If you are living in New York City, a plan for congestion pricing for the city’s central business district is dominating the news. The plan calls for charging a toll to vehicles entering the lower half of Manhattan, where Broadway and many tourist attractions are located.
This plan, passed by the New York State Legislature in 2019, could have an impact beyond the East Coast. If NYC becomes the first in the nation to enact a congestion pricing plan, it could inspire similar efforts in other congested U.S. cities such as Atlanta, Boston, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle.
Critics call NYC’s plan a money grab. Fees are being set to raise billions in revenue for the financially strapped Metropolitan Transportation Authority MTA, the entity responsible for public transportation.
Suggested congestion pricing tolls could range from $9 to $23 during peak hours, $7 to $17 during off-peak hours, or $5 to $12 overnight, according to models used by the report’s authors. These potential tolls would be in addition to tolls paid for crossings like the Lincoln Tunnel, Holland Tunnel and George Washington Bridge, whose current tolls range from $11.75 to $16.
Easing budget crunch for mass transit
Congestion pricing has been in place for years in the small country of Singapore and in major European cities of London and Stockholm. But there’s a big difference between them and NYC’s plan.
“The real goal of the New York congestion pricing plan is to raise revenue to help fund budget shortfalls for the MTA. … That’s one of the things that really differs from the approach to London, Singapore and Stockholm,” said Glenn Every, owner of Tonche Transit in upstate New York and president of Bus4NYC, a group advocating to exempt buses from congestion pricing.
Every, who is also a United Motorcoach Association Board Member, recently joined a UMA Town Hall, along with longtime bus industry advocate Patrick Condren, to explain the potential impact congestion pricing in NYC could have on the bus and motorcoach industry.
MTA is looking at a $2.6 billion operating deficit in 2025 because of a decline in public transit use during the pandemic. Not only will MTA benefit from congestion pricing, but the entity was tasked with preparing an environmental assessment to justify congestion pricing. A key part of that review is an environmental justice component.
Thanks to Condren’s efforts, Bus4NYC was fortunate to be one of the environmental justice stakeholders invited to take part in that process.
“We have been trying to make everybody aware that buses are good things in that they can help reduce congestion. They reduce pollution by taking cars off the road,” Every said. The overall goal has really been to show that privately owned buses should be treated the same as the public buses because we all carry the traveling public.”
Opposition from other boroughs
After the series of meetings, the gathering of information included a series of virtual public hearings that were open to people who lived in and outside of New York City.
The strongest opposition is coming from the city’s other boroughs – Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island and the Bronx – along with New Jersey.
Not surprisingly, congestion has become a heated campaign issue, as Gov. Kathy Hochul has made it a priority to put congestion pricing in place by 2023 as she campaigns to keep her appointed seat. Her Republican challenger, Long Island Congressman Lee Zeldin, has vowed to shelve the plan if he wins.
This is the third effort to install congestion pricing, according to Condren, an NYC bus company owner turned policy guru, who handles government affairs for a number of operators in the Tri-State region. (Every calls him “the guy whose number you want to have in your contacts if you are thinking about sending a motorcoach to New York City.”)
Bus4NYC supports congestion pricing because buses are congestion mitigators.
“We’re the ideal displacement of 55 people out of cars into a bus, with the caveat that like Singapore, like London, like Stockholm and other cities that have congestion pricing programs today, the private operators are included in the exemption program in what is often known as high tonnage or full buses, but not a 14-passenger bus,” Condren said.
UMA members can watch the entire Aug. 18 Town Hall presentation led by Every and Condren by clicking here.