New York City's Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which lost more than $600M in unpaid subway fares to turnstile jumpers last year, is gearing up to collect the first Midtown congestion pricing tolls in a US city next spring.
Unlike the subway fare-beating conundrum, which may not be overcome until the city expands the use of AI facial-recognition software as well as uniformed cops in train stations, high-tech electronics are expected to prevail as the enforcement mechanism for the new above-ground tolls in Midtown.
CBS News reported this week that it has obtained a copy of the recommendation of the MTA's Mobility Review Board for the toll structure that will go into effect next spring for congestion pricing of vehicles that travel south of 60th Street in Manhattan.
Drivers entering Manhattan below 60th Street will be assessed a $15 toll by overhead license-plate scanners from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. on weekdays and 9 a.m. through 9 p.m. on weekends, according to the report.
Other fees that will be assessed under the congestion pricing system will be $24 for small trucks; $36 for large trucks; $36 for tour buses; and $24 for charter buses. Taxis will charge an additional $1.25 surcharge for fares in the congestion zone, while for-hire vehicles will charge an additional $2.50.
Drivers who enter Manhattan through the Lincoln, Holland, Queens-Midtown or Brooklyn Battery tunnels during the day will get a $5 "credit" towards the $15 congestion fee, lowering the congestion levy to $10. The credit will not be applicable at night, but all drivers will get a 75% "discount if they enter the CBD in Manhattan after 9 p.m., paying only $3.50.
Other vehicles receiving credits for entering Manhattan through the tunnels include motorcycles, small trucks and large trucks.
The new congestion pricing scheme already is raising the hackles of several groups who maintain they should be exempted from the new tolls. These include thousands on public employees who work for the city, including police officers, firefighters and transit workers, as well as people with sensitive medical conditions that prevent them from taking public transportation.
According to the CBS report, Mayor Eric Adams is suggesting that the MTA proposal is a draft that can still be amended. The mayor supports establishing an exemption to the toll for people on their way to hospitals in the congestion zone.
The MTA's Mobility Review Board has said it is limiting the number of discounts and exemptions it permits in order to keep the overall toll rate as low as possible.
Here's some food for thought on NYC's track record of holding down vehicle toll rates:
A study published in 1925, six years before the George Washington Bridge opened, said the iconic Hudson River crossing could pay for itself in 25 years if a toll charging each vehicle 50 cents was established for the GWB.
In 1970, the Port Authority raised to the toll on the GWB, which was 10 cents (both ways) when the bridge opened in 1931, to 50 cents.
We don't know if they ever bothered to pay for the bridge, which was the longest span in the world when it cost a dime per trip. In January, they raised the toll to $17, which won't buy you a hot dog and a beer at Yankee Stadium.
Officials in New Jersey have filed a federal class-action lawsuit against the Manhattan congestion pricing plan.