Cuomo Reveals His Congestion Pricing Plan — And It’s Legit

The question now is how hard the governor will fight to enact the plan in Albany.

Photo: Rgoogin/Wikimedia Commons
Photo: Rgoogin/Wikimedia Commons

After months of anticipation, Andrew Cuomo’s Fix NYC panel is expected to release its final report today, and details started to leak last night. For the advocates who’ve been making the case for bold policy to fix New York’s traffic dysfunction, it’s a moment of vindication and relief: The governor is proposing a well-constructed congestion pricing plan that will make tangible reductions in car trips and relieve the city’s worst traffic jams.

The report does present a range of options, as Cuomo said it would. Some are stronger than others and will be worth pushing for in the legislative fight ahead. But all the scenarios share the core traits of a legitimate congestion pricing plan. The question at this point is how hard the governor will work to enact the plan in Albany.

We’ll post the full report once it’s public. Here’s what we know so far.

The cordon zone

All scenarios call for a toll on inbound private motor vehicle trips to Manhattan below 60th Street. Drivers who take the Brooklyn Bridge ramp directly to the FDR Drive or the Queensboro Bridge ramp to 62nd Street and don’t enter the cordon zone would be exempt.

In addition, taxis, Ubers, and other for-hire vehicles would be subject to a surcharge for trips in the cordon zone. According to the Daily News, the for-hire surcharge would apply to trips in Manhattan below 96th Street.


The report presents a range of prices for motor vehicle trips into the cordon zone, up to $11.52 for private cars — the equivalent of a roundtrip using the MTA’s tolled East River crossings — and $25.34 for trucks, according to the Times. The for-hire vehicle surcharge ranges from $2 to $5.

Of note, the report does not call for the toll swap in the Move NY plan, which would reduce prices on outlying MTA crossings.

Peak hour tolling

The congestion fee would not be in effect at all times. When traffic is less intense, like on nights and weekends, drivers could enter the cordon zone for free. The report puts forward a menu of off-peak times when the fee would not apply.

Implementation timeline

The for-hire vehicle fees would be phased in first — likely next year, according to Politico. The full cordon fee would be slated to go live in 2020 to allow for time to improve subway and bus service beforehand. The MTA will have to demonstrate some progress in improving subway reliability, and a major upgrade to bus service like systemwide all-door boarding would help absorb a shift from driving to transit.

The Times and Politico report that the panel will also recommend a rethinking of the city’s parking placard system. (A significant share of placard holders car commute to the Manhattan CBD.)

There’s a tough political fight ahead, starting in Albany and progressing to City Hall, where Mayor de Blasio has been digging in his heels against congestion pricing.

In the legislature, Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan has come out against congestion pricing, and while Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie says he’s open to the idea, by and large the New York City Democrats in his caucus remain astoundingly out of touch with how their constituents get around and why congestion pricing will benefit them.

These are not insurmountable obstacles in the state legislature. If Cuomo wants to enact a congestion pricing plan, there’s a path to do it. Support from the governor is the one indispensable ingredient in getting a congestion pricing plan through Albany, and for the first time in ages, that support is in place.

  • Larry Littlefield

    It’s not legit if the MTA will not have enough money, on an ongoing basis, to pay to operate and continually reinvest its infrastructure, on an ongoing basis. That trumps everything.

    If the Governor just wants to bond for three years, or use the congestion pricing money to pay for the commuter railroads while insisting that city taxes pay entirely for the city transit (or stop that investment), this is just more thievery. Better no congestion pricing in the short run than another theft which discredits the whole idea.

    The broader issue is that a financial Armageddon 25 years in the making is coming to a head. At a time when the state is facing a budget deficit at the peak of an economic upturn, not in a recession. Even as richly funded services such as schools and health care demand more and more — for pensions and services for seniors.

    I see this posturing in opposition as an attempt by the “opponents” to grab that money. To take it away from the future, and away from the subways. What is Upstate’s share? What is Suffolk County’s share? What pension sweetners will be attached?

  • mfs

    A 180 from this statement in 2011. Congrats to the advocates who have been doggedly pushing this for nearly a decade.

  • Reggie

    Geez, Larry, could you at least wait until we have the actual plan?

  • Larry Littlefield

    There has been word out there the money would be borrowed against. We’ll see what the actual plan will be.

  • JarekFA

    Peak hour tolling
    The congestion fee would not be in effect at all times. When traffic is less intense, like on nights and weekends, drivers could enter the cordon zone for free. The report puts forward a menu of off-peak times when the fee would not apply.

    It should be variable based on the existing traffic flow. So even if it’s off-peak, depending on traffic flow, there should still be a fee. I say this as someone who virtually only takes a car in Manhattan during the late evening or on weekends. You get massive back-ups on the bridges/tunnel choke points during the weekend (usually because of Sandy construction). And on nice Sunday afternoons — yah, you get a lot of congestion.

    Something akin to VA’s I-66 tolling plan in which it varies based on the traffic flow.

  • Nathan C Rhodes

    I understand it’s a blog and not a newspaper, but the attempts to be witty in the headlines come off tacky.

  • Larry Littlefield

    While I agree that there should be a smaller fee on weekends, I don’t think it could continually variable. People can’t make decisions if they don’t know what the toll would be — as in they’ve already driven from Suffolk County and the find the toll just increased $5.00.
    Also unsaid — credit for the existing tolls? After all, one goal is to stop toll shopping.

  • JarekFA

    There’s the LIRR that you and I subsidize.

  • vnm

    I don’t think use of the word legit was meant as an attempt at humor. Streetsblog has been pushing for this slate of policies for years but as recently as two days ago was fretting that the slate of improvements wouldn’t live up to the promise this policy offers. So my read is that they’re giving it a “legit” stamp of approval here, not trying to be funny.

  • Komanoff

    I’d call it a 178 — he left the door open one degree’s worth then, and while I’m super pleased by the continuing turn of events I’ll leave it one degree open now for a retreat. But as one of those advo’s, I’ll say to you: many thanks!

  • Larry Littlefield

    Rising desperation for money can do all kinds of things, good and bad.
    In the aftermath of the 1990s recession everyone jacked up taxes and fees on cigarettes. Don’t count on spending that money now — all the current revenues go to tobacco bonds whose proceeds were already spent.
    After the 2000 recession you had the gambling boom. How many of those cash-out mortgage refis that later led to foreclosure went to Trump’s (and other people’s) casinos? Now all the casinos are broke, and looking for government subsidies.
    New Jersey will apparently try to get out of its fiscal disaster by legalizing and taxing marijuana. Will New Jerseyans get high enough? The state can’t afford people to start smoking of they stop drinking the taxable stuff.
    So this follows the “vice tax” trend. It is inevitable — if they don’t do it now, they’ll do it later. The question is whether or not, once dependent on the revenues, they will be able to afford less congestion.

  • reasonableexplanation

    Yeah, they don’t mention the existing tunnel tolls…
    So if you take an east river bridge and pay the $12 upon entry, and then take an MTA tunnel back home, do you pay another $6?

    What about the PANYNJ tunnels?

  • vnm

    “[T]he Panel recommends that drivers using tolled facilities to enter the pricing zone (the Lincoln, Holland, Hugh L. Carey, and Queens Midtown Tunnels) receive a credit against the zone charge for the amount of the toll already paid.” (p. 6 of the full report)

  • reasonableexplanation

    That covers entering, what about leaving? Will the existing mta tunnels become one way tolled as well?

  • Vooch

    I hope so

  • reasonableexplanation

    Why? Wasnt this meant to discourage toll shopping?

  • Vooch

    this – they realize they need to loot and pillage big bucks, it’s going to be a theme for next few years.

    plus cumo is angling for a post gov. position where he controls zillions in graft. He needs to set up the graft machine before he leave office.

  • Wilfried84

    I would call it 135. He’s left himself wiggle room, there could still be lots of carve outs, and he he could back this in word, but not action, simply by spending no political capital to get it passed, vis de Blasio and Vision Zero.

  • kevd

    what attempts?
    I understand it’s a comment, but the baseless criticism comes off as tacky.

  • kevd

    do the prices of LIRR tickets change depending on how many people are at the station? No, because it is absurd to expect people to be able to plan their trips when they don’t know the cost.

  • I just thought it looked more natural than saying “it’s legitimate”

  • kevd

    is someone in 2018 seriously whinging about the use of “legit” in a headline?

  • kevd

    agreed that if there is typically congestion, there should be some fee.
    including weekends.
    obviously it should be lower than rush hour.

  • kevd

    I’m just thankful I didn’t have to read the term “Generation Greed”

  • Greg Seeney

    I assume it could be done on an end-of-day reconciliation basis – the congestion charge is a once per day charge (not once per entry) and all tolls for the day could be credited against the charge, even if they happened after entering the congestion charging zone. That would effectively equalise tolls – and also wouldn’t change the cost of crossing a bridge and taking a Hudson tunnel.

    As an example of someone traveling from Brooklyn to NJ through Manhattan (return) might be charged the congestion charge in the morning, and then have a Hudson river tunnel toll credited to cover the congestion charge on their return trip of an evening, paying the same as today (i.e. just the Hudson toll).

    This might not be effective at discouraging these trips, but it sure does take some political heat out of the scheme vs a simple east river toll scheme.

    For Brooklyn/Queens to Manhattan trips it should eliminate the benefit of toll shopping – If you use the bridges, you are charged the congestion charge. If you use the tunnels, your tolls are credited against the congestion charge with the same end result. If you use a bridge one way and a tunnel the other, your tunnel toll would be credited against half of the congestion charge, for the same end result.

  • Absolutely, on the west side, NJ visitors are back to back for hours… in Singapore it is based on volume with the price surging in real time. I like that a lot

  • Andrew

    That would, indeed, solve the problem, but I don’t see any indication that it’s in the proposal.