During its third public meeting this week, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) Traffic Mobility Review Board (TMRB) laid out different scenarios, variables and credits/carveouts as it continues the process of determining how to implement a congestion pricing structure.
As NJBIZ has extensively reported, congestion pricing continues to move forward in New York City and is on track to take effect by as early as spring 2024. New Jersey leaders and officials are vehemently fighting against the plan, including filing a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Transportation and Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) to try and block its implementation.
The TMRB is a six-member panel tasked with issuing a recommended tolling structure for the Central Business District, which will cost drivers anywhere from $9 to $23 a day to enter the area south of 60th Street in Manhattan. After developing its recommendations, the TMRB will report them to the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority (TBTA) Board, an affiliate of the MTA Board, for consideration for proposed adoption.
The panel previously held meetings in July and August. The group stressed that its overarching priorities are to: keep the expense as low as possible; minimize traffic diversions; prioritize equity; and keep the toll simple.
“At our first meeting back in July, you remember that we discussed the role of the TMRB in setting the congestion pricing toll. And, specifically, we talked about the seven types of recommendations that – together are going to set the toll structure,” said special advisor to the TMRB Julietta Michaelson during Monday’s meeting. “At our second meeting, we explored how these recommendations are all interrelated because of the program’s overall revenue targets. Today, we are going to go one step further and combine different potential recommendations into distinct scenarios – different combinations of recommendations for this group to discuss.”
Michaelson said that the goal was not to choose a winning scenario, “But rather to discuss different approaches that could be mixed and matched for a final recommended toll structure.”
She presented the different options during the meeting.
Among the constant variables across the four possibilities were: charging trucks more for the congestion they cause; exempting commuter buses and specialized government vehicles; and increasing the discount for frequent low-income drivers.
The changing variables across the four scenarios include providing crossing credits to tunnel drivers; charging a taxi/for-hire vehicle (FHV) toll to be passed on to customers; and extending the nighttime period. The crossing credits would range from $4 to $7, and notably, not include the George Washington Bridge.
You can check out the full presentation of the different scenarios here as well as a video of the meeting below:
“Our job here is to help the MTA provide the money in equitable a way as we possibly can, in accordance with the principles that Julietta really laid out in the beginning,” said TMRB Chair Carl Weisbrod. “Which is to do it at the lowest cost we can to the vast majority of people who are going to be affected, achieve equity, meet the needs of the transit system, and have no impact on environmental justice communities. That’s what I hope we will do.”
Following that public meeting, U.S. Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-5th District, a longtime vocal critic of congestion pricing, immediately put out a statement saying that the scenarios confirmed his worst nightmares about the plan.
“It will increase toxic, cancer-causing pollutants in North Jersey, cost Jersey commuters thousands of dollars more a year to drive into Manhattan, and lead to more truck and car traffic by the GW Bridge and Lincoln Tunnel,” said Gottheimer, whose district includes parts of Bergen, Passaic and Sussex counties. “The proposed credits are a joke compared to what this will cost families every day. The credits don’t even apply to the George Washington Bridge.
“How can we take these scenarios seriously when New York is already putting up toll cameras that will whack Jersey drivers?” Gottheimer continued.
U.S. Rep. Mikie Sherrill, D-11th District, issued a scathing statement slamming the proposals – describing them as “just another unfair double tax on New Jersey commuters and a shameless money grab from New York’s MTA.”
“Under this proposal, New Jersey residents would pay over 50% more in total fees to commute to Manhattan than New Yorkers living in Brooklyn or Queens, with routes like the Brooklyn and Williamsburg Bridges remaining un-tolled while New Jerseyans pay $17 per trip to cross the Hudson and Lincoln Tunnels,” Sherrill added. “This significant disparity between the tolls paid by New Jerseyans compared to New Yorkers is particularly shocking because it will be counterproductive for meeting the plan’s purported environmental goals. By charging different fees at different routes into Manhattan, the proposal will encourage the very bridge and tunnel ‘shopping’ that increase travel times, congestion and emissions.”
“The scenarios identified by the Traffic Mobility Review Board leave no room for doubt: This proposed tolling program remains a fundamentally flawed and unjust scheme to balance the MTA’s budget at the expense of hardworking New Jerseyans,” Bailey Lawrence, Gov. Phil Murphy’s deputy press secretary, told NJBIZ in a statement. “We will continue to fight this unfair tolling program on behalf of our commuters and residents.”
Editor’s note: This story was updated at 1:54 p.m. ET Oct. 4, 2023, to include a statement from U.S. Rep. Mikie Sherrill.