It seems clear that “congestion pricing” is coming to New York City, but a number of questions have yet to be answered – including who will be charged, how much and whether or not the city will try a new technology to collect the fees. In April, the state Legislature passed a plan for Manhattan’s central business district south of 60th Street, where cars will be charged a fee to enter. The flat rate for cars is expected to be between $11 and $14. At least $15 billion of the revenue will go to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority for its 2020-2024 capital program.
Before New York can move ahead, however, the MTA’s Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority must decide what kind of tech to use, since it could affect pricing.
The most proven method is tech like E-ZPass, which uses radio-frequency identification (RFID). Small RFID transponders are placed on a vehicle’s windshield and read by large overhead structures called gantries. This would probably be the easiest transition, since many drivers already have an E-ZPass.
Another option is what London uses: video cameras mounted on gantries or signposts to detect license plate numbers to track vehicles entering the congestion zone. Often referred to as automatic license plate recognition, this method has been used on toll roads in the U.S., often in conjunction with RFID transponders. If a vehicle drives through an E-ZPass gantry without a transponder, cameras can photograph the license plate.
Recent reports suggest the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) is leaning toward the license plate approach to avoid gantries. However, The Daily News discovered another technology is being considered: the MTA could mount cameras or other equipment on 40-foot light poles at congestion zone borders.
The MTA, which is still currently soliciting proposals from vendors, has notified potential bidders that traditional gantries won’t be accepted, and proposals should prioritize using existing infrastructure and blending into the streetscape, for improved aesthetics. Bumper-to-bumper traffic can also make it difficult for cameras to capture every license plate.
This spring, the MTA also put out a request for alternative technologies that might allow for more flexible pricing. Instead of charging a flat fee when entering or exiting the congestion zone, a smartphone app with GPS could track how long and where a vehicle travels within the congestion zone. A vehicle that spends three hours in the zone might be charged more than one that spends 15 minutes there.
Emergency vehicles and vehicles carrying people with disabilities have already been promised exemptions, but Staten Island drivers, truck drivers and motorcyclists are among those also arguing they shouldn’t be subjected to congestion fees. Exemptions may be possible even if New York opts for a more traditional technological approach, but something like a smartphone app could allow for more flexibility in facilitating those exemptions.
Even so, many warn against allowing too many exemptions. After all, every time you give an exemption, everyone else has to pay more.
Source: City & State