Keeping the Streets Clear: Advancing Transportation Equity by Limiting Exemptions under New York City's Central Business District Tolling Program

By Krohnengold, Benjamin | Fordham Urban Law Journal, June 2020 | Go to article overview

Keeping the Streets Clear: Advancing Transportation Equity by Limiting Exemptions under New York City's Central Business District Tolling Program


Krohnengold, Benjamin, Fordham Urban Law Journal


Introduction                                                  1010   I. Congestion Pricing in New York City                      1012      A. New York's Transportation Crisis                      1013      B. Basics of Congestion Pricing                          1015      C. Congestion Pricing outside the United States          1017      D. New York's Central Business District Tolling Program  1020  II. The Provision of Exemptions under New York's Central      Business District Tolling Program                        1023      A. The Importance of Limiting Exemptions in a         Congestion Pricing System                             1023      B. Discounts and Exemptions under London's Congestion         Pricing Scheme                                        1025      C. Approved Exemptions under New York's Central         Business District Tolling Program                     1027      D. Groups Seeking Exemptions                             1028      E. Creation of Exemptions through Litigation and         Legislation                                           1032 III. Creating an Exemption System That Advances      Transportation Equity                                    1035      A. Defining Transportation Equity                        1035      B. Determining Which Exemptions Advance         Transportation Equity                                 1039      C. Who Should Get an Exemption?                          1041      D. Alternatives to Exemptions                            1045 Conclusion                                                    1048 

INTRODUCTION

In the first half of 2017, New York City subway riders were confronted with a series of increasingly outlandish instances of the rapid deterioration of the subway system. (1) On March 2, a water main break flooded the Court Street station. (2) On May 2, pieces of the ceiling fell onto a train at the Franklin Avenue stop in Crown Heights. (3) On May 5, a major storm caused waterfalls inside several stations. (4) On May 9, a power outage in Brooklyn led to a cascade of delays. (5) As a result, a woman failed to make it to housing court and faced eviction. (6) A graphic designer lost $100 in wages. (7) A psychoanalyst failed to make an appointment with a patient, and the patient failed to make it too. (8)

Had they opted to drive instead, these travelers likely would not have fared much better. An analysis conducted that year by the traffic analytics company INRIX found that New York City was the third most traffic-congested city in the world. (9) Drivers averaged 91 peak hours stuck in traffic and spent 13% of their time sitting in congestion. (10) Even as a surge of investment over the subsequent two years has resulted in improved subway conditions, (11) traffic congestion has remained pervasive. Travel speeds in the section of Manhattan below 60th Street reached a new annual low of just over seven miles per hour in late 2018. (12)

In a bid to address these transportation issues, New York State adopted legislation in 2019 that paved the way for the implementation of congestion pricing in New York City as soon as January 2021, allowing the state to toll vehicles driving into Manhattan below 60th Street. (13) Although congestion pricing has successfully reduced traffic in cities around the globe, New York City is the first city in the United States to adopt this strategy. (14) If successful, congestion pricing has the potential to alleviate traffic congestion in Manhattan, reduce harmful carbon dioxide emissions, and raise desperately needed revenue to fund improvements to the region's public transportation infrastructure. However, almost as soon as the legislature passed its congestion pricing plan into law, advocacy groups, business interests, and elected officials sought exemptions from congestion pricing fees. While social and economic concerns may justify certain exemptions, each exemption granted will result in less traffic reduction, less emissions reduction, and less revenue raised. …

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