Manhattan Approves Mandatory $15 Toll

( – In a landmark move, New York City is poised to be the pioneering city in the United States to impose congestion tolls for vehicles entering its central business district. This decision came after the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) board gave its approval to a $15 toll for the majority of vehicles entering a specific section of Manhattan. This initiative, set to launch in June, targets reducing traffic congestion, enhancing public transportation efficiency, and generating crucial funds for the city’s subway system improvements.

The MTA board’s vote solidified the congestion pricing plan with only minor adjustments from its initial proposal, despite numerous appeals for exemptions from various commuter groups. The tolling scheme encompasses passenger vehicles entering Manhattan below 60th Street, an area extending south from Central Park, during daytime hours. The fee structure varies: higher charges apply to larger vehicles, while motorcycles and late-night entries face lower tolls.

Proponents of the scheme argue it will incentivize the use of public transportation, thereby easing road congestion, expediting the movement of buses and emergency vehicles, diminishing pollution, and securing a financial lifeline for subway system enhancements. The New York State Legislature sanctioned the tolls back in 2019, directing the program to generate $1 billion annually to support the subway and bus services catering to the city’s four million daily commuters. Additionally, the legislation delineated the tolling zone, focusing on Manhattan’s most trafficked region, and scaled down the originally proposed area to exclude parts north of 86th Street. The initiative had been delayed by the pandemic and the absence of federal guidelines.

The toll rates are designed to reflect the vehicle size and the time of day, with fees ranging from $1.75 for motorcycles crossing overnight to $36 for sightseeing buses and trucks with trailers during peak daytime hours. An overnight discount applies, spanning from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. on weekdays and extending to 9 a.m. on weekends for all vehicles.

Non-E-ZPass users — a system enabling electronic toll collection — will incur higher charges. Similar to bridge tolling practices, license plate recognition technology will facilitate billing for those without an E-ZPass. The tolling framework also includes additional charges for taxis and app-based ride services when their routes intersect with the toll zone.

Despite two months of public consultation that revealed widespread demand for exemptions across over 100 driver categories, from diplomatic license holders to residents of neighboring states, most were denied due to the program’s financial goals. However, certain exceptions were made, including emergency vehicles, public service buses, and vehicles transporting disabled individuals or serving low-income communities, which will either be exempt or eligible for discounts and tax incentives.

The congestion pricing plan has already triggered lawsuits from various quarters, including small business owners and the state of New Jersey, challenging its implementation. Yet, if it withstands these legal hurdles, New York will set a precedent in the U.S. for congestion pricing, a strategy already in place in global cities like London, Stockholm, Milan, and Singapore.

This initiative marks a significant step toward addressing urban congestion and promoting sustainable urban mobility, with New York City leading the way in the U.S. in adopting a model proven successful in several international cities. The outcome of this bold move could serve as a template for other American cities grappling with similar transportation and environmental challenges.