Will New York’s Congestion Pricing Fix Manhattan Traffic?

Manhattan is famous for many reasons. But at 4:30 p.m. on a Friday, one of its most well-known attributes is usually on rampant, blaring display: traffic.

Traveling by car in Manhattan can be an absolute nightmare, thanks to the sheer volume of cabs, trucks, buses, private vehicles and ride hails all desperately trying to get out of the snarl.

New York thinks it has a solution in the form of congestion pricing, a fee levied on people who want to enter specific areas of the city at certain times. London, Stockholm and Singapore are already trying this approach, but New York would be the first U.S. city to adopt it.

The city still needs to agree on who should pay, how much and when. The fee would likely range from $11 to $25, depending on whether one is driving a car or truck. Under the law, emergency vehicles are automatically exempt, as are vehicles with disability placards and those belonging to residents making less than $60,000 a year (though that likely applies to very few people in that area).

Well-designed congestion pricing works in a couple of ways. One of the most obvious is it gets cars off the road. The price is a disincentive for drivers, who seek out alternative options. Transit and carpooling start to look more reasonable if you have to pay $11 just to get into the city in a private car. The funds raised can also go to support public transit, which gives drivers more environmentally sound choices. Some people are driving into Manhattan because they live in underserved neighborhoods where there are no transit options.

But some people have criticized congestion pricing, saying it has a regressive effect. Low-income people are ill-equipped to shoulder the additional cost burden. And they’re also more likely to live in underserved neighborhoods that force them to drive to work. Because it can take years to get new transit services online, that’s a lot of driving because you have no choice while waiting for transit to open up.

Operators of private buses argue they’re also reducing the traffic and shouldn’t have to pay, while taxi drivers say it could be ruinous. Truck drivers say it’s unfair because they have to drive into Manhattan, and residents are upset at being charged to enter and exit their own community. Plus, motorcyclists say their smaller footprint should exempt them. And ride shares are also pushing for a free ride, even though they are some of the worst contributors to congestion.

In other words, no one actually wants to pay the congestion pricing. And some of these entities have powerful lobbies.

The bitter resistance to congestion pricing is a reminder of the privileged status of the car in the U.S. People have the expectation that cars should be provided with free infrastructure, even though the cost of building and maintaining roads, bridges and tunnels can be extremely high. The news that cars may be charged to collect revenue to improve public transit appears deeply offensive to many New Yorkers (and some from New Jersey, as well). But New York has been struggling with its notoriously derelict subway system for decades and needs to address its infrastructure problems as the population grows.

This scheme would likely reduce the number of cars on the road if officials hold the line and don’t pass so many exemptions that the city has barely any revenue. If implemented well, it could be a model for other cities with big traffic problems, including San Francisco, Los Angeles and Boston. But if done poorly, it could set back the conversation on congestion pricing, making it even harder for the U.S. to deal with its car dependency.

Photo credit: deberarr/Getty Images

31 comments

Janis K
Janis Kabout a month ago

Thanks for sharing.

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heather g
heather gabout a month ago

If mass transit was available in NY, would Americans use it?

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Carla G
Frances Gabout a month ago

thanks for sharing

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Colin C
Colin Clauscenabout a month ago

When you start looking at exemptions it gets hard. Whatever they do not everyone will be happy.

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Michael F
Michael Friedmannabout a month ago

Thank You for Sharing This !!!

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Sherry Kohn
Sherry Kabout a month ago

Noted

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Danuta W
Danuta Wabout a month ago

thanks for sharing

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Peggy B
Peggy Babout a month ago

tyfs

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David C
David Cabout a month ago

good luck

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john casablanca
john casablancaabout a month ago

Don't think this will help. The city will make money, but it does not fix the congestion situation. The only way to avoid the congestion is by limiting traffic to the city during certain hours, give incentives ti people to take, buses, trains and subways, otherwise it will never change.
John C./Houston Tx.

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