Congestion pricing in New York a step closer

March 31, 2008 6:16:16 PM PDT
Mayor Michael Bloomberg's plan to charge drivers extra tolls in the most congested parts of Manhattan inched closer to approval on Monday with backing from the City Council. The concept, known as congestion pricing, still faces its most substantial hurdle in Albany, where legislators were focused on finishing the state budget and were expected to take it up later this week.

The Legislature must approve the plan by April 7 or the city stands to lose $354 million in funding promised by the federal government to help kick-start the initiative.

Congestion pricing is intended to cut traffic and pollution by forcing more commuters onto mass transit; the money collected through the tolls would go toward mass-transit improvements. The Bloomberg administration has said it would like to have it up and running in a year.

"It's now completely clear that congestion pricing has the strong backing of the people of New York City," Bloomberg said. Opponents, including many lawmakers from outside Manhattan, say commuters who drive in from the outer boroughs of Queens, Brooklyn, the Bronx and Staten Island often have no mass-transit options and have no choice but to use their cars.

The Bloomberg administration has promised that before it implements congestion pricing it will complete several new mass-transit projects, including more bus lines in some of those underserved areas.

Critics also argue that middle-class New Yorkers can't afford to pay to drive to work each day and that the $8 daily fee per car amounts to charging people for access to the city. The proposed toll zone, in effect from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays, would be south of 60th Street, encompassing midtown and the downtown financial district and landmarks such as the Empire State Building.

"What's next, we're going to charge a user fee to come into Central Park because it's crowded?" said Councilman Lewis Fidler, who voted against the plan.

The council vote of 30-20 in support of congestion pricing was one of the closest margins on a vote in recent history. One council member didn't vote.

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn noted that 20 of the 30 yes votes were from council members outside Manhattan, which she said showed support for congestion pricing throughout the city.