New York City has always been synonymous with high prices, but would residents and commuters be willing to pay $20 each day just to drive their cars into Midtown Manhattan?
Traffic congestion and air pollution have been big problems in Manhattan for decades. Now, researchers from Cornell University and the City College of New York are advocating for a steep $20 traffic toll imposed on all cars entering NYC’s central business district. Based on their calculations, a fee like that would significantly lower air pollution and traffic levels around Midtown.
It’s only a matter of time before a fee of some kind is placed on all entrances to Midtown. In a 2019 state budget bill, New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo advocated for “congestion traffic pricing” around Midtown to reduce the number of cars in the area. Such a fee would also raise funds for public transit and subway projects.
In fact, tolls were supposed to start at the beginning of 2021 but COVID-19 has forced that start date to be pushed back. So, it isn’t a question of if a toll will be put in place, but how much it’s going to be.
Considering there are already tons of tolls involved in entering NYC from New Jersey, Connecticut, or Long Island via car, the notion of adding an additional $20 to locals’ daily expenses sounds like overkill at first consideration. Well, according to the study’s authors estimates, a $20 fee to drive into Midtown would reduce traffic congestion in the area by an astounding 40%. Public transit patronage would also increase by 6% and greenhouse gases would drop by 15%.
It definitely won’t be fun for New Yorkers’ wallets, but it’s clear that a $20 fee would greatly benefit the city as a whole from a public health and mobility perspective.
“If we charge a high dollar amount of tolls, we can decrease the number of cars and taxis, shrink gridlock, bring down carbon dioxide emissions and reduce particulate matter,” says Oliver Gao, professor of engineering and director of Cornell’s Center for Transportation, Environment and Community Health, in a university release. “This is good news for the environment and from a public health perspective.”
The research team used air quality processing software to predict and map out the effect of different toll amounts on Manhattan’s greenhouse gas emissions.
Normally, just lower Manhattan alone produces roughly one million tons of greenhouse gases annually. But, if a $5 fee were to be put in place to drive into the central business district of NYC, there would be 72,648 fewer tons of annual greenhouse gas emissions. A $10 toll would result in 119,097 fewer tons, and a $15 fee would reduce emissions by 157,747 tons.
A $20 toll, however, would drop greenhouse gas emissions around Manhattan by 182,065 tons annually.
Additionally, the introduction of tolls in general, regardless of their price, will greatly reduce air pollution and particulate matter levels around Manhattan. Particulate matter, or tiny microscopic pieces of dust that are harmful to one’s health when breathed in, is pretty much unavoidable in Midtown on a normal day.
“If we want to make cities livable for the next generation, installing these tolls are a practical solution, because these plans are not imaginary. They are facts of what will happen,” concludes study co-author & Cornell postdoctoral researcher Mohammad Tayarani. “All of us know that policymakers don’t like to charge people for driving into the city. Policymakers try to avoid it. But if we want to avoid climate change impact, these are the kind of policies that need to be considered and implemented.”
Many rank NYC among the top places in the world to live, but a New York lifestyle certainly doesn’t come cheap. While the $20 figure for tolls is only a suggestion by the research team, a fee of some type will almost assuredly be put in place over the next few years.
The full study can be found here, published in Sustainability.