I’m excited about New York’s congestion pricing
A plan for quieter streets, cleaner air, better-funded public transport, and a Manhattan focused on the needs of its residents
Lots of people want to drive vehicles through Manhattan. Driving is often quite convenient for people in those vehicles, but it also negatively impacts many of the people around them. These cars clog up the streets, which causes other vehicles to move more slowly. Their motors and horns and brakes are noisy. They hurt people: in February 2023 car crashes in Manhattan resulted in 459 reported injuries and 2 deaths.They pollute Manhattan’s air, which harms the health of everyone who breathes it and makes the city dirty.
Fortunately, there is a fairly straightforward way to reduce these harms: charge drivers a fee to drive their vehicle in Manhattan. This fee forces drivers to consider whether driving their vehicle through Manhattan is worth the cost. On the margin, some drivers will decide that driving through the city is no longer worth it to them, and they’ll make other plans. This makes Manhattan’s streets and avenues less congested, quieter, safer, and less polluted.
New York’s upcoming congestion pricing system
New York’s government is (slowly) working on implementing a congestion fee for driving in Manhattan below 59th Street.
Under New York’s congestion pricing system, any vehicle that enters the congestion pricing zone will be charged between $5 and $23 (depending on the time of day). There will be equipment suspended above the roadways at the borders of the zone that automatically charges the vehicle’s E-ZPass or mails an invoice to the vehicle’s registered address (similar to paying for tolls on Manhattan’s bridges and tunnels). Vehicles will be charged at most once per day. There’ll be exemptions and tax credits for residents of the congestion pricing area who earn less than $60,000 per year and for vehicles transporting people with disabilities.
Similar congestion pricing systems have been implemented in Singapore, London, Stockholm, and Milan.
Benefits of congestion pricing
I’m excited about this plan and the ways it will make Manhattan a nicer place to live. The government’s environmental impact assessment concluded that implementing this congestion pricing will:
Reduce daily vehicle-miles traveled per day within the congestion pricing zone by between 7.1% and 9.2%
Raise between $1.0 and $1.5 billion per year for public transport projects
Improve air quality by reducing Manhattan’s vehicle emissions of carbon dioxide by -8% and emissions of particulate matter smaller than 2.5 microns (PM2.5) by -9%
Allow vehicles in the congestion pricing area to move up to 16% faster at peak hours (a whopping 7.34 miles per hour, compared to the current average speed of 6.35 mph), saving drivers and bus riders valuable time
Result in 4 fewer traffic-related deaths and 750 fewer traffic-related injuries per year
I think these sound like great improvements to our city.
These benefits come at the cost of making drivers pay to move around Manhattan, but I think that’s worth it. Manhattan has excellent public transport and the majority of New Yorkers don’t own a car. Car owners in the NYC area are on average far wealthier than households without a car, so people who continue to drive in Manhattan are unlikely to be particularly impoverished by the congestion fees.
Congestion pricing in NYC will happen, eventually
The New York State legislature passed laws in 2019 that require congestion pricing to be implemented. The implementation of the project has been delayed by a long environmental review process, but it is still going to happen! The MTA’s most recent estimate is that congestion pricing is most likely to begin in late 2024.
At this point, the most impactful thing that New Yorkers can do to help ensure congestion pricing does eventually happen to tell your elected representatives that you care about congestion pricing and want them to keep pursuing it. Even a quick email can help.
I find it very frustrating that it has taken so long to implement congestion pricing. This is a great example of the environmental review process and other superficially well-meaning procedures slowing down progressive projects.
Notwithstanding these delays, I wish that we would be even bolder and apply congestion pricing across a wider area – perhaps covering all of Manhattan – to have an even larger impact. My hope is that once people see the benefits of congestion pricing below 60th Street they will clamour to have it expanded more widely.
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