Leaders in the New York state Senate and Assembly are expected to approve charging fees on vehicles entering the most trafficked parts of Manhattan, the New York Times reported on Monday. If the measure in Governor Andrew Cuomo’s budget gets the green light by the April 1 deadline, New York City would be the first place in the United States to adopt the policy known as congestion pricing.
It’s been a long time coming. Thanks to low gas prices, a growing populous, and the meteoric rise of ride-hailing converging with a decaying subway, traffic is noticeably worse in midtown Manhattan than even a few years ago. As of last year, average car speeds fell to 4.7 mph, not much faster than walking. It’s been estimated that such slow-downs cost the metro-area economy some $20 billion a year, and they result in rising vehicle emissions.
Meanwhile, the subway’s on-time performance is still 13 percent worse than it was in 2012, thanks to a host of maintenance delays and sorely needed upgrades that will take billions of dollars and years to resolve.
Enter congestion pricing, the policy prescription beloved by every transportation wonk. Early adopters such as London, Stockholm, and Singapore have proven that pricing packed roads is a viable way to cut down driver demand—perhaps the only way, since widening roads usually induces more of it. Traffic in London’s city center fell 39 percent between 2002 and 2014 after it cordoned off a fee zone. It has since seen a rise in congestion, pushing leaders to adopt an "ultra low emissions zone" that charges all combustion-engine vehicles an additional £12.50 to enter.
It works well in London, as far as I can tell; though the Tube has more passengers, it's also running better than it used to, and there are fewer cars on the road. I hope New York gets this soon.