New York City is set to implement congestion pricing in mid-June 2024, touting it as a way to unclog traffic-prone streets and improve public transportation infrastructure. 

The MTA board voted to approve a congestion pricing plan that imposes a $15 base fare for cars entering Manhattan south of 60th Street — and completed a four-month public comment period in mid-March.

Focusing on the lower half of Manhattan, the plan aims to curb traffic jams, cut emissions and create a more fluid urban landscape. Here’s what you need to know.

What is congestion pricing?

Congestion pricing is a policy that charges drivers a fee for entering certain designated zones within a city, typically during stated or peak hours. The aim is to reduce traffic congestion, and to encourage the use of public transportation and other alternative modes of travel.

Where is the tolling zone?

The Manhattan congestion pricing zone, also known as the Central Business District, includes all of Manhattan south of Central Park. The congestion pricing toll will apply to all vehicles on roads at and below 60th Street, except for major highways. The FDR Drive, the West Side Highway and the Battery Park underpass will be exempt.

When will congestion pricing take effect?

During a court hearing on Feb. 6, MTA lawyer Mark Churtok gave a timeline for congestion pricing, saying the agency wants to implement the tolling plan by mid-June. The agency previously had hoped to start congestion pricing tolling in the spring, but multiple lawsuits stalled the plan. 

How much will drivers be charged?

The plan the MTA board voted in favor of on Dec. 6 imposes a $15 base fare for cars entering Manhattan south of 60th Street. On March 27, 2024, the board gave its final approval on the program's toll rates.

The plan, which the Traffic Mobility Review Board recommended a week prior to the December vote, also includes a $24 fare for small trucks and a $36 fare for large trucks — all while carving out various discounts and exemptions for certain vehicles, such as city buses and yellow cabs. 

The toll structure would apply from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. weekdays, and from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. on weekends. Toll rates would be 75% lower at night. 

A closer look at the plan reveals that only cars with E-ZPasses will see the $15 base fare. Those without E-ZPasses will pay $22.50 to drive into the Central Business District. 

Additionally, on Gridlock Alert Days, the MTA reserves the right to charge an extra 25%. Changes can still be made before congestion pricing is implemented. 

Are there any discounts or exemptions?

The plan from the Traffic Mobility Review Board noted some discounts, including the following ones:

  • A 50% discount will be available for low-income drivers after the first 10 trips in one calendar month.
  • Cars will be charged $15 from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. on weekdays and 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. on weekends. That will go down to $3.75 overnight.
  • Small trucks will pay $24 and large trucks will pay $36. Both will get a 75% discount overnight.
  • There will be a $5 rebate for drivers, including trucks, going through the Holland, Lincoln, Hugh Carey, and Queens Midtown tunnels. The rebate, however, won’t apply overnight.
  • Yellow taxis avoid the toll, instead passing a $1.25 fare charge onto their passengers. For-hire vehicles like Uber and Lyft will charge passengers an extra $2.50 a ride.
  • Some private buses that run regular schedules like Megabus and Hampton Jitney, and some school buses, will be exempt from the toll.

Additionally, the MTA announced two exemption plans in late February for New Yorkers with disabilities. The first plan is called the Individual Disability Exemption Plan and enables people with disabilities to register their own vehicle, or designate another, for toll exemption. The second plan is called the Organizational Disability Exemption Plan, and exempts registered public and private organizations transporting people with disabilities.

Where does the money go?

By law, the congestion pricing policy must generate at least $1 billion that will be allocated to the MTA, which would sell bonds in order to generate $15 billion for its capital plan. That funding would then be used to help fund critical projects, such as infrastructure improvements, maintenance, and upgrades to buses and subways, including the extension of the Second Avenue Subway to East Harlem.

What impact will this have on the environment?

According to an environmental assessment by the MTA, the number of vehicles entering the congestion zone daily would decline between 15% and 20%, and daily truck traffic could decline anywhere from 21% to 81%. These drops would significantly lower carbon emissions in the congestion zone, which would contribute to better air quality and assist the city’s efforts to address climate change.

However, areas outside the congestion zone would likely see traffic and pollution increases – especially in the south Bronx along the Cross Bronx Expressway and on the Staten Island Expressway – as motorists seek detours around the new tolls.

What do opponents of the policy have to say?

Opponents of the congestion pricing policy have raised concerns about its potential effects.

Some critics argue that it could disproportionately impact lower-income individuals and those who live in areas of the city without mass transit options, who rely on driving and cannot easily switch to public transportation.

Additionally, some have worries about the effectiveness in the policy reducing traffic, believing it might lead to increased costs for businesses and consumers.

Demand for parking is also a concern, as competition for spots could increase around subway stations and bus stops in areas just outside the congestion zone as people seek to avoid tolling machines.

Reporting by Dan Rivoli contributed to this article.