New York City May Start Charging Drivers To Enter Most Congested Parts Of The City
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New York City, the place where the word gridlock was invented, could soon become the first city in America that charges a fee for the privilege of driving on city streets. It's called congestion pricing, and similar programs abroad have reduced traffic in London and Singapore. From member station WNYC in New York, Stephen Nessen reports.
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STEPHEN NESSEN, BYLINE: Traffic creeps along 60th Street in Manhattan. That's where the new toll zone would begin. The average speed here - 4.7 miles per hour. That's just a bit faster than a brisk Manhattan walk.
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ANDREW CUOMO: Buses don't move. Cabs don't move. If we are to continue to grow, we must be able to move. We must have a functional regional transit system.
NESSEN: Governor Andrew Cuomo speaking to business leaders. During peak traffic, drivers might have to cough up $10 to $15 to enter the densest part of the city. This year, taxi and ride-hailing services began paying up to $2.75 in congestion fees. The governor hopes by charging all vehicles, private and commercial, the state could raise a billion dollars a year for the ailing Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
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CUOMO: The funds would be put in a lockbox for MTA Capital projects so the public wouldn't have to worry about the money being used for something else.
NESSEN: The city's traffic problems have been made worse by subways that have been starved of financial resources, resulting in excruciating delays and frequent breakdowns. Ride-hailing apps have stepped in and exacerbated the city's traffic woes. To gauge the popularity of congestion pricing, I tapped on the windows of cars stuck in bumper-to-bumper rush-hour traffic.
ANDREW CHIN: I really don't agree with it. That is a lot of money.
NESSEN: Andrew Chin is a technician whose work requires him to drive around the city. And nearby, waiting for a bus is freelance consultant Erin Smith from Queens.
ERIN SMITH: I think it's a good idea. I drive into Manhattan sometimes, but I tend to not drive in because of the traffic. So I think the congestion pricing maybe will keep people like me from driving in (laughter).
NESSEN: Others don't have the same option.
EDDIE FERNANDEZ: I hate even the thought of it.
NESSEN: Eddie Fernandez runs a small woodworking business in nearby Rockland County and has to bring his products into the city. He doesn't think the plan will work.
FERNANDEZ: I don't see anybody not coming downtown because, you know, they don't want to pay that amount of money. They've got to come downtown to make the money.
NESSEN: Drivers like Fernandez already pay hefty tolls on bridges getting into Manhattan. He doesn't want to pay additional tolls. Many state lawmakers agree with Fernandez and say they won't support congestion pricing unless there are exemptions. But economist Charles Komanoff, who advised the governor on the plan, warns even just a 10 percent carve-out could result in lost revenue of $3 billion.
CHARLES KOMANOFF: This golden goose, in a way, that we want to create with congestion pricing - it's not invulnerable in that if we keep chipping away at it by exempting this class of drivers or that class of trips, we're going to end up with a lot less than we're hoping for.
NESSEN: The congestion pricing plan has majority support from the state assembly but not the Senate. Still, the governor is pushing hard. He wants to see it included in the state budget, which is due April 1. For NPR News, I'm Stephen Nessen in New York.
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