New York City Environmental Justice Alliance Warns Against Exemptions from Congestion Pricing, Reported by City Limits

Posted on May 16, 2019

Should Motorcycles and Greener Cars Get a Pass on Congestion Pricing?

Originally Published in City Limits on May 14, 2019
Written by Jeanmarie Evelly

Come 2021, drivers will have to pay a toll to enter Manhattan south of 60th Street—the result of New York’s recently-passed congestion pricing plan, which lawmakers say will allow the state to leverage $15 billion in revenue to help rebuild the struggling subway system. The MTA’s Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority is charged with forming a six-member panel to hash out the specifics, including exactly how much drivers will pay and whether to offer exemptions to certain groups or vehicles, according to state’s plan.

Most transit advocates oppose exemptions, on the grounds that doing so will chip away at toll revenue the MTA badly needs. But one subset of drivers argues their exemption would actually help the city achieve its goals: the owners of electric cars and other fuel-efficient vehicles—including motorcycles and scooters—who say doing so would incentivize those who do drive to swap out their gas guzzlers for less-polluting models. Other cities that have already implemented road tolling plans have made exceptions for certain vehicles: In Stockholm, motorcycles and mopeds don’t have to pay the congestion tax.

Last month, a new coalition of environmental and transit advocacy groups launched ElectrifyNY, an effort to get the city and state to switch over to an all-electric public bus fleet and make other carbon emission-reducing changes. The collective said it does not yet have a formal position on exemptions, but that it will be monitoring discussions as details get hammered out. “Our initial take is that the more exemptions we grant, the less revenue for the subways, which critically need it. While EVs pollute less, they nevertheless contribute to congestion of non-EV traffic,” Eddie Bautista, executive director of the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance and an ElectrifyNY member, said. “To the degree exemptions are considered, in the past, we’ve been open to exempting people with disabilities or folks who have to travel to the zone for doctor appointments. Beyond that, it becomes a slippery slope.”

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