At last NYC congestion pricing hearing, buses ask for toll break
TRENTON – Public hearings wrapped up Wednesday regarding New York’s congestion pricing plan to add tolls that could reach as high as $23 on vehicles driving into midtown and lower Manhattan.
The more exemptions there are, the higher the toll would be, as New York law requires the program to generate $1 billion a year that would go toward mass transit improvements. But much of the testimony at the hearing was from residents, activists and politicians advocating for groups that should be exempt.
Some private bus companies from New Jersey said they should be exempt because they’re part of the solution – taking cars off the road and reducing carbon emissions.
Jonathan DeCamp of DeCamp Bus Lines in Montclair says Stockholm, London and Singapore exempt buses from congestion pricing and New York should, too.
“The last thing we should be doing is discouraging the use of mass transit by adding burdensome new costs to bus travel,” DeCamp said.
Michelle Petelicki, president and partner in Panorama Tours in Wallington, said her company drove 533 bus trips into the Manhattan business district in the last year, averaging 47 passengers each time. That comes out to just over 25,000 fewer car trips, if each of those people otherwise drove in separately.
“To make sure that private buses continue to be a viable service for the public, an exemption must be made for those vehicles if this program is deployed,” Petelicki said.
Far more New Yorkers testified than New Jersey residents, and there were more critics of the plan than supporters. Glenn Dewar of Queens said the idea doesn’t take into consideration the elderly or disabled and their caretakers, for whom mass transit isn’t a realistic alternative to a car.
“This program takes a lot of the best doctors and makes them inaccessible to people in the outer boroughs and anyplace else that need to drive a person in,” Dewar said.
One of the New Jersey residents to testify was Leslie Stevens, who said the plan looks reasonable and should be adopted as soon as possible to cut back on climate-change emissions.
“The MTA seems to be focused on money as opposed to reducing pollution and improving air quality. That seems to be an add-on,” Stevens said.
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority said it expects that in early 2023, the Federal Highway Administration will issue a decision document.
If the adverse effects are not significant or can be easily reduced, the toll program could start by the end of next year. If not, an environmental impact statewide would be required, adding another lengthy step to the process.
Though the hearings are over, public comments can still be submitted through Sept. 9 through the project website; by email to CBDTP@mtabt.org; by mail to CBD Tolling Program, 2 Broadway, 23rd Floor, New York, NY 10004; by phone to 646-252-7440; or by fax to 212-504-3148, to the attention of the CBD Tolling Program Team.