What’s Holding Up Congestion Pricing In NYC?

In 2019, New York state legislators passed a law that would allow New York City to use congestion pricing, in which cars driving into Manhattan’s Central Business District would receive a daily toll of approximately $11 to $14, per a recent report by City & State. The law is expected to bring in an addition $1 billion in revenue for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which will likely suffer a “$16 billion shortfall through 2024” in addition to other needs the congestion pricing revenue would fund. Congestion pricing already exists in cities like Stockholm and London, according to the report, where it has both “raised revenue and increased traffic.” In New York, however, the law’s implementation has been stalled by federal authorities, in what some experts and officials “believe is political punishment for a blue state from the Trump Administration.”

According to City & State, New York can implement congestion pricing as earlier as January 1, 2021. The state is currently eyeing a start in early 2022, however, due to the holdup. As the report explains, the law requires an environmental impact study of the program: “Because some of the roads that will be tolled have received federal funding, the Federal Highway Administration – a division of the federal Department of Transportation – can require an environmental review be conducted by the state before the policy can be implemented.” While the federal government is responsible for determining “what level of environmental review is necessary,” if any, it hasn’t provided any guidance to the state, “despite having the materials it requested” in January of this year. As the MTA chairman told city and state: “It’s paradoxical to me that congestion pricing, central business district tolling, which is a huge environmental, social good, reduces traffic/congestion, funds mass transit and reduces emissions is being held up… All we want from USDOT, and all we’ve ever wanted from the beginning, is for them to follow their own required process and tell us what the environmental process is so we can pursue it.”

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo suggested earlier this year that the federal government was delaying its review for political reasons. In a news conference, he said of the Trump Administration, “Will they hold approval on congestion pricing hostage? Yes. Will they hold the air train approval at LaGuardia Airport hostage? Yes. Will they hold the Gateway Tunnels hostage? Yes. Because that is how they do business.” In an interview with a local news program, New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio echoed Cuomo’s remarks, and suggested that the program might move faster if Joe Biden wins the presidential election. “We do need to ensure the federal government approves it. I am hoping that the professional folks and reason will prevail — that doesn’t always happen in Washington,” he said, according to an NY1 report. “If that doesn’t happen, then I am hoping for an election result that will change things in November.”

As City & State has reported, congestion pricing is one of many strategies NYC can use to make its roads safer for drivers, pedestrians, and cyclists, by reducing the number of vehicles. In theory, it will also improve air quality in city: reduced vehicles means reduced gridlock, which means fewer vehicles idling and releasing gas into the atmosphere. Unfortunately, City & State concludes, few people if anyone expect the program to begin in January of 2021.

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