After a yearslong battle with regulators, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) is poised to finally move forward with a plan to charge drivers a toll entering Manhattan south of 60th Street. In August, the MTA released an environmental assessment in which the Federal Highway Administration, the MTA, the Triborough Bridge & Tunnel Authority (TBTA) and city and state transportation departments explored pricing scenarios for the Central Business District Tolling Program. The initiative is meant to raise billions of dollars to finance mass transit while reducing polluting traffic.

The document’s release kicked off a fierce debate among commuters, TLC-licensed drivers and the trucking industry over who should be exempt.

The scenarios are currently only proposals, but six public meetings scheduled for late August should allow the MTA’s Traffic Mobility Review Board to make its recommendations to the agency’s board.

Here’s what taxi and for-hire vehicle (FHV) drivers need to know about the environmental assessment.

Two scenarios would exempt yellow cabs from a congestion pricing toll, but not FHVs, whose drivers would have to pay the toll up to three times a day. Other scenarios would require cabdrivers to continue to pay an existing $2.50 or $2.75 fee to enter Manhattan, along with new congestion tolls. The environmental assessment said the yellow cab industry could experience a 0.3% to 5% drop in revenue as a result of the tolls.

Former commissioner of the city Taxi & Limousine Commission, Matthew W Daus, Esq., called the environmental assessment’s review of the industry “philosophically flawed on many levels,” particularly in its suggestion that the MTA could help hurting cabdrivers become bus drivers. “It’s not practical. The industry doesn’t work that way. Limo drivers sometimes are able to be retrained to be bus drivers, but I can’t think of a single taxi driver who has ever become a bus driver.”

Daus also questioned why the MTA does not explore exemptions for both yellow cabs and FHVs.

“I don’t see a rational basis for distinguishing between these groups,” he said. “All of them probably should be exempted, or at least be considered. Not doing so, I think, is shortsighted and really, to me, outrageous.”

The overall environmental assessment breaks down seven scenarios with different tolling structures for motorists traveling south of 60th Street. In broad strokes, most drivers would have to pay $5 to $23, based on the type of vehicle and the time of day. The toll could be $9 to $23 during the day and $5 to $12 at night.

Under the base plan, or Scenario A, pretty much everyone would have to pay the toll. Those traveling through tolled tunnels or over tolled bridges into Manhattan still would have to pay a congestion fee.

The MTA says the lack of exemptions would mean lower tolls for everyone. Peak-hour tolls would be $9, off-peak $7 and overnight $5. The drawback is that the setup would reduce vehicle trips into the tolling district by less than 13,000 per day – the smallest decrease of all seven scenarios.

The two proposals that would result in the highest tolls for drivers are Scenarios E and F. Under both, peak-hour tolls would be $23, off-peak would be $17 and overnight would cost $12. Scenario F would give drivers commuting into Manhattan by bridge and tunnel a credit for those tolls upon entering the congestion pricing district. Trucks, taxis and FHVs would be charged once per day, and buses would be exempt. Scenario E would give toll credits only to motorists traveling to the city by tunnel. Taxis and buses would be exempt, FHVs would face a toll up to three trips per day, and trucks would be charged once. This scenario would reduce the number of trips into the district by more than 24,000.

The goal of congestion pricing is to discourage polluting vehicles from clogging Manhattan streets while raising $1 billion annually to fund improvements to mass transit. MTA officials have said they plan to sell $15 billion in bonds against the revenue to finance the agency’s 2020–2024 capital plan – a package of $56 billion in infrastructure upgrades. Some 80% of the money would go toward subways and buses, with 10% of the funds meant for the Long Island Rail Road and the Metro-North Railroad.

The environmental assessment scenarios are currently only suggestions. Next the MTA-appointed Traffic Mobility Review Board will weigh in on the proposals after amassing feedback during six public hearings. MTA officials said they hope to implement the tolls toward the end of next year or by early 2024.

Source: Crain’s New York Business