The initiative aims to reduce traffic and improve air quality.
New York is stepping up its efforts to clean the city's air by introducing a congestion charge that aims to discourage polluters from driving freely.
To be clear, this is not a new development. The idea of a congestion charge program was approved in 2019, but the previous administration delayed it. Last year, more progress on the matter was made as the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) released the Central Business District Tolling Program Environment Assessment for public comment.
Now, Yahoo! News reports that the program is in the final stages of review by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), and final approval is likely to come this spring.
A congestion charge is a concept that has been implemented in other major cities like London and Singapore. In London, a certain zone near the city's center is demarcated, and any vehicles that operate within this area must pay a daily fee of £15 ($18).
In addition, if the vehicle in question does not meet Ultra Low Emission Zone standards, another fee is levied. With this, legislators aim to discourage the use of cars in general where public transport is readily available while encouraging those who need to drive to consider more efficient vehicles.
But can this work in a city like New York?
The city's website currently states that 58% of commuters use public transportation, making it the most transit-dependent city in the US. For people heading to Manhattan's central business district, the figure is 85%.
This bodes well for the mentality of the populace, but there are more significant problems than society's willingness to share an enclosed public space with others. NYC is home to America's oldest subway system, and the network's age is showing. Signal systems need to be updated, constant repair jobs are being undertaken, and only a quarter of stations are wheelchair-accessible.
Conversely, the MTA has set aside $54.8 billion to update signal systems, add elevators to 70 stations, and make other general infrastructure improvements.
So what are the benefits?
Transportation analyst Charles Komanoff estimates that a congestion charge would reduce the Big Apple's carbon emissions by 1 million metric tons a year, which equates to removing 216,000 cars off the road. This estimation seems accurate.
Following the introduction of London's congestion charge in the central business district during the daytime, particulate, and nitrogen oxide pollution dropped by 12%, and CO2 emissions dropped by 20%, says the FHWA.
Should the plan go ahead as is, passenger vehicles would pay between $9-$23, and trucks like the Ford F-150 would pay $12-$82. Vehicles carrying a person with disabilities would be exempted, and so would emergency vehicles. Those who live inside the congestion zone and earn less than $60,000 annually will be given a tax rebate for whatever they spend on tolls.
As commendable as that is, there are several groups that feel overlooked.
Taxi drivers, operators of ride-hailing apps like Uber, small commercial businesses that deliver their products in Manhattan, and NYPD officers are all demanding special circumstances.
Also apparently unfairly affected are those who live in New Jersey, as they already pay tolls on the bridges and tunnels across the Hudson River. Red and blue Representatives of Staten Island are also concerned. The borough does not have a subway stop, and its drivers already pay to cross the Verrazano Bridge to Brooklyn en route to Manhattan.
There are clearly numerous benefits and just as many drawbacks to a congestion charge. Some say the MTA should instead do more to recover unpaid tolls, while others say that a ban on combustion vehicles can't come soon enough. Either way, air quality in New York City desperately needs a revamp.
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