislature: Albany people say it’s likely they will have a deal brokered by Monday’s state budget deadline. Winnie Hu in The Times did the cost analysis I wanted to see, with help from Sam Schwartz; and our own Charlie Komanoff, a transportation economist and activist, has been lobbying the pro side from all angles. See his opinion pieces in the Streetsblog, the Villager and The Nation, in this last one calling it New York’s Green New Deal.

The gist: downtowners will probably benefit the most from congestion pricing, since our streets are the most clogged and since we have the bridges and tunnels on all sides. I think we downtown folk well know the toll (no pun intended) traffic takes on all of us: pollution, noise, pedestrian and bike safety, lost time in getting around our own neighborhood, and general peace of mind. And it is only getting worse. Of course the big nut: predictions suggest that the plan will raise $1 billion a year that will go to the MTA for improvements to the subways and commuter rails.

But residents with cars (yes, I am looking out for number one here) will also *pay* the most. Sam Schwartz, aka Gridlock Sam and the media’s favorite traffic engineer, took a guess that fees to enter the city (by means of EZPass or a similar mechanism) will be around $12 for cars at rush hours (less at night and on weekends). It seems a bit unfair to have to pay money to drive home — especially given our real estate tax rates — but something has got to give.

Writes the Times: Those arguments have been bolstered by the success of plans in places like London, Stockholm and Singapore, where congestion pricing helped unclog streets. Still, such plans have also been assailed by drivers and critics as an unfair tax that especially hurts poor people who do not have access to public transit.

(To this issue, if you want to be less parochial and look at this as a regional issue – I don’t, but smarter people do – The Times’ New York Today has a good Q&A with state legislators from Long Island and Orange County on how this will affect their middle-class driving commuters.)

Who knows a good parking lot in Highbridge?




  1. Pam — thanks very much for the shoutout, for the links to my posts, and most of all for your cogent and fair write-up of congestion pricing from a lower Manhattan viewpoint. Yours is a voice of reason amidst too much cacophony and misinformation on this big issue. We should all be grateful.

  2. Since so much of the traffic in lower Manhattan is coming from outer boroughs on toll-less outlets, it does not seem fair that we residents have to pay a “double tax” – high RE taxes and congestion pricing. But, to your point, Pam, something has to give. If, however, we have this double tax and still have to deal with heavy traffic/movie shoots/parking placard abuse/ poor traffic management and policing, and construction frustration, then it is simply time to pack up and move somewhere else. I don’t think that the powers that be have an ounce of concern about the residents of Tribeca.

  3. Congestion pricing will be great if they implement it well—no exceptions and a market clearing price that really reduces traffic.

    There’s no double taxation: any cars in lower Manhattan are part of the congestion, whether they’re owned by locals or not. I look forward to faster moving traffic when I need a cab and cleaner air when I’m walking around.

  4. I am more interested in the impact of goods and services in our area i.e. truck deliveries to downtown businesses and restaurants. Will they pass on the congestion pricing costs to customers? I am concerned about mom and pop businesses being sustainable…

    • A very good point. Trucks will be charged more than cars: $25 per, according to Sam Schwartz’s analysis.

      • Yes, all along, the governor’s team has penciled in truck tolls being a bit more than twice the car toll, which is unfortunate and unnecessary. Sam and I, together, have urged that the congestion tolls for commercial vehicle be “graduated” per tolls on MTA bridges and tunnels. A 2-axle van’s toll would be just 70% more than a car’s, while an 18-wheeler’s toll would be 364% more, which is eminently fair, given size and damage. That’s a detail worth fighting for but not killing the plan for. At least, commercial vehicles will pay only one toll per day. The hope / expectation is that many/most such vehicles will make the toll cost back in time savings.

        • Also, what about a discount for 100% electric cars and trucks?

          And while we are at it, a tax deduction for joining a bike share programs like Citibike?

  5. People who drive into the city park in parking lots (pay taxes there) or park at Muni meters (millions of dollars spent, not to mention money from parking violations). Where is that money? There’s congestion due to bike Lanes, construction and road work that takes weeks to finish. Downtown there is construction on almost every block (taking up lanes) and rough roads waiting to be paved for going on 2 weeks. Scott Stringer needs to see the MTA books. I saw more than 10 cars yesterday with either Florida or Pennsylvania plates. Charge them. There are more than 20 cars in my Queens neighborhood who have plates from both states and they’re here year round.

  6. Rome has this but they do not tax the residents who need to come and go for work. You can register your lisence plate and have an ezpass like sensor. Those without registration get taxed for entering in the zones.
    This administration is possibly the biggest joke ever if they can’t make at least that happen.
    Also no one talks about the army of city vehicles that is a huge cause of congestion and the issues at hand. But I am sure the city will ensure their own exempt from this tax. So here again other benefit vs the residents who fund it all in the end.
    We should also expect price inflation as those that need to supply goods for sale or make deliveries will upcharge residents in the zone.
    Local business will also suffer in numerous ways as their costs will inflate.
    The heart of the problem needs to be fixed…the positions and MTA scum themselves who are running a public Mafia.
    Perhaps another government shutdown is in order. It was so pleasent when they were gone and the city didn’t miss a beat.
    We need a revolution.

  7. Congestion pricing seems like a good idea to me, although I can see from the comments here, that the “devil is in the details” to make its pros outweigh its cons.

    But beyond that, congestion would also be significantly improved if traffic laws were actually enforced: keeping bus and bike lanes clear, stopping the red-light runners, keeping the intersection “box” clear, requiring drivers to actually pay attention to the road instead of SnapGramTubeChat.

    (For the related issues of noise pollution, let’s bring back the “no honking” laws and actually enforce them. Other major sources of noise: booming car stereos with window open that can be heard blocks away; motorcycles intentionally loudened.)

    Then there’s the reckless driving. You would never know there are speed limits here. Certain streets (like ours) seem to function as de facto race tracks (also encouraged by the lack of red light enforcement, so that red light means “pedal to the metal”). Plus: Enforce laws against phone use while driving.

    “In 2016 alone, 3,450 people were killed. 391,000 were injured in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers in 2015.”

    Canal Street is a real death trap of chaos and lawlessness. Even when there are traffic cops present, they don’t really do anything about these problems, form what I can see.

    / rant over… haven’t even had coffee yet …but first thing I hear outside our window is a car horn “shout” fest, a regular occurrence on our street

  8. Pam – thanks for writing this up.
    Charles – thanks for writing in and for the links to additional resources in your articles. It makes sense that our subway signaling systems need to be upgraded, and that the MTA always needs more money so taxing drivers under the guise of relieving congestion is a good sell. But what are the main culprits for congestion in our city? Trucks, commuters, trash trucks, taxis, ubers? Probably all of it, but ever since uber came to town it does feel a little more crowded. But as my fellow neighbors have pointed out, we have enforcement issues and tons of construction too. Cars doubled parked, cars blocking the box (just ask all the folks close to the Holland tunnel entrances), and on top of all that construction everywhere, restricting lanes, and movie shoots everywhere too. Spending billions more on transit needs to happen, but doing it via congestion pricing, although sounds good, but without proper enforcement, it will just make the city even more expensive, hurt small businesses, and probably not clear up congestion in the long run.

  9. Make no mistake, this is nothing more than a gigantic cash grab to try and help paper over a mismanaged MTA who wastes more money than it spends wisely. The pols are taking advantage of well intentioned people who would love a cleaner and less congested environment… they know this will barely make a dent in behavior that will have any meaningful results… because if it did, then all the revenue assumptions they are making would be dramatically reduced. They don’t want people not to drive in lower manhattan, they just want to be able to collect a fee from them.

  10. i am a proponent of congestion pricing as a way to mitigate actual congestion and air pollution. i hope this actually happens.
    However congestion pricing comes at a price we will all have to pay. we here in Manhattan will pay more for everything we consume/ use. the price of everything we eat and use will go up- all the raw materials come from somewhere else and so the production cost for any business in Manhattan will increase. most Businesses have no choice but to pass these costs on to the consumer along with the higher delivery charges.
    Get ready for the $5 croissant.
    Coda: i’m not so sure that the MTA deserves this taxpayer bailout. i suspect chronic, systemic mismanagement is mostly responsible for the current mass transit woes.

  11. Having been downtown for decades I have seen the growth in congestion and the loss of affordability in all areas of life downtown. The onus of additional fees for residents with a car for work or family are HUGE and potentially even crippling for small businesses. History has shown increase for costs for business get passed onto the consumers – everything from groceries/green markets to medical care & anything shipped into NYC. Yes we have a hospital downtown but they do not have all that is needed to serve the community and patients are sent uptown to their “main campus”. Having had 3 family members with treatments at Sloan Kettering and all of our doctors uptown adds more burdens. So yes Downtown Residents who own a car will be taxed by this. Other cities carved out exceptions for residents, why not NYC?

    Because this is a revenue model: This does nothing about placard & other abusers who illegally park in loading zones and local no standing/parking anytime zones on streets too narrow to have legal parking, the fleets of city cars parked on the streets, the hundred of thousands of FHV roaming the streets or the double parked trucks/vans. Where is the money for enforcement?

    Who wants to bet that all of the placards, city vehicles and government workers will be exempt even though they are a major player in congestion downtown?

    • thank you for raising the placard abuse issue. i have complaned to different agencies for quite awhile-
      my complaints fall on deaf ears

  12. The politicians should stop calling it Congestion Pricing. It is a punitive tax on drivers. Congestion has nothing to do with it. It’s just another way to squeeze more money out of drivers for the “luxury” of driving in NYC. Please consider the following:
    1- The highest tolls at the GW Bridge, Holland, Lincoln Tunnel, etc. are imposed when the volume is most dense. It doesn’t reduce congestion.
    2– To generate the most revenue for the MTA, logic dictates that you would want more people paying the fees, not less. Therefore, with fewer vehicles, the financial goals will not be reached.
    3– In the event that congestion is reduced, that also translates to less business for NYC restaurants, stores, theater, museums, etc. There comes a point where the tariff becomes too onerous, and guests find alternatives elsewhere.

    If you really want to reduce congestion, add more traffic agents to keep traffic flowing, and remove bike lanes in areas where there is low usage. Draconian measures are not needed.

  13. Congestion pricing for NYC might eliminate traffic and raise money that who knows where it will ever go. One thing certain is that NYC will lose mom and pop restaurants and shops as they will not be able to pay the surcharges the suppliers will tack on to their already inflated prices to New Yorkers. Surcharges by food suppliers already exist for things such as every day towing and tickets while trying to deliver. On top of that shop owners will be paying the congestion fees for these deliveries. Rents are already exorbitant. Add to this more fees and city dwellers will pay the price.

    • Yep… and you never once hear anyone in authority/elected office confronting government waste, or increasing efficiency/reducing costs. Never.

  14. Re: Congestion Pricing

    There is much written online about the successes and failures, pros and cons, of congestion pricing as already tested in other cities like London.

    Here, for example:
    London congestion charge: what worked, what didn’t, what next

    Also, if this is accurate, at least some small business owners want congestion pricing:

    • Did you see that the term/details of the congestion pricing won’t be determined (released) until at the very earlier November 15, 2020?

      Hmmm, what happens a week before that date? Oh yeah, the next election. These clowns don’t want the details revealed prior to the election so that voters can potentially hold them to account for it.

      Ultimately, I guess we have to pass congestion pricing before we get to see what’s in congestion pricing.

  15. Manhattan is becoming more and more of a gated community as we speak.

    I vote to have exemptions from tolls for car owners living in the congestion zones.

  16. If you look at the map above, you will see that there is only one on ramp for the Queens-Midtown tunnel that is congestion fee free, the 61st entrance. One will have to pay a fee to enter the congestion zone then another to jump in the tunnel.

    Also it looks like the George Washington will be the desirable bridge to get into town once this goes into effect. Maybe some relief from the Holland Tunnel?