New York City Crushes Controversial Congestion Charge Plan

You’ve heard of the £15 (@$20) congestion charge that Londoners have to pay to enter their fair city every weekday. Well, up until last week, New York City was rapidly moving towards a similar requirement. The plan was to have cars pay a $15 per car fee to drive into Manhattan below 60th Street. But thanks to an 11th hour concerted effort against the fee from New Yorkers and New Jerseyans, the plan was scrapped.

In the end, it came down to two issues—inflation and crime.

Some New Yorkers and New Jerseyans rebelled at the idea of yet another ungodly fee for the privilege of going to work — and they don’t trust the subways and other public transit to keep them safe.

What would have been the most consequential and ambitious urban transportation experiment in the nation has been derailed by some of the same fear-and-pocketbook issues that are likely to loom large in this fall’s elections.

It seemed perfect on paper: A plan to reduce traffic and pollution in midtown Manhattan while raising $1 billion a year for the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA).

But it was met with a flaming-pitchforks revolt by the people who would have paid the tolls.

In what the New York Times called a “stunning 11th-hour shift,” New York Gov. Kathy Hochul announced Wednesday an “indefinite pause” for the congestion pricing plan that was set to take effect on June 30.

Hochul cited “too many unintended consequences” and called the proposed fees “an obstacle to our economic recovery.”

“Let’s be real: A $15 charge may not seem like a lot to someone who has the means, but it can break the budget of a hardworking middle-class household,” Hochul said.

The proposed fees were supposed to knock out 100,000 of the 700,000 vehicles that enter Manhattan’s central business district daily.

All the equipment needed to start charging drivers based on their license plates and E-ZPass tolling tags was set up and ready to go.

“I’m so excited. I’m so happy,” Susan Lee, president of New Yorkers Against Congestion Pricing, told Axios Wednesday afternoon.

“A lot of working-class families, they’re like, ‘We don’t drive for the sake of driving, and the subways aren’t safe or they’re not reliable.’”

In Chinatown, where Lee lives, “a lot of small business owners told me they worried about the costs” of goods once trucks had to pay $24-$36 to make a delivery downtown.

On the other side of the fence, Sarah Kaufman, director of the NYU Rudin Center for Transportation says, ”It’s certainly disappointing.”

“It does not bode well for the city and the planet if we can’t regulate the use of personal vehicles in the densest transit environment in the country.”

“There’s a lot of speculation that this would increase the cost of goods because there would be increased truck fees,” she added. “However, trucks are sitting in traffic right now, and the delays caused by congestion are still being passed on to their customers.”

A Siena College poll in April found that New Yorkers of all political parties opposed the MTA’s congestion pricing toll plan, 63%-25%. Some 14% said they’d continue to drive in the city and pay the toll if it were implemented.

CARLIST THOUGHTS

I can definitely see the argument from both sides. But the average New Yorker would need to see a far more detailed cost-benefit analysis before a decision could be made. Several judges are expected to weigh in this month on the lawsuits against congestion pricing. And Hochul left the door open to resurrecting the proposal — presumably, after the election.

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