What You Need to Know About the Congestion Pricing Plan From Cuomo’s Fix NYC Panel

The centerpiece is a cordon zone in Manhattan below 60th Street where drivers would pay for the use of scarce street space. Here's an overview of how it would all come together.

Fees to drive into the congestion zone would take effect in 2020, according to the timetable laid out by the Fix NYC commission. Map: HNTB/Fix NYC
Fees to drive into the congestion zone would take effect in 2020, according to the timetable laid out by the Fix NYC commission. Map: HNTB/Fix NYC

Earlier today, Andrew Cuomo’s Fix NYC commission released its 36-page report on reducing traffic congestion by introducing a more rational road pricing system [PDF]. The panel has produced a serious congestion pricing plan that would make a tangible difference, significantly cutting traffic on New York’s most car-clogged streets.

The full report takes an expansive view of the traffic problem, touching on blocking-the-box and bus lane violations, declining transit service quality, the rapidly evolving for-hire vehicle industry, and other contributing factors. It doesn’t address every major weakness afflicting the city’s transportation system (high transit capital costs get only a glancing mention), but it covers a lot of turf.

The centerpiece, of course, is a cordon zone in Manhattan below 60th Street where drivers would pay for the use of scarce street space. Here’s an overview of how it would all come together.

The Three-Phase Rollout

The panel calls for a three-phase rollout over about two years, starting with the identification of transit service improvements “for the outer boroughs and suburbs.” Successful congestion pricing programs in other cities have been coordinated with transit enhancements to absorb the shift of trips from driving to transit.

The report leaves the naming of specific improvements for later, but along with a return to acceptable levels of subway reliability, the introduction of systemwide, tap-and-go all-door boarding on buses is a natural target. The current one-by-one payment system on most bus routes imposes significant delays on crowded routes. If more people are going to ride the bus, the fare payment process needs to keep pace.

Other recommendations for phase one that could make a big impact on traffic: automated enforcement for blocking-the-box violations and an overhaul of the city’s parking placard system, overseen by a joint city-state task force.

The second phase focuses on taxis, Ubers, and other for-hire vehicles, with implementation slated for next year. The main mechanism to manage traffic is a surcharge on all for-hire vehicle trips in Manhattan below 60th Street (or 96th Street, the exact boundary is a choice the panel leaves up to legislators). The panel also recommends reducing mileage from for-hire vehicles cruising for passengers, lifting ideas from analyst Bruce Schaller’s recent “Empty Seats, Full Streets” report.

And in the third phase, which would take effect in 2020, a congestion fee would be assessed on private cars and trucks entering Manhattan below 60th Street, affecting inbound motor vehicle trips that are currently untolled. There would be no charge, however, for drivers who take the Brooklyn Bridge directly to the FDR Drive or the Queensboro Bridge directly to 62nd Street and don’t reenter the cordon zone.

The Pricing Matrix

The panel suggests a range of congestion fees on both for-hire vehicles and general traffic in the cordon zone. The effect on traffic reduction and the revenue that would be generated for transit will vary depending on what options legislators select.

The surcharge for each for-hire vehicle trip would range from $2 to $5. The options also vary based on time of day, the northern border of the zone (either 60th Street or 96th Street), and whether the trip is entirely within the zone or crossing the zone. Projected annual revenue ranges from $155 million to $605 million.

Table: HNTB/Fix NYC

For general car and truck traffic, prices could vary according to time of day, falling when traffic is less intense. Or the fees could be flat and simply turned on and off, during peak/off-peak hours. Some options call for fees to be in effect on weekends, others do not.

Here the annual revenue generation ranges between $810 million and $1.1 billion.

Image: HNTB/Fix NYC

The variable pricing scenario:

Table: HNTB/Fix NYC

What Cuomo Says

In a statement today, Governor Cuomo generally endorsed the report while creating some distance between the panel’s recommendations and his own policy preferences. “We must find a way to reduce the cost for outer borough bridges in any plan ultimately passed,” he said.

For road pricing mavens, it was a pretty clear reference to the toll swap proposed in the Move NY plan: Lower the price on outlying MTA crossings in return for higher tolls to drive into the congested heart of the city. Assuming that’s the direction that bargaining in Albany takes, it’s all the more important to aim for the high end of the Fix NYC panel’s pricing matrix.

  • Vooch

    re: placard holders

    recall our dear friend Marty Golden is above paying speeding tickets even after killing a elderly woman & paying 3/4 million hush money , why would he pay congestion charges ?

    I can guarantee you placard holders are going to be exempt from congestion charges

  • Vooch

    like what way, man ?

  • Vooch

    so like was it possible ?

    can you link to a report or article ?

  • Zach Pickens

    In general I’m supportive of the move towards congestion pricing, but as a farmer in the Hudson Valley that does my own wholesale deliveries in Manhattan, I am concerned about the impact this program will have on our business. At $25.34 per day, I’m looking at about $1500 in increased costs over the course of the growing season. I hope nobody out there needs a primer on how that could impact a small farm… I’d obviously have to pass this cost on to our clients, who would in turn pass it along to the end consumer, raising costs for everyone.

    I’m certainly not a planning/traffic expert, but am curious to know from those who are if there are good strategies for tweaking the proposal so it wouldn’t have a negative impact on our business or on NYC residents’ access to local (dare I say sustainable?) food. Or access to any number of goods and services that have to be trucked in from outside the city.

    In general, if the goal of this proposal is to reduce congestion, could we take a harder look at what kinds of vehicles we’re trying to keep out of the city? It seems to me that commercial traffic that is helping to keep the city moving shouldn’t be a target, or at least should be a lower priority. In the spirit of open, reasoned debate, which we all need more of these days, I welcome thoughts and suggestions.

  • JarekFA

    Your clients should bear the costs. They’re the ones demanding you drive into the most densely crowded business district in the United States. That’s one of the hidden costs of congestion. You pay for it by being in never ending gridlock.

    You make a good point about “kinds” of vehicles though I don’t think we should introduce exemptions based on the “virtues” of the livery. Of course fresh food is a nice thing. But a truck of produce still takes up a lot of space. And who determines where to draw the line on what’s sufficiently virtuous to deem an exemption or a discount? You see this emotional appeal when arguments are made for exemptions for: Doctor’s appointments, for teachers, for nurses. Why not Baristas? Why not teacher’s aides? Why not doulas & nannies?

    Relatedly, what the city should be doing is establishing programs to encourage trucks and liveries to “right” size their vehicles. As documented extensively, the city does not enforce the law at all against ’53 foot trailers. That’s malpractice for a city that’s drowning in congestion. You look in Europe and they have FedEx/UPS trucks that are appropriately sized for dense cities with narrow streets. You go to FiDi, and it’s FedEx/UPS all over the sidewalks. Why not a depot and handcart model given how small and dense FiDi is.

  • You’re right in principle that commercial traffic should be prioritised. But, even if there is no separate fee for commercial vehicles, the way that you’re going to benefit is in terms of more efficient use of your time, as your trips will be faster and you’ll spend less time sitting still in traffic.

  • Zach Pickens

    Ha I definitely don’t feel like I’ve earned a ‘virtue pass’ 😉

    But what you said is definitely in line with my larger feelings on the matter. If we are driving a Sprinter into the city and being charged the same as an 18 wheeler full of Cali produce, that will obviously have a bigger impact on our margins. So if there aren’t separate classes of commercial traffic, we could be disproportionally hurt.

    Point taken on the cost of my time sitting in traffic. I have plenty of time to think about the cost of sitting in traffic…when I’m sitting in traffic….

  • AMH

    If I understand the proposed fee structure, the charge for a semi truck would be $25+, while a car or van is just $11-12.

  • JarekFA

    Remember, you’re not stuck in traffic. You are traffic. haha.

  • qrt145

    I honestly wouldn’t mind a primer about the farming business. I’m honestly curious, how much is that $25 relative to your daily revenue? I imagine it would be pennies per pound of produce; do customers even notice if you raise the price accordingly?

  • AMH

    I’ve wondered about this. I don’t see any reason to ban vans and pickups from parkways.

  • Komanoff

    Hey Zach —

    First, love your tone, and it seems like commenters so far reciprocate. Nice.

    Someone (qrt145) asked you to share the typical sale value of the load you bring in each time. Care to divulge?

    As you saw, the FixNYC panel proposes a flat $25.34 charge for all trucks. That seems worth pushing back on. The Move NY plan proposes that the cordon toll employ the same graduated scale the MTA uses on its bridges and tunnels, under which 18-wheelers would pay *much* more than $25.34, whereas a two-axle truck would pay $20. Is your truck a two-axle?

    Out of curiosity: what’s your normal route to Manhattan, and what’s your destination(s)?

  • Zach Pickens

    I was assuming they were using ‘truck’ in place of ‘commercial vehicle.’ A Sprinter is a truck according to the cop that pulled me over for being in the left lane on NJ17!

  • Zach Pickens

    Thanks for that. We use a Sprinter, so yeah 2 axle. I drive down 87 -> NJ17 -> 3->Lincoln Tunnel. Only delivering in Manhattan, mid 20’s and downtown. See above for the rest!

  • Komanoff

    Haha, you’ll like this: Drivers entering CBD via a tunnel won’t pay any additional toll. You’ll continue to pay Lincoln Tunnel toll but no more. Enjoy! (Same goes for Holland, Q-Midtown, Bklyn Battery.)

  • Zach Pickens

    At our scale (1 acre, ~$85K in revenue), if we make 60 trips per growing season we’d be looking at a congestion charge equal to 1.7% of revenue. Farming, even growing organic produce for restaurants (as we do), is not a high margin business, and any profits can come and go pretty quick depending on the season and weather, pests, disease, etc. Plenty of other farmers struggle with finding labor, paying for organic and GAP certifications, and finding good farmland at not-outrageous prices in our area (lower Hudson Valley). We’ve been fortunate and found a way to navigate all of those, but others are not so lucky.

    If my clients didn’t mind me putting a congestion surcharge on our invoices, I wouldn’t really object to any of this. But they push back on plenty of our prices already, and we already price pretty competitively for the market. (And we have full enterprise budgets on all of our crops, so we know what they cost us to produce).

    I’ve also looked into outside distribution, but there aren’t really any good options for us up here that don’t try to have some kind of say on the prices that we charge. If we had a flat fee (or percentage) trucking company that just did distribution and could fill up a bigger truck with multiple farms’ products (reducing the number of vehicles in the city, making for more efficient, full trips in a bigger truck, etc) I would certainly look into it. But we don’t have that at the moment.

    Every farmer, big or small, deals with these issues. But my main concern comes down to scale. Every truck may pay the same $25.34, but I will be paying more as a percentage of revenue than a big distributor, meaning they don’t have to add as much to their prices.

  • Zach Pickens

    And I just posted this after someone brought up the fact that this is only for untolled entry into the CBD, so it all means nothing now… Thought you’d enjoy some thoughts on the business all the same…

  • Zach Pickens


    Wow. A lot of words for an oversight… Thought they were saying the only exception was Brooklyn Bridge to FDR…

    Well here’s a follow up though– if you took the GWB and then entered the CBD, you’d end up getting charged twice, right?

  • Komanoff

    Yes, pay inbound GWB and pay again crossing 60th St into CBD.

    (Don’t sweat your oversight. Lots of details to absorb. Good discussion.)

  • qrt145

    I did, so thank you for posting that detailed explanation! I can see that it is a tough business to be in. I’m happy for you that won’t have to pay additional tolls, and certainly agree that a fair scheme needs to distinguish between large trucks and small trucks or vans such as yours. It appears that the current proposal already does, but let’s see what actually gets implemented after going through the sausage factory in Albany.

  • David

    They would receive a credit toward the congestion charge of the amount of the toll. If the congestion charge is more than the toll, they would pay the difference.

  • David

    part of the motivation is to incentivise a shift away from peak hours, outside of which the charge may not apply.

  • kevd

    Why can’t you just bring the produce down from the hudson valley by bike? Or clipper ship? If you’re using fossil fuels, are you •really• sustainable?

    No, Just kidding!
    Reading below I see everything I was going to say has already been said. Good luck and thanks for the great question and friendly tone.

    I think congestion pricing will end up saving you a lot of time every day.



  • WNYC would like to hear from you.

  • kevd

    Get rid of people who type in all caps on internet comment boards.
    They don’t seem at all sociopathic!
    But, I’m with you on the last 3.

  • George Joseph Lane

    Bike lanes improve road capacity, why would you get rid of them?

  • Bernard Finucane

    Nobody wants him to pay to drive in. That’s the point.