Congestion tax in New York could be Green New Deal litmus test

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Steroid Freak
May 24, 2019
Sumaiya Nur, a recent immigrant from Bangladesh, has not heard much about the congestion tax - likely around $12 - slated to hit the streets of New York City in early 2021.

The 21-year-old pharmacy clerk lives and works in Jackson Heights, Queens. She only travels across the river to Manhattan once a week - every Saturday in her brother’s car - to see movies and walk around destinations like Times Square.

When asked whether she supported an additional car toll for entering the clogged thoroughfares of the tourist and commuter core of the city, her reaction was: "That's too much. I don't even earn that in an hour!"

Nur was unaware that New York State lawmakers recently passed a historic budget plan that could significantly change the way New Yorkers get around.

But beyond the congestion fee most drivers will be required to pay upon entering the central business district of Manhattan, the concept - pioneered by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo - is a key regional test of the public appetite for new taxes, increased mass-transit investment, and environmentally progressive policy.

Jump-started by a February agreement between the city and the state, the tax aims to generate revenue that will go exclusively to the New York City subway system, which is in need of colossal upgrades.

Inspired by successful emissions-cutting models in London, Stockholm and Singapore, the tax that vehicles pay - depending on road conditions and the time of day - will be determined by a six-member mobility board formed by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

As is the case with the Green New Deal - a proposal to build a renewable-energy future through fossil-fuel disincentives and jobs creation - the congestion plan would raise funds from consumers by penalising driving into the busiest part of New York City. In theory, not only will traffic problems abate, but the subway administration will use the estimated $1bn per year generated by the tax to fix trains, repair tracks, and modernise the aging signal network.

If the plan works, it could encourage officials at all levels in the US to continue experiments with making consumers pay more for environmentally unsound habits. Transportation, after all, is the biggest contributor to carbon emissions in the country.

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