New York Set To Impose Congestion Pricing, Just as It’s Begging for More Commuters

Anti-recovery measure would charge as much as $23 for vehicles to enter Midtown.

Spencer Platt/Getty Images
Traffic at downtown Manhattan on April 21, 2023. Spencer Platt/Getty Images

The Democratic governor of New York, Kathy Hochul, is bragging that congestion pricing will reduce the number of cars at Manhattan. As the city and businesses beg employees to return post-pandemic, the burden is yet another incentive to stay home.

The Federal Highway Administration removed the last hurdle to the first-in-the-nation program on Monday, paving the way for it to begin as early as the spring, charging tolls up to $23 to drive below 60th Street during peak hours and $17 off peak.

“With congestion pricing,” Ms. Hochul tweeted on Wednesday, “we’ll see significantly fewer vehicles in central Manhattan every single day,” promising less noise, honking, gridlock, pollution, and crashes. “New Yorkers will feel the benefits every single day,” but opponents disagree with this Pollyannaish view.

Offices are where work gets done by people who patronize businesses and restaurants, paying taxes on purchases to City Hall and Albany. Commuters and the cars that carry them — which are already subject to tolls at bridges and tunnels — are the lifeblood of Gotham.

According to a survey in January by the Partnership for New York City, on average, Manhattan’s offices were just 52 percent full. “There are still really large pockets,” the executive director of the Center for an Urban Future, Jonathan Bowles, told the AP in October, “particularly around the central business districts where entrepreneurs and small businesses are struggling … seeing a fraction of their previous customers.”

Congestion pricing adds another discouragement. As for the notion that people can be shunted to mass transit, they’re resistant to do so thanks in part to the explosion in such subway crimes as felony assault — those causing physical injury including rape and murder — which rose 89 percent from 2013 to 2019 and 150 percent between 2019 and 2022.

Furthermore, the MTA reports that while “major incidents” causing delays on trains due to mechanical failure are down, those caused by people have risen. Businesses would rather have employees available to do work at home than stuck in a subway car or worse.

These longer, more dangerous mass transit options aren’t even available to all suburbanites. The Republican executive of Rockland County, New York, Edward Day, is seeking an exemption for his constituents to offset congestion pricing.

“Rockland County residents,” Mr. Day wrote in a statement, “face the highest level of transit inequity in the MTA region including a transit desert that forces more than 60 percent of our residents to drive into the city because they have no other way to get there.”

Senators Booker and Menendez, Democrats of New Jersey, sent a letter to the Secretary of Transportation, Peter Buttigieg, citing “serious concerns,” writing that the fees would “greatly increase the financial burden on families that are already stretched thin.”

New Jersey’s congressional delegation has introduced the bipartisan Stop N.J. Congestion Act to sanction New York if the tolls go ahead, joining the state’s Democratic governor, Phillip Murphy, in objecting to what one of its Democratic congresswoman, Rebecca “Mikie” Sherrill, called “an unfair hit” against families.

Mr. Murphy also appealed to the Biden Administration, citing not only cost but that New Jersey Transit and the PATH trains don’t have the capacity to carry commuters who “cannot afford to live in Manhattan and must travel great lengths to reach their workplace.”

While the MTA seeks the additional fees to close its budget deficit, projected at $2.5 billion in 2025, congestion pricing’s most common selling point is reduced emissions, but Mr. Gottheimer says it will lead “to more congestion and more pollution,” referring to changing traffic patterns in an MTA environmental analysis.

“This diversion,” Mr. Murphy wrote, “would simply shift carbon emissions from affluent TriBeCa and Times Square into North Jersey communities such as Union City, Jersey City, and Newark,” warning drivers will go “toll shopping,” burning more gas in search of the cheapest way across the Hudson.

Ms. Hochul’s plan promises positives without pain, but reality is putting speed bumps in her way. We’ll soon find out if congestion pricing delivers or, by causing more problems than it fixes, proves a bridge too far for the people who make New York City work.

The New York Sun

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