Highway Robbery: New York City’s Congestion Pricing Program Is Another Way to Fleece Drivers

AP Photo/Seth Wenig

New York City has come up with a brilliant new way to enrich itself at the expense of taxpayers. It’s called the congestion pricing program, and if its supporters get their way, it might be coming to another city near you.

Earlier this year, the city was cleared to implement congestion pricing. The program will allow the Big Apple to charge drivers traveling into Lower Manhattan. As you can imagine, New York’s politicians are quite excited about the prospect of gouging folks going into the city for work.

But not everyone is happy about the idea. New Jersey is taking action against the city to stop the implementation of the program:

New Jersey is suing the federal government to halt a congestion pricing program that will charge drivers to enter Midtown Manhattan, citing concerns that the tolling program will place unfair financial and environmental burdens on the state’s residents.

In its complaint, filed on Friday in U.S. District Court in New Jersey, the state said it was challenging the Federal Highway Administration’s “decision to rubber-stamp” its approval of congestion pricing last month, which was the program’s final federal hurdle.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority said the program, which aims to reduce traffic in New York City while raising billions of dollars for mass transit, could begin as soon as spring 2024.

The lawsuit comes two days after a local panel appointed by the M.T.A. convened for the first time to decide on toll rates. At that meeting, dozens of drivers, including suburbanites, protested against the tolls.

Congestion pricing is a policy that is typically used in densely populated urban areas during peak hours of traffic. The supposed objective is to decrease traffic and improve public transportation systems. The idea is to discourage people from driving their vehicles and encourage them to use public transit or other methods of travel. The climate agenda is a factor as well. These programs are also intended to reduce emissions.

The cost to drivers has not yet been established. But it will probably be quite steep:

The M.T.A. has not yet decided toll rates, but in a report last year it said it was reviewing proposals that would charge drivers who enter Manhattan south of 60th Street a fee of up to $23 for a rush-hour trip and $17 during off-peak hours. The area is one of the world’s busiest and most traffic-clogged commercial districts.

The M.T.A. has said it intends to give certain low-income drivers a discount as well as commit millions of dollars for communities that may experience more traffic because of congestion pricing, including $20 million for a program to fight asthma and $10 million to install air filtration units in schools near highways.

Surprisingly, no other American city has implemented a congestion pricing program. But it has been used for years in places like Stockholm, Singapore, and London:

Just one year after London added its charge in 2003, traffic congestion dropped by 30 percent, and average speeds increased by the same percentage. In Stockholm, one study found the rate of children’s acute asthma visits to the doctor fell by about 50 percent compared to rates before the program launched in 2007.

In the lawsuit, New Jersey contends that New York City should not be able to punish people driving from the state into Manhattan for work:

It also pointed to findings from an environmental assessment released by the authority which concluded that motorists detouring around the new tolls could add traffic and soot to the area, including in Bergen County, N.J.

Proponents of the program might argue that decreased traffic might reduce unnecessary car trip and boost the number of people using public transportation. It would ostensibly create a smoother flow of traffic and decrease commute times.

However, despite the supposed benefits, there are several problems with the program.

Critics like New Jersey’s government point out that, even with a discount, the program will place an excessive burden on those traveling through Manhattan – especially those with lower incomes. Many might not have easy access to public transportation or other alternatives.

The policy could also have a pernicious impact on local businesses in the area. The exorbitant fees will not only make it harder for people to commute to their jobs, it will also discourage them from traveling to the area to visit local businesses. This will lead to a decline in foot traffic and revenue losses for retail stores, restaurants, and other businesses.

There is also the possibility that this policy would result in “toll shopping.” People will look at alternate routes to their destinations, which could just shift the traffic to other areas of the city. If this happens, the program will have only moved the problem elsewhere.

These are only a few problems this program will cause.

But let’s get down to brass tacks, shall we?

As far as I’m concerned, this is nothing more than a ploy for New York City to extort more money from citizens to pour into its seemingly bottomless coffers. By levying a fee on folks who enter the city, they are getting residents to either contribute to the M.T.A. while they are driving to work or contribute to the M.T.A. by taking public transportation to avoid paying the tolls. It would be ingenious if it weren’t so insidious.

What makes this even more telling is that we already know this will affect black and Hispanic workers the most as they will make up the highest percentage of low-income individuals affected by this con job. Yet, these are the people who start each day by climbing up to their roofs and shouting about how much they love black and brown folks.

If this program isn’t stopped in New York City, you had better believe it will be coming to your city at some point in the future. After all, if congestion pricing can make it there, it can make it anywhere, right?


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