New York moves closer to congestion charge

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A proposal to introduce congestion pricing in Manhattan cleared an important hurdle yesterday as a panel endor­sed the idea of charging drivers $8 to enter the business district at peak hours.

The plan would funnel revenue raised by the fee – estimated at $490m a year – into improving mass transit.

Michael Bloomberg, New York’s mayor, has championed the idea, borrowed from London, as a way to reduce carbon emissions and cut traffic congestion. If approved by New York’s city council and its state legislature, which is still far from certain, it would mark the first time a US city has implemented a congestion pricing zone.

The plan has received enthusiastic support from environmentalists and the federal Department of Transportation, which has pledged hundreds of millions of dollars in support. But it has drawn fire from lawmakers representing neighbourhoods in Queens and other outlying districts not well-served by subway and buses.

They have likened congestion pricing to a tax on the working class. To head off those concerns, the panel recommended tax relief for low-income drivers. The plan would charge drivers to travel below 60th Street, a smaller zone that Mr Bloomberg had wanted, between 6am and 6pm. It also recommends a $1 surcharge on taxi trips in the zone.

Mr Bloomberg urged lawmakers to enact the recommendations before March 31 or risk losing federal funds.

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