Tolls for vehicles entering city centers have been around since 2003 and, in a US first, New York City is now expected to implement its own congestion zone. This type of urban toll aims to reduce traffic jams and the number of vehicles in cities, while encouraging users to take public transport. Here's a look at how it works.
A congestion charge is effectively a toll to enter a city center in a vehicle. This kind of urban toll essentially equates to introducing a tax on road use where traffic congestion reaches high levels. It encourages motorists to park on the outskirts of a city and use public transport to get to the center.
With the start of the new school year and the return to a " new normal " in many places, traffic has increased in city centers. And congestion charges, although already implemented in many European cities, are once again emerging as an innovative solution to help reduce vehicle congestion.
In late August 2021, New York State's publicly owned Metropolitan Transportation Authority and the Joe Biden administration announced the launch of congestion pricing in an area of Manhattan below 60th Street -- a nationwide first. Originally planned for early 2021, the project was blocked by the Trump administration and will now be implemented in early 2022.
On the West Coast, Los Angeles is expected to follow suit soon, as a study was launched by LA Metro in 2019.
How does it work in Europe?
This kind of system has been up and running in certain European cities for some years, although operating in slightly different ways from one place to the next. London, UK, introduced its congestion charge in 2003, making it the first major city in the world to do so. To drive in this zone, it is now mandatory to pay £15 (about $20) for the day, seven days a week, except December 25. When users enter the congestion charge zone, they are warned by a large letter "C" painted in a red circle on the road. It is the user's responsibility to pay the current rate online, either on the day or up to 90 days in advance.
In Stockholm, Sweden, prices vary according to the day: the price of the congestion charge varies between 15 and 35 Swedish kronor (about $1.70 to $4) in low season, and goes up to 45 Swedish kronor (just over $5) during peak hours in high season. Users pay at kiosks stationed at the entrance and exit of the zone.
In Milan, Italy, the system is similar to other major European cities. A congestion zone, called "Area C," is predefined and a fee of €5 (a little under $6) is required to enter.
"These schemes are effective in improving traffic conditions"
In most cases, discounts are available for inner-city residents, as well as for vehicles with a more positive environmental impact, such as electric cars or plug-in hybrids. In London, vehicles with more than nine seats are also eligible for a discount.
According to Charles Raux, a researcher at the CNRS -- France's National Center for Scientific Research -- and the LAET transport, urban planning and economics laboratory, "these schemes are effective in improving traffic conditions." He continues: "Motorists are conscious of the cost of using the road, traffic flows more smoothly and the negative effects of vehicle traffic on the environment are reduced. Most socioeconomic evaluations also conclude that these schemes are cost-effective, in that they improve the socioeconomic situation of the community," he writes in a research post on Hypothèses.