Will Congestion Pricing Come to the Big Apple?

By John Halpin | Associate Account Director

In recent years, places like London, Stockholm, Milan and Singapore have seen reduced traffic after implementing “congestion pricing.” Basically, congestion pricing means that vehicles are charged money when they drive into crowded areas of cities, with the hope that at least some of them will eventually opt for other modes of transportation, thereby alleviating traffic and pollution. 

Congestion pricing’s next destination – and its first in the United States – might be New York City. Public meetings on the subject – virtual, of course – are scheduled to begin on September 23, marking the beginning of a 16-month environmental assessment before the planned project can be approved. 

New York’s congestion pricing program reportedly plans to charge $12-14 per car and $25 per truck each day for vehicles that enter Manhattan south of 60th Street. Aside from the traffic and pollution benefits, what are the other projected transportation impacts of congestion pricing? 

  • More public transit usage. London reportedly saw a 7 percent increase in bus ridership after implementing its program, while Stockholm experienced a 9 percent increase. New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority will use $15 billion raised from the congestion tolls to support buses, subways and other railroads. 
  • It “benefits drivers and businesses by reducing delays and stress, by increasing the predictability of trip times, and by allowing for more deliveries per hour for businesses,” according to the Federal Highway Administration(Author’s note: As someone who used to drive a gelato delivery van in Manhattan, delivery unpredictability is a very real issue. But so is paying a $25 toll to make on-time deliveries.) 
  • It tends to “work against car owners with low income as these charges are regressive,” according to the Journal of Advanced Transportation

Opponents of the plan tend to cite the last point, calling congestion pricing a tax on low- and middle-class drivers. A majority of New Yorkers appear to agree with the opponents. Exemptions are already being suggested, for groups including all New York City Police Department employees and everyone traveling over the George Washington Bridge from New Jersey. 

What transportation-related businesses and sectors stand to benefit from congestion pricing? Public transit, as mentioned above – increased ridership will surely result in demand for better quality of service. Tolling infrastructure and technologies will be needed, as detailed in this report from the Federal Highway Administration.  

And finally, what about urban consolidation centers, also known as microhubs? Our friends at the University of Washington’s Urban Freight Lab (who we talked with in a recent podcast) worked to launch such a facility in Seattle as a transfer point – so that deliveries arrive at central as opposed to individual locations, and are picked up or delivered by vehicles like cargo bikes. With fewer trucks, these might come in handy. 

If you find the subject of congestion pricing as fascinating as we do and want to join one of New York’s public meetings, you can register at the MTA’s website