Congestion Pricing Crowding Out the Poor

The Metropolitan Transit Authority is rolling out its plan for congestion pricing for Manhattan drivers south of 60th Street by May 2024. 

There could not be a worse time to restrict business traffic in a city still suffering from the damaging economic effects of the COVID pandemic. 

Manhattan restaurants can least afford any additional impediments that will keep patrons away from their establishments. Broadway theaters will also suffer, since many theatergoers would not want to be taking a subway from Times Square after 9 p.m. 

According to the MTA, the congestion pricing policy will generate at least $1 billion in revenue that will be allocated to the MTA. The authority will then sell bonds in order to generate $15 billion for its capital plan. The bond revenue would then be used to help fund critical projects, such as infrastructure improvements, maintenance, and upgrades to buses and subways, including the extension of the Second Avenue Subway to East Harlem. 

The controversial tax is to be levied to support sagging MTA revenue due to shrinking ridership. If the MTA could provide a safe, and clean experience on the subways officials believe, perhaps revenue would climb. 

The amount of the additional tax has not been set by the MTA, but reportedly is said to be between $9 and $23 between 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. weekdays, depending on the vehicle, with delivery trucks being charged on the higher end. 

New Jersey has already filed a federal lawsuit against the Federal Highway Administration for allowing New York City to initiate this user tax. 

Staten Island Borough President Vito Fossella said he is looking into bringing suit against the MTA. Fossella reportedly said of the tax: “If the sidewalks of the city are congested or crowded, does that mean we should have a walking tax to deal with the congestion on the sidewalks?” 

Fossella makes a good point. Manhattan has always been about traffic. Whether it is car or foot traffic. That is what makes the city hum. 

While the MTA is using funds to supplement dwindling ridership numbers, it is also looking to raise subway and bus fares at the same time. There have been limited discussions about providing exemptions for those who need to be in Manhattan for medical or other health reasons. 

And there appears to be some early discussions for aid to those who experience economic hardship. 

At a Traffic Mobility Review Board meeting a proposal was put forth for a 25% discount that may be available for low-income drivers after the first 10 trips in one calendar month. Residents in the congestion pricing zone who make less than $60,000 per year may also be granted a tax credit equal to the tolls they paid. But there is little talk about New York City residents who have limited commuting options. 

Overall, this measure will have dire effects on the people who can least afford an additional financial hit. It will also penalize people who cannot use the subway system due to a handicap or disability. 

Supermarkets and other local vendors will have to raise prices to pay for the tax hike they will endure from their vendors who will be taxed at the highest rate because their products arrive on trucks. This will be another devastating blow to lower income residents in Manhattan, who may not even own a car. 

No, this congestion pricing scheme, being levied to fill MTA coffers, is ill conceived and certainly ill timed. Drivers entering Manhattan are already paying sky-high tolls on many of the bridges and tunnels, now they want to tax you just to cut through lower Manhattan, just to get to New Jersey or Long Island.