Over the weekend, New York passed congestion pricing, a toll for drivers entering the most traffic-clogged part of Manhattan. The charge won’t go into effect until 2021 at the soonest. Plus, important things have yet to be decided, such as the actual cost and who will be charged.
These minor details will be determined by a yet-to-be-named board of six people within the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority, which is part of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the agency that will reap the congestion pricing windfall to pay for subway, bus, and commuter rail improvements. It’s confusing, because everything relating to New York City transportation is confusing.
That confusion—and the fact that nobody has actually decided anything important other than that this is happening—has cultivated fertile ground for special interests intent on making sure they don’t have to pay the new toll. Because who wants to pay for things?
“We feel very strongly that commercial vehicles should be exempt — they provide a critical service to New York City,” [Kendra Hems, president of the Trucking Association of New York] said.
And New Jersey commuters:
In a March 29 letter to Cuomo, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy said he understood that credits would apply to drivers heading to Manhattan via the Lincoln or Holland tunnels, with tolls as high as $15. But travelers on the George Washington Bridge, if they continue south of 60th Street, wouldn’t get the same benefit, he said.
And New York commuters:
The plan amounts to “a new commuter tax that will hurt motorists in the Hudson Valley and on Long Island,” New York Senate Republican Leader John Flanagan said in a news release.
Taxicab drivers, rallying outside Cuomo’s Manhattan office in February, said they were hurt by the $2.50 surcharge, and worried about their customers’ paying congestion pricing, too.
There’s an old saying that if you’re in the traffic, you are the traffic. Insofar as congestion pricing is a bid to reduce the amount of intolerable gridlock in the densest urban area in the country, any of these exemptions would be silly.
Except, that’s not what this policy is about. In fact, the law is explicitly clear on this one point: It has to raise enough revenue for the MTA to be able to borrow at least $15 billion off the proceeds.
But this also makes many of the lobbied-for exemptions silly. If everyone seeking an exemption gets one, there’s no way the fee will raise the required revenue. But, it does open up possibilities for negotiations and concessions over the next two years while this all gets sorted. That would be bad for New York City, but good for people who want to keep driving into Manhattan on the cheap.