NYC’s New Toll Hikes and Congestion Charges Are One More Tax on the City’s Working Class

George Washington Bridge Toll Booth 13 photos
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The George Washington Bridge isn't often a place awash in joy. If anything, you're liable to feel robbed and a little cheated entering New York City from Fort Lee, New Jersey, after the bridge extracts $17.00 of your hard-earned dollars without an E-ZPass. If this is often the case for you, your morning commute is about to get even more painful. All thanks to the newly implemented bridge and tunnel toll hike fresh off the desk of New York and New Jersey's Port Authority.
The morning of January 8th, 2024, was the first weekday morning in which New Yorkers had to contend with yet another across-the-board toll hike for New York City's bridges and tunnels connecting New York City with Northern New Jersey. By a total of $0.63 per trip, cars, and trucks running across these two border states will see those travel expenses rack up just a bit faster this year. With or without E-ZPass, the extra cost can and will wreak havoc on New Yorker's wallets.

From the Verrazano Narrows Bridge to the Bayonne and Goethals Bridge and both the Lincoln and Holland Tunnels, no trucker, passenger commuter, or rideshare jockey will pass eastward from New Jersey without suffering the Port Authority's wrath. At the G.W., what was once a $14.75 cost of entry into New York City is now a $15.38 ordeal at peak hours (6-10 a.m./ 4-8 p.m. weekdays, 11 a.m.-9 p.m. weekends). Keep in mind this price only applies to those with a state-issued E-ZPass tag. Those unfortunate to cross America's most notorious bridge without one now have to fork out $17.63 through the mail once the bill arrives.

People can and have had to pay hundreds, sometimes even thousands of dollars in late fees for failing to pay Port Authority Bridge tolls promptly. So what may start out as an already healthy toll bill could easily spiral out of control; heaven forbid it's lost in the mail or otherwise misplaced. It's just another thorn in the side of a city whose cost of living crisis is consuming all but its most affluent residents. In a city whose government is so perpetually starved of cash yet so irrevocably dependent on roads and motor vehicles, a perfect storm of financial agony is now being force-fed on working New Yorkers just trying to get back and forth each day.

Of course, toll hikes are just as significant to the experience of living in and around New York City as halal carts and nasty-smelling subway terminals. Tolls on the G.W. specifically have been hiked no less than 14 times since 1970, when the city abolished westbound tolls on the bridge going westbound towards Interstate 95's junction with Interstate 80. But this latest round of hikes cuts so much deeper than recent ones. This time around, the reason why has little to no particulars in the hikes themselves.

Instead, it's how the most recent toll hikes occurred almost in parallel with the passing of new city legislation approving congestion charging for NYC drivers traveling through Manhattan's most crowded bits of asphalt south of 60th street. First approved in March 2019 by then-governor Andrew Cuomo and upheld by his replacement Kathy Hochul, a global health crisis, several years of public hearings, and equally public weapons-grade bellyaching have led to a tentative start date for congestion charging in Manhattan at the beginning of April 2024.

With an all-out assault on the wallets of NYC's drivers, it's hard not to feel like the whole affair, tolls, congestion charges, and all, was coordinated to be as misery-inducing as possible. It's as if NYC's leaders and those in power were looking at the cost of living and homelessness crisis the likes of which New York hasn't seen since the dirty, smog-ridden 1980s right in the face and deliberately opted to make the problem worse. Never mind that per an announcement from Manhattan's Borough President Mark Levine, residents who earn less than $60,000 per year will receive a credit on their city taxes at the end of the year. That almost feels like the equivalent of an office pizza party when all anyone wanted was a pay raise and the option of a health insurance plan. Hardly the re-imbursement it sounds like, that's for sure.

One shudders to imagine the honest, hard-working NYC rideshare drivers, cabbies, and delivery drivers who'll have their wallets mercilessly manhandled by the city's draconian approach to the problem of lowering vehicle congestion in Manhattan's busiest sectors. Let alone how many of these same people, with families at home and more bills to pay than any reasonable person would ever consider paying if not for the privilege of living in a stagnating city far removed from the clean, sanitized façade it maintained in the first decade or so after the attacks on 9/11.

Ironically, New York City was never so united as in the immediate years following that tragic day. But with the cost of driving through the city piling onto a laundry list of other profound problems with homelessness and lack of mental healthcare facilities, it's hard not to feel like New York is about as divided as it's been in living memory. Don't get it twisted; no one's out there saying bridge tolls and congestion charging will be the straw that breaks the camel's back for New York City. Big Western cities like London and Paris can and have made congestion pricing a staple of driving through its most populated districts.

But remember, Londoners in particular didn't all take kindly to a charge on their bank account every time their license plate was snapped along a road marked with a dreaded C and red circle. Anyone who watched Top Gear in the mid-to-late 2000s will attest to this. Say what you will about Jeremy Clarkson's antics, but the man had a point about congestion charging doing more wrong than good, regardless of whether he was right for all the wrong reasons. Even a blind orangutan finds a lager every now and then, and Clarkson even has his own brand nowadays.

From this international lens, it's hard to say toll hikes and controversy around congestion charging in big cities are hardly isolated cases. Humanity has come to a reckoning point when it comes to the balance between planes, trains, and automobiles in society's norms around the daily work commute/school run, or risk the whole damn ecosystem collapsing in on itself. As for New York City, it's one of the few North American megacities with the trifecta of roads and highways for miles, a robust commuter rail network, and three of the busiest international airports in the world, all within the confines the size of some mid-western counties.

Between all this infrastructure and all the capable young civil engineers leaving American universities these days, you can't convince us there's simply no solution to New York City's commuter congestion besides abusing people's debit and credit cards at every opportunity. Doing so is merely the easy way out for New York's city leaders without addressing two decades of steady decline in local services. At least to our mind, that's the most angering facet of New York City's war on congestion. It can and should have been taken care of with a touch more care and forethought.

It probably sounds like we're being unfair to the Big Apple like a bunch of stuffy suburban elites only concerned with the plight of working folks in the city for the sake of the optics. But trust us when we say we love New York City around here. It's only because we know New Yorkers, and more fittingly, New York's leadership, are capable of being the beacon on the hill city it's always claimed to be. Just look at the recently completed Eastside Access rail tunnel, a.k.a. the new Grand Central Madison Station, if you don't believe us. All it takes is a team with the right vision and a leader in charge to make it all happen.

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