Some New York politicians have argued that the State Legislature will never approve a system of tolls and taxi fees, known as congestion pricing, which could help reduce traffic on the streets of Manhattan and pay for much-needed transit improvements. Getting lawmakers to back this idea will be difficult, as former Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s failed effort a decade ago shows, but it ought not to be impossible.
Congestion pricing has many obvious opponents, starting with people who will have to pay new fees to drive into the heart of New York City, as well as their representatives in the Legislature. But there are a far larger number of potential beneficiaries, including city and suburban residents who are tired of wasting hours of their lives in traffic or on trains stalled because of malfunctioning signals. In addition, proposals to reduce the city’s endemic gridlock will reduce planet-warming and lung-damaging pollution.
The good news is that congestion pricing is finally back on the table. Gov. Andrew Cuomo told The Times that it was an “idea whose time has come,” and that he and his staff were working on a proposal. His endorsement is significant because Mr. Cuomo is one of the few New York politicians with the influence and authority needed to persuade the Legislature to approve it.
The need for congestion pricing is greater than ever. New York City’s subway system has degenerated into a stupendous mess after years of neglect and maladministration. It is becoming clear to commuters and politicians alike that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority needs to spend much more money to upgrade its antiquated signaling system, replace dilapidated trains and refurbish worn-down stations, not to mention extend the system to transit-starved neighborhoods.
That’s where congestion pricing, specifically a proposal known as Move NY Fair Plan, comes in. It is based on the ideas of Sam Schwartz, a former New York City traffic commissioner, and it operates on the principle that everybody who travels to Manhattan should share the burden of easing traffic and improving the transportation system.
Move NY, which Mr. Cuomo is considering, would impose fees on cars and trucks heading south across 60th Street and vehicles that enter Manhattan from the four East River bridges that are currently free. It would lower tolls on outer bridges like the Robert F. Kennedy (still known as the Triborough) and the Verrazano-Narrows that serve areas with few transit options. And it would increase fees on taxi and ride-share trips in much of Manhattan during the busiest times of day. The fees and tolls would be higher on weekdays and during rush hours, and lower at other times. The plan would raise nearly $1.5 billion a year for improving transit services in the city and the suburbs. Cities like London and Singapore have used similar policies effectively.