NYC congestion pricing: How it would work and how to weigh in

Supporters of Manhattan congestion pricing have been fighting for it going back to the Bloomberg administration. However, as it comes closer to becoming a reality, voices opposing it are growing louder. 

The MTA, which would implement the program, held six public hearings, which concluded at the end of August, and was set to close the public comment period on Sept. 9. However, the issue has understandably generated so much interest and controversy that the agency extended the public comment period though Sept. 23.

Motorists entering the heart of Manhattan would pay an extra $9 to $23 under the long-delayed congestion-pricing plan, which may finally take effect by the end of 2023, according to an environmental assessment released by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority in August. 

The MTA, which would implement the electronic tolling system, stands to raise about $1 billion a year to help fund improvements to mass transit. Authorities also expect the tolls to dissuade people from driving into Manhattan, reducing traffic and thus noise and pollution.  

Congestion Toll Zone

The zone for the congestion-pricing plan, which the MTA formally calls the Central Business District Tolling Program, includes all of Manhattan south of 60th Street except for the West Side Highway (9A), the FDR Drive, the Battery Park Underpass (which connects the two), and any roadway that connects the Hugh L. Carey Tunnel to West Street. 

A map showing part of Manhattan

A map of the New York City Central Business District Tolling Program. (Courtesy of MTA)

Tolling Scenarios

A six-person board will finalize the rate structure, which is expected to have a number of discounts and exemptions. For example, Manhattan residents who live in the zone and make less than $60,000 per year would be eligible for a tax credit to cover the cost of tolls.

In general, tolls would be higher during peak periods — defined as 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. on weekdays and 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. on weekends.

The MTA is exploring seven versions of the tolling plan with varying rates depending on a few factors —such as which discounts are given to drivers already paying tolls at bridges and tunnels entering Manhattan and whether there is a cap on the number of times a car or truck can be tolled in one day.

In one scenario, vehicles that enter the toll zone would pay $9; another scenario has all drivers paying $23.

image showing tolling equipment over Broadway

This rendering shows a proposed mast arm holding tolling infrastructure and tolling system equipment over the road at Broadway near 61st Street. (Courtesy of MTA)

For example, tolls would peak at $23 under a scenario in which cars, trucks, taxis, and for-hire vehicles would be capped at one toll per day and drivers already paying tolls at seven bridges and tunnels into Manhattan would receive credits. 

Conversely, tolls would top out at $9 in a scenario in which taxis, for-hire vehicles, and trucks would have no cap on how often they could be charged and drivers at the seven crossings wouldn't receive credits.

Only one of the seven scenarios includes a credit for drivers crossing the George Washington Bridge from New Jersey into Upper Manhattan. 

New York City Opposition

U.S. Rep. Nicole Malliotakis, a Republican, said the outer boroughs would pay the price. 

"It's costlier, it's going to add traffic particularly to areas outside the zone, and it's going to increase pollution in those areas outside the zone," Malliotakis said. "So that's why we're here as representatives of the outer boroughs who are gravely concerned about this." 

The long-delayed environmental impact report said congestion tolling could result in more traffic on the Cross-Bronx Expressway and the RFK Bridge. City Council Member Joseph Borelli, a Republican, said that would futher harm areas already dealing with some of the highest asthma rates in the country. 

"Imagine our government, our progressive government, implementing the most regressive tax we've ever done, with no oversight," Borelli said, "one we admit would disproportionately impact low income people." 

New Jersey Opposition

A number of lawmakers and public officials in New Jersey have slammed the tolling plan, calling it a "tax" on New Jersey residents who commute to New York and already pay high tolls at the crossings. On Tuesday, U.S. Rep. Josh Gottheimer and state lawmakers introduced a bill to incentivize businesses in New York to open new offices in New Jersey for employees who live in the Garden State. 

MTA CEO Statement

"This assessment makes clear the widespread benefits that would result from Central Business District tolling," MTA CEO Janno Lieber said in a statement. "Bottom line congestion pricing is good for the environment, good for public transit and good for New York and the region. We look forward to receiving public feedback in the weeks ahead."

Public Comment Period: How to Submit Your Feedback on Congestion Pricing

The MTA held six public hearings in August allowing people to comment. [You can view recordings of those hearings here.]

"Recognizing the significant public interest in the Central Business District Tolling Program’s Environmental Assessment, and in response to requests, the Environmental Assessment’s public comment period will remain open an additional 14 days and close on Friday, September 23, 2022, instead of Friday, September 9, as previously announced," the MTA announced.

If you would like to weigh in before the Sept. 23 deadline, you can do so online or by email, mail, phone, and fax. Here are contact details:

With The Associated Press and FOX 5 NY's Lisa Evers, Arthur Chi'en, Linda Schmidt, and Antan Lewis, and Arun Kristian Das.