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New York's high-cost traffic war

New York City traffic
Photo: Johannes Eisele/AFP/Getty Images

Come 2021, American cities will be able to look to New York to determine whether traffic can be reduced if you tax it.

Catch up quick: Cars and trucks will pay fees, based on the time of day and day of week, to enter Manhattan south of 60th street. (Passenger cars will only be charged once per day.) The fees will be set by the same authority that runs the subway, with the cash intended for much-needed capital improvements (including that subway).

  • Flashback: Michael Bloomberg tried and failed to make this happen a decade ago.

The big picture, by Axios' Felix Salmon: This isn’t really about cars at all, it’s about the subway. So long as the subway was working, congestion pricing couldn’t get off the ground. The minute the subway started falling apart, congestion pricing started being possible. (Also, of course, getting Democratic control of the New York Senate was huge.)

  • The main thing about the New York plan is it gives policymakers a dial they can turn. You just want to implement the mechanism in the first instance, then you can start worrying about the optimal price.

What's next: "Congestion pricing, as New York has proposed, uses tolling to dissuade vehicles from entering certain districts during select hours," Axios Expert Voices contributor Jim Barbaresso wrote in March.

  • "Tolling [autonomous vehicles] could encourage shared rides and reliance on other transit options, which would keep congestion in check. It could also serve to replace funds from fuel taxes, which won’t apply to electrically powered AVs."

The bottom line: Plenty of cities will be watching to see whether the potential gains from congestion pricing are worth the political headache that comes attached.

Go deeper: Charles Komanoff on why exemptions from congestion pricing are a bad idea.