New York

NYC firefighters make fiery pitch for congestion pricing exemption

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What to Know

  • The MTA announced four public hearings on its congestion pricing plan with the opportunity to comment ahead of time or during the meeting
  • Congestion pricing would impact any driver entering what is being called the Central Business District (CBD), which stretches from 60th Street in Manhattan and below, all the way down to the southern tip of the Financial District
  • Passenger vehicles would be charged $15, trucks would be charged anywhere from $24-$36 depending on size, and motorcycles would be charged $7.50

Debate over New York City’s congestion pricing plan remained heated on Friday amid four public comment hearings that allow for people to sound off proposal to charge drivers at least $15 to enter Manhattan.

Among those voices were city firefighters, who say they deserve a break from what is soon to be the nation’s first congestion toll. Marching up to make their pitch at MTA headquarters, firefighters carried their heavy equipment in a demonstration of getting around with their personal vehicles, which they told the board is a frequent occurrence.

“Members of the FDNY deserve an exemption from congestion pricing,” Andrew Ansbro, of Uniformed Firefighters Association, said at a morning press conference.

“That gear wears 65 to 75 pounds — it’s unrealistic to bring it several blocks,” Jim Brosi told the board.

Perhaps surprisingly, the MTA said the firefighters’ case is persuasive.

“I’m very sympathetic to their view when they’re called upon to turn their personal vehicle into a city vehicle for transportation of gear that oughta be thought through,” MTA Chairman Janno Lieber said.

The transportation authority has listened to dozens of New Yorkers in a multi-day public hearing before the tolls get finalized — $15 for cars and up to $36 for trucks.

The MTA hosts one more day of public hearings on Monday. New Yorkers can submit comments in writing for one more week after that. A final decision on exemptions is expected at the end of this month.

Two hearings still remain:

  • Monday, March 4, at 10:00 a.m.
  • Monday, March 4, at 6:00 p.m.   

The hearings will be held on the 20th floor of 2 Broadway in Manhattan. There will also be a Zoom option, and they will be streamed on the MTA’s website.

Members of the public who want to speak at the hearings have to register in advance online or by calling 646-252-6777. Registration is now open, and closes 30 minutes after the start of the hearings.

The public can also send a written or audio comment through one of these methods:

Online: https://contact.mta.info/s/forms/CBDTP  
Email: [email protected]  
Mail: CBD Tolling Program, 2 Broadway, 23rd Floor, New York, NY 10004  
Phone: 646-252-7440  
Fax: Send to (212) 504-3148 with Attention to CBDTP Team.   

“The statute is the law of the land. A lot of work has been done. We are at the five yard line. But a lot of work has been done. The board is going to hear comments and take them into consideration,” said MTA President Richard Davey.

The MTA announced that 95% of its toll readers for its controversial congestion pricing program have already been installed and are ready to go, covering 104 of the planned 110 locations.

Cars will be charged an additional $15 to enter Manhattan at 61st Street and below, while trucks could be charged between $24 and $36, depending on size. As it stands, the collection readers are scheduled to go “live” on or about June 15.

The MTA board overwhelmingly voted to approve the measure in December, saying charging drivers to enter a large swath of Manhattan would contribute millions of dollars to the city’s aging transit system.

The approval came after the Traffic Mobility Review Board delivered its report to the MTA on Nov. 30, laying out the general guidelines for the impending tolls, including costs, when certain prices will be in effect, who gets credits and more.

Here’s a breakdown of everything that was approved in December, and what comes next in the process.

News 4’s Andrew Siff reports.

How does congestion pricing work? Who gets charged — and how much?

Congestion pricing would impact any driver entering what is being called the Central Business District (CBD), which stretches from 60th Street in Manhattan and below, all the way down to the southern tip of the Financial District. In other words, most drivers entering midtown Manhattan or below will have to pay the toll, according to the board’s report.

All drivers of cars, trucks, motorcycles and other vehicles would be charged the toll. Different vehicles will be charged different amounts — here’s a breakdown of the prices:

  • Passenger vehicles: $15
  • Small trucks (like box trucks, moving vans, etc.): $24
  • Large trucks: $36
  • Motorcycles: $7.50

The $15 toll is about a midway point between previously reported possibilities, which have ranged from $9 to $23.

The full, daytime rates would be in effect from 5 a.m. until 9 p.m. each weekday, and 9 a.m. until 9 p.m. on the weekends. The board called for toll rates in the off-hours (from 9 p.m.-5 a.m. on weekdays, and 9 p.m. until 9 a.m. on weekends) to be about 75% less — about $3.50 instead of $15 for a passenger vehicle.

Drivers would only be charged to enter the zone, not to leave it or stay in it. That means residents who enter the CBD and circle their block to look for parking won’t be charged.

Only one toll will be levied per day — so anyone who enters the area, then leaves and returns, will still only be charged the toll once for that day.

The review board said that implementing their congestion pricing plan is expected to reduce the number of vehicles entering the area by 17%. That would equate to 153,000 fewer cars in that large portion of Manhattan. They also predicted that the plan would generate $15 billion, a cash influx that could be used to modernize subways and buses.

An MTA fare increase is likely to come sooner than expected to public transportation. Tracie Strahan reports.

Do Uber, Lyft and other rideshares get exemptions? What about taxis?

There will be exemptions in place for rideshares and taxis, but much to their chagrin, they won’t get away completely scot-free.

The toll will not be in effect for taxis, but drivers will be charged a $1.25 surcharge per ride. The same policy applies to Uber, Lyft and other rideshare drivers, but their surcharge will be $2.50.

New York Taxi Workers Alliance Executive Director Bhairavi Desai said in a statement that the plan is ” a reckless proposal that will devastate an entire workforce.”

Are there any other exemptions to congestion pricing tolls?

Many groups had been hoping to get exemptions, but very few will avoid having to pay the toll entirely. That small group is limited just to specialized government vehicles (like snowplows) and emergency vehicles.

Low-income drivers who earn less than $50,000 a year can apply to pay half the price on the daytime toll, but only after the first 10 trips in a month.

While not an exemption, there will also be so-called “crossing credits” for drivers using any of the four tunnels to get into Manhattan. That means those who already pay at the Lincoln or Holland Tunnel, for example, will not pay the full congestion fee. The credit amounts to $5 per ride for passenger vehicles, $2.50 for motorcycles, $12 for small trucks and $20 for large trucks.

Drivers from Long Island and Queens using the Queens-Midtown Tunnel will get the same break, as will those using the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel. Those who come over the George Washington Bridge and go south of 60th Street would see no such discount, however.

Public-sector employees (teachers, police, firefighters, transit workers, etc.), those who live in the so-called CBD, utility companies, those with medical appointments in the area and those who drive electric vehicles had all been hoping to get be granted an exemption. But neither the MTA nor the Traffic Mobility Review Board included any such exemptions for those groups.

New Jersey is filing a lawsuit aimed at the Federal Highway Administration regarding the upcoming congestion pricing in NYC. Patricia Battle reporting.

So what comes next, and when will the tolls go into effect?

As for when the plan could go into effect, the MTA has maintained that the goal is to start charging the toll in late Spring 2024. But it’s likely that will be delayed a bit.

Four public hearings will be held, starting Thursday, as part of a 60-day public response period. The last of those hearings is March 4. Any possible tweaks to the plan (like Mayor Eric Adams’ request for more exemptions, for vehicles such as taxis) could be added before a “final” vote later in March or in April.

That would mean the earliest the tolls would go into effect would be late June 2024, at this point.

There had been fears of a toll as high as $23, but Lieber previously poured cold water on that idea, saying MTA board members were “trying to keep it well lower than that.” He added that in order to keep the standard toll price low, the transit agency would have to keep the number of exemptions low as well.

Any one of the lawsuits filed against congestion pricing could also bring the plan screeching to a halt, depending on how the judges rule. Many of the challenges focus on the environmental impacts of the plan, though proponents have said it will help cut down on emissions.

Lieber said it’s “highly probable” the transit agency will prevail in the lawsuits filed on both sides of the Hudson River, both in New Jersey and in the city, which would give them the green light to begin the program sometime in June barring a surprise ruling from a judge.

News 4’s Melissa Colorado reports.

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