Congestion Pricing’s Latest Challenger: New York City Truckers

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With a month left before drivers start being charged to enter Midtown and downtown Manhattan under New York City’s congestion pricing plan, a new group of challengers is joining a crowded field of critics: truckers.

The Trucking Association of New York, a trade group representing a wide range of delivery companies, filed a lawsuit on Thursday seeking to delay the policy, claiming that it would unfairly charge vans and trucks that enter the new tolling zone as much as $36 per trip during peak hours. That cost, the group says, could soon be passed on to local businesses and consumers.

“We’re not pushing back on the overall program,” Kendra Hems, the group’s president, said. “It’s simply the way that trucks are being targeted.” The suit was filed in federal court in Manhattan.

The congestion pricing plan, scheduled to start June 30, will charge fees to most vehicles entering Manhattan on or below 60th Street. Passenger vehicles entering the zone will be charged up to $15 once a day, with some exceptions. Commercial trucks will be charged $24 or $36 per entry, depending on the size of the vehicle and the time of day.

Transit leaders have already built in a 75 percent discount on tolls during off-peak hours, from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. on weekdays and 9 p.m. to 9 a.m. on weekends. But Ms. Hems said that was inadequate, because customers often dictate that deliveries must be made during daytime shifts. The trucking association is seeking lower or less frequent tolls.

The program has already raised the ire of critics including the governor of New Jersey, a teachers’ union, the Staten Island borough president and some residents of Battery Park City in Lower Manhattan. With this latest complaint, eight lawsuits challenging the rollout have been filed.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which will oversee the congestion pricing program and will benefit from the money generated by it, declined to comment on the new lawsuit.

Proponents say congestion pricing will alleviate some of the worst traffic in the country, improve air quality and provide a lifeline to the city’s public transportation network. The plan is expected to collect about $1 billion a year in tolls, which will be used to secure $15 billion in bond financing to help pay for much needed improvements to the city’s subway, bus and commuter rail systems.

But critics in the trucking industry, which delivers about 90 percent of goods in the five boroughs, say the fees are excessive, especially for smaller companies that make up a big share of the city’s trucking industry, with an average fleet size of around 20 trucks.

Larry Zogby, the owner of RDS Same Day Delivery, a medical courier company in Long Island City, Queens, said the added cost could be sizable for his fleet of about 30 vans and trucks.

Unlike large delivery operations like Amazon or FedEx that can more easily absorb the tolls because of a high volume of shipments, he said, his company makes dozens of emergency trips into Midtown Manhattan every day, often carrying a single piece of medical equipment or a batch of blood samples.

He estimates that his fleet will make 26,000 trips into the toll zone a year, at a cost of $400,000 to $500,000. That would become his third biggest expense annually, behind payroll and insurance, he said. The estimate doesn’t include the $100,000 he budgets annually for bridge and tunnel tolls, or $85,000 in parking tickets.

“If you have an $85 delivery, and you slap a $24 toll on it, how is there any more money left for profit?” he asked.

Christopher Gawarecki, a compliance manager at Hub Truck Rental Corporation, said that the tolls would be passed on to about 600 customers who rent the company’s 2,500 trucks. And Julio Pena, a co-owner and manager of Il Posto Accanto, an Italian restaurant, in the congestion pricing zone, said that if the added fees on delivery trucks were passed along to small businesses like his, it would squeeze his profit margins.

“How much more can you increase the prices of a plate of pasta?” Mr. Pena said.

Tom Wright, the president of the Regional Plan Association, which supports congestion pricing, said the trucking industry’s complaints were not convincing, because they didn’t take into account the benefits that the program would have for the broader economy.

A 2018 study by the Partnership for New York City, a business group, found that the annual cost of delays in commuting time and work-related travel in the metro area was $9.2 billion.

“Are they going to pass along the savings to consumers when their deliveries are made in less time?” Mr. Wright asked.

Rishi Mehra, the vice president of commercial mapping and routing technology at Trimble, a tech company with a focus on logistics, cited central London as a cautionary tale. There, a form of congestion pricing has existed since 2003, and Mr. Mehra said that rising tolls on trucks had contributed at least partially to higher consumer prices.

Still, supporters of congestion pricing bring up London as an example of the model’s success. Within a year of the toll policy’s introduction, the number of vehicles entering the zone dropped 18 percent, according to city officials, a substantial feat, and air quality improved.

Traffic has since worsened, but that is partly because London officials have dramatically changed the streetscape since the introduction of the tolls, increasing the space reserved for pedestrians and bicyclists, while reducing space for cars, said Richard de Cani, who helped design London’s congestion toll program and is now a director at Arup, a large design and planning consulting firm.

From a broad perspective, there is no doubt that congestion pricing will benefit New Yorkers, said Eric A. Goldstein, a lawyer at the Natural Resources Defense Council, a nonprofit group that has supported versions of the program for decades.

“The overall benefits of injecting $15 billion into the transit system that moves the overwhelming majority of New Yorkers on a daily basis should not be lost in the shuffle,” he said.