Have you driven your car in the last few months?
Then, in all likelihood, you will have been stuck in traffic.
Perhaps commuters are still staying away from public transportation. Or perhaps the world has begun to reopen and Long Islanders are eager to get back to their routines. But wherever you drive at any time of day, traffic now seems worse than before we all knew about a dangerous new virus.
Bumper-to-bumper traffic is an everyday occurrence now. It’s particularly scary going to New York City, and especially downtown and midtown Manhattan, as many commuters are still unwilling to take the subway, bus, or train.
Something has to change.
That starts with the toll on Manhattan’s central business district.
The plan is simple: toll any vehicle entering the area on or below 60th Street in Manhattan. That means ending the free ride vehicles you now get if you cross the Williamsburg, Manhattan, Brooklyn, or 59th Street bridges. The money raised, an expected value of $ 1 billion a year, will go towards public transportation capital improvements, and Long Island Rail Road is guaranteed to receive 10%.
It’s the best way to get people out of their cars and onto trains, reduce traffic and air pollution, improve quality of life, and improve the region’s public transportation system. And despite critics’ claims to the contrary, lower-income New York City and Long Island residents would benefit, not hurt, from the effort, as many more of them are already taking the train rather than They have a car at all, or don’t tend to drive into Manhattan.
THE PLAN HAS BEEN BLOCKED
The region desperately needs the toll scheme, which has been debated for years but has never been closer to becoming a reality than now. While the state Legislature approved the plan, known as congestion pricing, in 2019, the proposal was slow to move forward due to delays in environmental progress and other robberies caused by the pandemic.
But now, the plan is progressing little by little, although still in bureaucratic molasses. A series of virtual public hearings, each targeting a different geographic area, was an opportunity for residents and elected officials to comment over the past two weeks.
What is clear: some hate the toll scheme, others fully support it. And many say they are in favor of the concept, as long as it doesn’t apply to them.
During the hearings, it appeared that residents were expecting the waivers to be handed out like candy: to all New York City residents, to those crossing a New Jersey bridge or tunnel, or to anyone who drives a motorcycle or a hybrid car, working in a service industry. or medical care, earn less than a certain amount of money, live in the toll zone, or live outside the toll zone.
No. That won’t work.
In a world where everyone is exempt, congestion pricing will not achieve its goals. The greater the number of exemptions, the greater the cost to obtain the necessary income. Already, the possible toll ranges from $ 9 to $ 35, although it would be as high only for those without E-ZPass. The final cost will likely vary based on the time of day and other circumstances.
For a toll scheme to work, exemptions must be as limited as possible. Those already agreed, for people with disabilities and for emergency vehicles, make sense. It should stop there.
PAY TO CHANGE BEHAVIOR
Does that mean Long Islanders will pay more to drive to downtown or downtown Manhattan? It certainly does. But you can encourage residents of Nassau and Suffolk counties to get out of their cars and take the LIRR when heading to Manhattan. And it’s a good time to change that behavior, as the railroad’s Third Track project and the East Side Access effort to connect to Grand Central Terminal are expected to be completed by the end of 2022, likely before the toll is implemented. central business district.
During the Long Island public hearing on Wednesday, only 10 people spoke, and eight favored congestion pricing. Some questioned the very essence of the effort.
“Why should I, as a Long Islander, pay an additional fee to drive to New York City and do what I love to do?” said a resident. “Please consider how Long Islanders will feel.”
The answer is that all residents must do their part to reduce traffic, improve public transportation, and address climate change.
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority is now navigating what has been a slow and complicated process to make the toll plan a reality. The authority says it takes 16 months for the environmental review alone, so a pricing plan would not start until at least mid-2023. The MTA and its federal partners should work quickly so that the toll can begin as soon as possible.
However, some have suggested that congestion pricing should be delayed or eliminated due to the pandemic. If anything, the opposite is true. With the traffic paralyzed and the economic situation in the area in a precarious situation, we must do everything possible to reactivate the recovery. That doesn’t end with the Central Business District tolls. But it can certainly start there.
MEMBERS OF THE EDITORIAL BOARD They are seasoned journalists who offer reasoned, fact-based opinions to foster an informed discussion about the issues facing our community.