New York congestion charges proposed, but scheme faces legal challenge

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A new proposal to see drivers charged to enter Manhattan and parts of the New York CBD have been revealed, but the scheme still faces legal action.

The first congestion charge in the United States may see motorists slugged $US15 to enter Manhattan, reports The New York Times, if New York state can ward off a legal challenge from the state of New Jersey.

If successful, New York is expected to become the first city in the US to implement a London-esque congestion charge when it begins billing cars, buses, motorcycles and trucks to enter lower Manhattan from March 2024.

The congestion area will include Times Square, Chelsea and SoHo, but will not cover main roads including Franklin D. Roosevelt Drive and the West Side Highway.

Officials from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) overseeing pricing have quoted $US15 ($AU23) per day for privately-owned cars to enter the CBD.

Commercial trucks will pay between $US26 ($AU39) and $US36 ($AU54) per day, depending on their size.

Taxi and ride-share vehicles will not pay a daily fee, but instead, costs will be passed on to users, with $US1.25 ($AU1.89) added to taxi fares and $US2.50 ($AU3.78) to ride-share costs.

The fees will be in effect between 5:00am and 9:00pm weekdays, and 9:00am to 9:00pm weekends. 

The MTA says congestion in New York costs the city $US20 million ($AU30.25 million) dollars in lost productivity annually.

It hopes to collect $US1 billion ($AU1.5 billion) annually which it says will be used to maintain and upgrade the city’s subway and bus networks.

However in July 2023, the state of New Jersey announced it would sue the US federal government for its approval of the congestion fees, arguing that its residents who travel to work in the affected zone in Manhattan each day are being mistreated.

London introduced the world’s first congestion fee on 17 February 2003, followed by Singapore and later Madrid, Spain.

“Analysis shows there would have been three million additional journeys by car across London without the charges,” said a statement from Transport For London (TFL) on the 20th anniversary of the city’s congestion fee in 2023.

It also said overall traffic inside the zone has fallen by 18 per cent, road congestion has reduced by 30 per cent, while bus travel has increased by 33 per cent.

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While there are no congestion charges yet in Australia, the idea has been mooted in its major cities.

In 2019, a report by the Grattan Institute ‘think tank’ called for a congestion charge for drivers who travel into the Melbourne CBD during peak hours.

In May 2022, then-New South Wales premier Dominic Perrottet told media: “There is no plan for a congestion tax and we can rule it out completely.”

Other cities around the world have used various tactics to reduce congestion, such as Paris, France, where an ‘odd-even’ rule was used temporarily in 1997, and again in 2014. 

The scheme – enacted when pollution levels are deemed too high – sees vehicles with number plates with odd numbers banned from entering any of the city and its 22 surrounding suburbs on certain days, while those with even numbers were prohibited on others.

It also made public transport free on days the rule was applied.

In London, the original area subject to the congestion charge doubled in size in its first five years of functioning and was the forerunner to the city’s Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ), implemented in April 2019.

The ULEZ applied a charge to non-compliant vehicles – cars, trucks and other vehicles which exceed a set emissions level – in the same area as the congestion zone.

In August 2023, the Ultra-Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) was expanded to include all 32 London boroughs.

From 2025, the Swedish capital Stockholm will ban petrol and diesel-powered vehicles from its city centre.

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