NEW YORK (PIX11) — The debate over congestion pricing hit the streets of New York City again on Friday as the program moved toward another milestone.
Some drivers of for-hire vehicles and taxis rallied outside the governor’s Midtown offices.
The federal government issued the initial finding of no significant impact for the program. Currently, a public review process is wrapping up. Then the feds are expected to officially allow the program to move ahead.
“We want to let the governor know it shouldn’t happen on the back of hard-working drivers who are barely making ends meet,” said Aziz Bah, who is with the Independent Drivers Guild, a coalition of ride-hail app and for-hire drivers.
The for-hire drivers say the congestion pricing plan is a “double tax.” They say their rides have already been subjected to a congestion charge. Since 2019, passengers have paid for taxi rides or app-based hails south of 96th Street in Manhattan. Money from that surcharge has gone to the MTA for capital improvements. That was the first agreement made by the Legislature and then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
A plan for congestion pricing for all drivers was adopted a year later. It has already been specified in the proposal that taxi and for-hire drivers would pay the congestion fee just once a day. The drivers at the rally estimate that could total an additional $7,000 a year for a full-time for-hire driver.
“Having this congestion fee on the industry, would mean they will have to be on the road more hours,” said Adalgisa Payero Diarra, with United Taxi Drivers NY.
The surcharge that passengers pay is set to remain in place. It’s $2.75 for rides from an app and $2.50 for a taxi ride. Supporters of the plans say it will reduce congestion and continue to fund major transit improvements.
“It will be good for anyone that’s driving. There’s less congestion and all of us who take public transit will benefit from the money congestion pricing brings in to support subways, buses, and commuter rail,” said Lisa Daglian with the Permanent Citizens Advisory Council to the MTA.
The MTA responded to the rally in a statement and said:
“The number of taxi and For-Hire Vehicle trips has doubled in recent years, increasing traffic and pollution while travel speeds in Manhattan dropped precipitously. Congestion pricing provides a solution and improves mass transit for the vast majority of people who commute on buses and trains. Again and again, Uber pushes operating costs onto drivers and now disingenuously seeks to displace focus on the MTA. Whether a $77 billion corporation decides to pay fees from profits or splits them with others is its business,” said MTA Chief of External Relations John McCarthy.
Gov. Kathy Hochul has said the implementation of congestion pricing will reduce traffic, improve air quality, and support public transit.
“We’ve worked closely with partners across government and with community members over the last four years to develop a plan that will achieve these goals. The finding of legal sufficiency is a critical step that will allow our Environmental Assessment to be publicly available for anyone to read, and we will continue to work with our partners to move congestion pricing forward,” Hochul’s deputy communication director, John Lindsay, said in a statement to PIX11 News.
A mobility review board will meet once the fed’s final finding is announced and filed.
Five members have been appointed by the governor and one by the mayor. They will decide on possible exemptions and the costs.
The MTA board will discuss and vote. The infrastructure for reading plates and passes needs to be installed around 60th Street and as drivers pass into the zone.
Driving on the FDR and Westside Highway would not incur a charge.
Congestion pricing could be in place by the spring of 2024 if things proceed.