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The MTA could charge up to $35 to drive in Manhattan in 2023

Jason DeCrow

Driving into New York City could cost up to $35, according to Metropolitan Transportation Authority hearings this week for the city’s bedroom communities — including Connecticut and Long Island.

Residents were concerned with the proposed congestion pricing in Manhattan, which would force drivers to pay a toll if they are traveling south of 60th Street.

Officials estimate those using an E-ZPass at peak times can expect to pay anywhere from $9 to $23, and those paying by mail can estimate a charge of $14 to $35.

Many commuters feared the economic impacts the tolls will have. Eric Goldner, a 25-year-old from Roslyn, who “loves to drive into the city,” was not on board for the fee.

“I'm always going to New York City to have fun... but with this congestion fee that would inhibit me from doing that,” he said.

The MTA said they project the tolling system will reduce traffic by 15-20%, which would improve air quality, noise and travel times.

Jackie Cohen, a director of climate and equity policy at the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, said the proposal is a win for both the environment and transit infrastructure.

“Not only does congestion pricing protect our environment and public health by reducing the number of cars driving into Manhattan, it's also a win for millions of transit riders, including thousands of Metro-North commuters coming from Connecticut who rely on regional transit that is in desperate need of new revenue to fund its multibillion-dollar capital program,” she said.

The goal of the program is to raise up to $1 billion in annual revenue for improvements to public transit. If approved, 80% of revenue generated would be devoted to New York City transit, leaving 10% to the Long Island Railroad and 10% to Metro-North.

New York state Senator Todd Kaminsky, a Democrat from Long Beach, said while improvements to the LIRR are much needed, the funding generated from the plan must be clearly laid out to specific projects, and the tolls must not be exorbitant.

“Please be reasonable in how you do this,” he said. “The cost of living here is very high. People consider moving all the time because of that and adding some draconian fee to driving in the city. It would be very difficult for many to undertake and swallow and of course, having a double toll from taking a bridge or tunnel in and a congestion pricing fee certainly does not seem fair.”

David Starman, who spoke at the Connecticut hearing, owns a commercial food delivery company in Brooklyn, which serves 500 restaurants in the region. The company has nine commercial trucks, he said.

“That's nine trucks for $23 a day. That's $207 daily. That's $1,242 a week. That's $64,500 a year that I as an owner am gonna have to come up with,” he said.

Off-peak times and overnight tolls would potentially be lower, and commercial vehicles would be subjected to different ranges. The final cost of the tolls will be approved by the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority, based on a recommendation from a six-member board.

In New York, Susan Solo, of Five Towns, said she has been using the LIRR for years to commute from Queens to Manhattan, and the congestion in the city is becoming a hazard.

“I walk every day from Penn Station to 23rd Street and the roads are getting more dangerous for me,” she said. “The city bikers actually use the sidewalk because they are afraid of cars…. The solution is simple. We need to reduce the congestion.”

Under the proposal, cars solely passing through the West Side Highway and FDR, emergency vehicles, and qualified vehicles transporting those with disabilities would not be charged. Those living in Manhattan’s central business district — who make under $60,000 — would receive a tax exemption. Dr. Allison de Cerreño, the authority’s deputy chief operating officer, said the more exemptions the MTA gives out, the higher the overall price the tolls will be.

She said 75% of trips into the central business district prior to the pandemic were made using public transit, and only 1% of those who drive within the area are low-income.

The meetings were part of a series of 10 regional hearings to give residents an opportunity to offer comments and learn about the plan, in areas that will be most affected by it. The plan must undergo an environmental review, which will include the environmental, social and economic impacts of the proposal. The review must then be approved by the Federal Highway Administration with additional opportunities for public comment to determine a toll fee structure. Once the federal agency gives final approval, the pricing could be implemented in 2023.

The MTA said they will also study the impact of traffic diversions as a result of the pricing, and the impact it will have on taxi and ride-sharing drivers.

Leah is a former intern with WSHU Public Radio.