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A new plan would jack up the cost of ride sharing in Manhattan

Written by
Clayton Guse

New York City is an amazing place to live, but there’s one aspect of life here that undeniably sucks: transportation.

Last year, crippling delays on the subway system became a part of daily life for New Yorkers. Governor Andrew Cuomo responded by declaring a state of emergency for the subway and bringing Joe Lhota back as MTA chairman, who proceeded to put in place a Subway Action Plan to help curb poor service. The plan’s estimated cost exceeds $800 million, and Cuomo said that the state would foot half of that bill and asked the city to cover the other. This did not go over too well with Mayor Bill de Blasio, who said that the state-run MTA should cover the entire cost of the program. 

In an effort to fill that cost gap and generate additional funding for subway repairs and improvements in the coming decades, Cuomo assembled a Suicide Squadesque team in October (dubbed the Fix NYC Advisory Panel) to look into new revenue streams for the subway. The group published its findings last week and, unsurprisingly, said that implementing “congestion pricing” into Manhattan’s Central Business District (CBD) would provide the city and state with the funding it needs to pay for the costly and much-needed subway repairs. 

Here's a breakdown of the panel’s report and what it might mean for New Yorkers in the coming decade. 

What is congestion pricing?

Congestion pricing is not all that different from a toll system. In the case of New York, it would require all vehicles entering or operating within the city’s CBD (everywhere in Manhattan below 60th Street) to pay a fee for each day’s travel. If implemented, the plan would eventually require all cars operating in the CBD between 6am and 8pm on weekdays (and potentially other periods during the week) to pay a fee of $11.52 and all trucks to pony up $25.34.

The idea here is to discourage drivers from entering the city’s busiest sections during peak hours, which in turn would reduce traffic congestion and save the regional economy billions in the process. The panel’s report cites a recent study that says traffic congestion will cost the New York metropolitan area $100 billion over the next five years—their plan aims to not only mitigate that impact but also provide funding for fixes that would make riding the subway more desirable. 

I don’t own a car. Will this really affect me?

Beyond the subway improvements that this kind of congestion pricing would pay for, it would also levy a surcharge on all taxi and ride sharing trips that enter or start in the CBD. The panel laid out a variety of pricing options, ranging from $2 to $5 for trips that pass through the area, and also pitches the idea of extending the surcharge zone for taxis and ride shares up to 96th Street (the plan does exempt the FDR Drive, however). The report notes that city and state regulators ought to give taxi owners and companies like Uber and Lyft 10 months to implement GPS technology that would allow the powers that be to track rides in the CBD and implement surcharges as necessary. 

Basically, the plan would directly affect New Yorkers’ wallets when they hail a ride in most of Manhattan. So, yes, even if you don’t own a car, congestion pricing would affect you directly. 

See below for the panel’s pricing options:

So NYC is going to get even more expensive?

Sort of. The panel says that before these fees are implemented, the MTA must work to improve subway service so that commuters have a reliable alternative. But the MTA also needs this revenue to make subway improvements beyond Lhota’s emergency plan. It’s a good old-fashioned catch-22!

Are there any other cities that have this kind of pricing plan?

There certainly are, and the panel was damn sure to mention them. Singapore, London, Stockholm and Milan have all rolled out successful congestion pricing initiatives over the past two decades, though there isn’t a flagpole example of any domestic municipalities doing so. 

Is this plan official?

Not at the moment, but considering how much time and resources Cuomo’s office put into the report, it’d be surprising if it isn’t implemented in one form or another. If approved, taxis and ride sharing vehicles would be hit with a surcharge after 10 months. The MTA would also be required to install E-ZPass tolls throughout the city, which would take two years and require an environmental impact study. 

When it’s all said and done, riding in a car in Manhattan is poised to be more of a luxury. If Cuomo and the MTA are able to drastically improve subway service, however, it’d be a win for all New Yorkers. 

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