Skip to Content
Going Places

The Winners & Losers of NYC’s Congestion Pricing Plan

Winners: Planet Earth, drivers, Andrew Cuomo. Losers: Phil Murphy, car brain, Andrew Cuomo.

(Marc A. Hermann / MTA)

Seventeen years after it first became a mayoral priority, sixteen years after the state legislature shot it down, five years after a different state legislature made it a law, New York City's congestion pricing tolls were approved by the MTA board on Wednesday afternoon.

In an 11-1 vote, the board signed off on the plan, recommended to them by a separate group of civic leaders, to charge drivers of cars $15 to enter Manhattan below 59th Street from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. on weekdays, and 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. on weekends, with the toll dropping to $3.75 outside those hours. App-hired vehicles and yellow cabs will pay $2.50 and $1.25 respectively, and drivers will also receive discounts for using crossings that already carry tolls (for more details on toll pricing and the small number of exemptions, go here and here, and don't miss our own analysis on why tolling trucks won't meaningfully affect the price of your Manhattan meal). 

The federal government will do a final review of the tolling scheme, and if it survives several legal challenges (more on that later), congestion pricing will go into effect on June 15. 

Given the momentous occasion—New York rising above its own bullshit and ridiculous exceptionalism complex to enact sound public policy that was adopted years ago by other cities in other countries—we thought it'd be a good idea to break down who and what stands to gain from congestion pricing, and who looks foolish for doomsaying. (This is not an exhaustive list.)

WINNER: Planet Earth

More than 900,000 people in vehicles enter Lower Manhattan every day, and all those vehicles spew noxious pollution that fills the air—and the lungs of New Yorkers. After implementing their own congestion pricing models, Stockholm and London both saw significant decreases in air pollution, and New York City might see even greater gains.

The Bronx has some of the highest asthma rates in the country, and after concerns were raised that congestion pricing could increase the already-staggering amount of truck traffic the borough experiences, the MTA agreed to spend more than $100 million on efforts to reduce air pollution there, in addition to the tens of millions more the agency has committed as part of the plan on pollution elimination efforts across the region.

As MTA board member and sustainability startup CEO Samuel Chu told his colleagues before his "yes" vote, "I've been working in climate and sustainability for 20 years this year. And this single vote could be the most impactful thing I ever do to mitigate climate change in my entire life."

WINNERS: Subway riders sick of the MTA's signal malfunction bullshit

The law that created congestion pricing requires the MTA to raise $1 billion every year from the tolls, in order to issue $15 billion in bonds to fund capital expenses. As New York City Transit President Richard Davey pointed out before Wednesday's vote, a chunk of this money will go toward installing modern signal technology across the system, the kind that is currently enjoyed by riders of the 7 train and the L train.

After the 7 train's signals were replaced, on-time performance went from 67.8 percent to 90.5 percent. Imagine that: Replacing a 100-plus-year-old signal system that runs on dust and hamster farts with 21st century technology improves service!

And if new signals don't titillate you enough, there are accessibility improvements, new elevators, new bus stops, intercom upgrades, flood protection systems, and on and on, all paid for by congestion pricing.

MTA Chair and CEO Janno Lieber presides over the final vote (Marc A. Hermann / MTA)

LOSERS: Whoopi Goldberg, Phil Murphy (and other New Jerseyans who can't be bothered to take mass transit)

"This whole thing, this congestion pricing, I don’t understand," Whoopi Goldberg told Governor Kathy Hochul during a recent appearance on "The View." "The idea of having to pay, I’m a lifelong New Yorker, the idea of having to pay to get from point A to Point B without really having the conversation only to see those things go up anyway…it made me feel like nobody was listening."

Goldberg actually lives in West Orange, New Jersey, where only 1.6 percent of the district's commuters will end up paying a congestion charge. Across the Garden State, it's much of the same: According to an analysis from the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, more than 77 percent of commuters into Manhattan's central business district take mass transit, and will thus benefit from the capital improvements we listed above. Drivers are also significantly richer than their transit-taking counterparts.

Despite the obvious necessity to put a toll on infrastructure to fund infrastructure (hellooooo New Jersey Turnpike?) New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy sued to block congestion pricing last year. The city's biggest teacher's union, the City Council's Republican caucus, Staten Island's borough president Vito Fossella (joining forces with his borough's branch of the NAACP), Lower East Side residents, and other groups have also sued. 

New Jersey's objections carried a fair amount of weight during the MTA's years-long, exhaustive environmental review process, because the federal government has an interest in making sure states get along, according to Danny Pearlstein of the Riders Alliance, which issued an overview of the biggest lawsuits against congestion pricing on Wednesday. (One pointed observation in the report: New Jersey state agencies were invited to participate in the MTA's environmental review, but mostly didn't show up.)

It's unclear what chance if any these lawsuits have of stopping congestion pricing before June 15, but any judge who would entertain that thought would be putting themselves in front of the MTA's ability to function, stopping billions of dollars in necessary maintenance, all because they believe that the MTA's handling of the plan—a 4,000-page environmental review, 50 public meetings, 25,000 public comments—wasn't enough. "Now that it's in court, I think the ground shifts a little bit," Pearlstein told Hell Gate. "And the biggest concern is not that there's a state that's a litigant, but that there could be a wild card judge, an ideological judge."

At a press conference after the vote, MTA CEO and Chair Janno Lieber said he fully expected any legal challenges to be resolved in time for the tolling to start on June 15, and wouldn't engage in "legal hypotheticals" about a judge issuing a last-minute halt to the program.

"Phil Murphy is a smart…smart leader," Lieber said. "We're moving forward to implement this, because we've complied with every procedure and every law and we're implementing the law of the state of New York. So I'll leave it to Governor Murphy to decide if he wants to interfere, legally or otherwise."

LOSER: John Samuelsen, head of the national Transport Workers Union

As a member of the board assigned to come up with the tolling recommendations appointed by Mayor Eric Adams, Samuelsen, a fierce advocate for his members and working-class New Yorkers, had a powerful seat at the table—and used it to push an anti-congestion pricing narrative. He was especially peeved that City employees wouldn't be getting an exemption, and resigned from the board altogether.

Not only did Samulsen take his toys and go home, he didn't even bother to show up on Wednesday in his capacity as a non-voting MTA board member to voice his disapproval. The one lone "no" vote was David Mack, a representative appointed by Nassau County, who, in 2022 reportedly flipped Lieber off after losing his parking placard privileges. "Don't kill the goose that lays the egg," Mack grumbled, in explaining his vote. 

A rep from TWU Local 100 has not responded to our questions about Samuelsen or their position on congestion pricing.

WINNER: John Samuelsen, head of the national Transport Workers Union

Fifteen BILLION dollars to build transportation shit!!! According to an analysis by Reinvent Albany, your workers will see $3 billion of this!! Take the W, John!

WINNERS: Bus Riders (Maybe)

The subway system has more infrastructure in need of upgrading and repair, so it stands to gain more from dedicated capital funding, but the dawn of congestion pricing has spurred legislation in Albany to improve long-suffering bus service in New York City: $90 million split between improving bus reliability, and expanding the free bus pilot that is ongoing for one line in each borough.

WINNER: Andrew Cuomo

While fully acknowledging that you do not "gotta hand it" to anyone, especially the former governor, Cuomo did begin to advocate for congestion pricing back in 2017, and used his considerable political heft to make sure it was passed in 2019. 

LOSER: Andrew Cuomo

In a recent New York Post op-ed Cuomo announced that he thinks congestion pricing should not be enacted after all. A truly perfect way for him to showcase his political courage by withdrawing his support for a controversial measure when he thinks it might be politically advantageous to do so.

WINNERS: Drivers into Lower Manhattan

If you are driving into the congestion zone and paying the toll, you too will benefit from there being less traffic. According to the MTA's assessment, the average New Yorker loses 117 hours a year sitting in gridlock, and $20 billion is lost every year by businesses, commuters, and residents. With congestion pricing reducing the number of vehicles in Lower Manhattan by around 100,000 every day, it will be easier to make those necessary car trips.

LOSER: Car brain

"The only losers are ideologues," said Pearlstein of the Riders Alliance. "Even the litigants, even the opponents will reap material gains from congestion pricing. But they will lose the ideological leg that they're standing on in asserting a car culture that doesn't exist, that never existed in New York."

This story has been updated to note that John Samuelsen is a non-voting member of the MTA's board.

Already a user?Log in

Thanks for reading!

Give us your email address to keep reading two more articles for free

See all subscription options

Stay in touch

Sign up for our free newsletter

More from Hell Gate

See all posts