Cleaner Air for NYC? Here’s How Manhattan Could Benefit from Congestion Pricing

February 3, 2022

Traffic is worse than ever in New York City. In 2021, the Big Apple was the most congested city in the US, with drivers losing around 102 hours of their time sitting in New York city traffic. Not only does traffic congestion contribute to lost time, but it also has a heavy economic and environmental impact.

Analysis predicts that these lost hours are costing the New York economy around 20 billion dollars a year. But it’s not just the money we should be concerned about - the environmental impacts of New York traffic congestion are concerning too.

Transportation currently contributes about 30 percent of total U.S greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions – most of which is carbon dioxide. In NYC, nearly 1 million tons of GHG emissions pour from trucks and private vehicles entering lower Manhattan every year.

The plan to implement congestion pricing in NYC will likely have both economic and environmental advantages. If we look at other cities around the world, we can see that congestion pricing has successfully reduced traffic levels, allowing them to reach their environmental goals.

Singapore was well ahead of its time with its Electronic Road Pricing (ERP) system introduced in 1975. The benefits were so profound that the city served as a benchmark for other cities like London and Stockholm. Today, Singapore has better air quality than many cities in Asia.

A few decades later, in 2006, Stockholm followed suit, charging drivers entering the city a congestion tax. The primary purpose of the scheme was to reduce traffic congestion and improve the environmental situation in Stockholm. At first, drivers were outraged, but they soon changed tune when they experienced the program’s benefits firsthand. The environmental benefits were clear. Not only was air pollution reduced in the city center, but childhood asthma cases went down by nearly 50 percent!

A referendum held in 2007 saw a majority of Swedes voting in favor of the charges.

How could New York benefit?

One of the main goals of the NYC congestion pricing plan is to reduce traffic levels to improve environmental quality. A congestion charge will hopefully discourage individuals from using private vehicles to enter Manhattan, with the hope that drivers will use alternative modes of transport instead. By shrinking the number of cars driving in Manhattan - miles traveled, fuel consumption, and pollutant emissions from accelerations and decelerations will all be reduced.

Exactly how much this charge should be was answered by a study conducted by Cornell and the City College of New York. The research revealed that a $20 road charge could see traffic congestion in New York reduced by up to 40% and GHG emissions down 15%.

How much will the New York City congestion tax be?

The MTA plans to charge drivers entering Manhattan south of 60th street somewhere between $9 and $23. Paying toll rates by mail will potentially be higher - from $14 to $35 (source).

There will be some exemptions to these rates, and off-peak and overnight toll ranges may be lower.

These rates are yet to be set in stone, but with the bus or subway only costing $2.75 a ride – it seems it will be more feasible for drivers who commute daily to use public transport instead.

Without congestion pricing, an estimated 90,000 more cars would be entering the Manhattan district by 2023, which would only serve to fuel the city’s pollution problem.

As we have seen, congestion pricing has already produced exceptional environmental benefits in places like Singapore and Stockholm.

Let’s hope that New York City will experience the same.