New York City’s New Congestion Pricing, Explained

Published on May 3, 2019

It’s nothing out of the ordinary for major European cities, but for American cities, congestion pricing is unheard of. New York City announced recently that it had voted to set up congestion pricing that would tax anyone driving below Manhattan’s 60th street. The announcement follows years of work originally put in by former mayor Bloomberg to decrease congestion on NYC streets—especially during rush hour.

Critics have had mixed reviews on the decision to put in congestion pricing. But with the tax not going in until 2021, commuters have some time to decide how they’re going to accommodate this shift in the economy. Many have criticized the decision, claiming that it unfairly targets out of state commuters coming in from places like New Jersey. Others have praised the decision, as it will push more into using public transit.

What Is Congestion Pricing?

Cities like London have been implementing congestion pricing for years now. The program puts a tax on anyone wishing to drive within certain parts of the city that are found to be busier than others. More specifically, the central areas of the city. The exact details of New York’s new congestion pricing have yet to be announced—or even laid out for that matter. Panels involving city planners and owners of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority have taken place to determine how congestion pricing will work, exactly.

If New York’s congestion pricing is anything comparable to London’s, it will mainly impact weekday driving. In order to drive a car around London’s busiest areas on a weekday between the hours of 7 am and 6 pm, drivers will have to pay a tax of £11.50. The tax can be paid in advance, or be charged automatically. The congestion charge encourages commuters to find alternate ways of traveling into London’s most congested areas, such as on the train, by taxi, or by bus.

Other places, like Paris and Rome, have implemented similar programs for different reasons. Italy, for example, puts a limit on how many cars, and what kinds of cars, are able to drive close to its major historical landmarks. This isn’t so much to keep traffic at bay, but to slow the aging of buildings like the Colosseum and the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Here’s a handy guide to those restricted zones if you plan on taking a road trip through Italy any time soon.

Negative Impact

While congestion charges seem like the most obvious answer to a major traffic issue in New York’s most congested areas, there are a significant amount of potential drawbacks to the change. Experts worry that a congestion tax would cause a dramatic spike in housing costs within the city. In a city that already struggles to maintain the balance of affordable housing, this could lead to rapid gentrification and an even greater housing crisis.

Additionally, with impending changes to the MTA coming in the next few years, drastic price increases for transportation prices could throw off the local economy. The MTA plans on implementing its own congestion pricing (which also mimics London’s transportation systems) in the next few years as a way to pay for upgrades to the rapidly decaying subway system. What seemed like a good idea at the time could now have NYC residents second-guessing the idea if they suddenly have to pay $10 to get to work instead of under $3. The city is currently working out the details of the upcoming congestion pricing.


Julia Sachs is a former Managing Editor at Grit Daily. She covers technology, social media and disinformation. She is based in Utah and before the pandemic she liked to travel.

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