Will electric vehicles receive a discount on New York congestion pricing?

March 13, 2022

The electric vehicle (EV) market is booming in the United States.

More than 315,000 electric-powered vehicles like Tesla were sold annually from 2018 to 2020.

Electric vehicles - touted as the cleaner, greener alternative to petrol- and diesel-powered cars, are currently considered as part of the solution to solving our current climate crisis.

With the MTA set to charge a congestion tax to anyone entering Manhattan from 2023 - you may be wondering, “how will electric vehicle owners be affected?”

Should they, and will they, be entitled to a congestion toll discount?

After all, one of the promises of New York’s congestion pricing scheme has been to deliver improved air quality within New York’s CBD.

The M.T.A. are pushing the plan’s environmental benefits of the plan, including reduced emissions and improved health outcomes. This is helping to warm drivers up to the fact that they will soon have to pay a congestion tax to enter Manhattan.

So, should EV drivers receive some compensation or discount?

Why should those who drive cleaner or more fuel-efficient vehicles be subject to the same congestion charge than, say, a driver of a gas-guzzling, carbon-emitting Jeep Cherokee?

Will NY follow London’s footsteps by offering a 'cleaner vehicle discount' on congestion toll charges and make the most polluting vehicles pay more?

Unfortunately, we think not.

A congestion charge exemption or discount for EV drivers entering lower Manhattan seems unlikely.

Here’s why.

The New York Central Business District Tolling Program (CBDTP) differs from London congestion pricing.

Although congestion pricing is likely to result in environmental benefits - the main concern of the M.T.A. is that the state legislature binds them to raise 15 billion dollars in revenue.

The funds raised by the M.T.A will be used to fund critical infrastructure projects, including public transport upgrades.

Any discounts for electric vehicles on NY congestion charges will inevitably shrink the revenue pot. It will also impact the entire purpose of the plan – which is to ease traffic congestion.

Electric vehicle discounts have been shown in some cities to influence the purchase of EVs. A study from 2014 found that an electric vehicle exemption for road user charges in Stockholm pushed EV sales up by those living within the cordon by 13 percent.

Unfortunately, while this may seem great for the environment – switching to electric vehicles won’t solve the issue of New York’s gridlocked streets.

While E.V.s pollute fewer carbon emissions into the air, they add to non-EV traffic congestion. E.V.s will continue to contribute to the problems caused by congestion as stop-and-go traffic will continue to emit carbon and fine polluting particulates into the air.

This may be why from December 2025; London will drop its clean vehicle discount entirely - meaning E.V. drivers will need to pay the full congestion charge.

When it comes to the inevitable NYC congestion tax, we need to look at the bigger picture.

As Nick Sifuentes of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign has said

New York’s congestion pricing is, in large part, about revenue.

While reducing congestion will certainly contribute environmental and health benefits, the main goal is to get more people on public transit and out of vehicles altogether.