Drivers who cross the Hudson or East rivers using the tolled tunnels will get a discount on the controversial coming Manhattan congestion charge, officials said Monday.
The discounts of $4 to $7 would be discounted against the base congestion charge, which could cost between $9 and $23 depending on possible exemptions and other discounts offered, officials said during the meeting of the toll board at the MTA’s headquarters in Lower Manhattan.
The chairman of the toll board — Carl Weisbrod, the former chief of the city Department of City Planning — repeatedly declined to say what he expects the base charge will be when asked by reporters at a press conference afterward.
“We would certainly like to come in well below $23, but what that is, I’m not going to say,” Weisbrod said. “As far below that as we can get it, that’s what we’re going to do.”
In many ways, the toll board’s hands are effectively tied: The legislation passed by lawmakers in Albany and signed by then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo authorizing the charge requires that it produce $1 billion per year for the MTA to fund major efforts such as subway expansion, signal modernization and replacing decades-old trains.
Every credit or exemption to the congestion charge that is approved by the board then requires an offset — such as a higher base toll — to keep the books balanced.
Tunnel discounts had been long sought by New Jersey politicians, who have complained for years about the coming congestion charge and have even filed a lawsuit in federal court to try and stop it.
“What we were trying to do today is balance two different goals: One is to keep our toll for everybody as low as we possibly can on the one hand, and, on the other hand, even out to some extent what choices people make between free routes and paid routes,” he said.
Vehicles that cross south of 60th Street into Manhattan will have to pay the yet-to-be-determined charge.
The tunnel credits were included in each of the four potential congestion pricing discount programs outlined to the toll board on Monday.
All four of the packages would:
- Offer substantial discounts for drivers who enter the tolling zone during the overnight hours.
- Exempt taxi, black car and ride-hail drivers from paying the fee. Instead, riders would have a fee of between $1 to $2.75 added to their fare if their ride begins or ends in the toll zone.
- Charge drivers just once per day to enter the zone, with no additional charge for driving inside of the zone or exiting the zone.
MTA chairman Janno Lieber has said he hopes to begin collecting the toll by May.