New York City drivers brace themselves because Big Brother (aka the MTA) is keeping an eye on you by installing cameras along the streets of New York to track you down. But why? Of course, it all depends on the money. The MTA is rolling out a controversial $15-a-day congestion charge for all drivers traveling south of 60th Street. They even gave this area of Manhattan a wonderful name: the Toll Congestion Zone.
How license plate readers track New York City drivers
Now, let's dive into the dirt. License plate readers have been strategically placed above the FDR Drive at East 25th Street and Route 9A (West Side Highway) to track drivers entering the congested area. This means that any driver entering the zone will have to pay the toll regardless of where they live or where they go.
But here's the twist: State law prevents the MTA from charging drivers who stop on the freeway. Although both the FDR Drive and Route 9A are currently exempt from tolls under state law, some drivers have expressed concern that this infrastructure could eventually be used to pay tolls on those highways. After all, with the equipment already in place, what's to stop state legislators from changing that law and starting charging for highway use?
Discounts, deductions and the transit equation
But what about discounts, you ask? If you use the Hudson River or East River tunnels, you'll get $5 off this $15 discount. Meanwhile, the FDR Expressway and the West Side Highway remain toll-free as noted. And if you live in a congested area and make less than $60,000 annually, you can deduct the cost from your taxes. Additionally, low-income drivers who trek from areas more than half a mile from a subway, rail, or express bus stop get their own slice of the discount pie.
Congested price travel
Let's rewind a bit. Back in 2019, former Governor Andrew Cuomo and the Democratic-controlled Assembly and Senate gave the green light to the congestion pricing program. Current Gov. Kathy Hochul is all in, predicting the program will bring in $1 billion annually. And where will this money come from? Directly to major upgrades to the MTA's subway, commuter rail and bus systems. Talk about changing the transit.
Council member calls MTA a spy game
Councilman Joe Borrelli (R-Staten Island) couldn't resist a joke about license plate readers: “It's amazing to see the MTA turn into an MI6 spy agency when it comes to screwing over drivers, but it can't even do it. Turnstile to avoid metro fares. Touche, Council member Borel.
Borel is a valid concern. Could the MTA finally expand the congestion zone to include freeways? Remember how the Legislature expanded speed cameras during the city's pilot program? Well, they might do the same with congestion charges. As they say, “where there's a legislative will, there's a rope.”
Kurt's main drugs
As license plate readers and surveillance cameras patrol the streets of New York, drivers find themselves at the crossroads of convenience and surveillance. The $15 congestion charge promises to improve transit, but it also raises questions about fairness and future expansion. So folks, keep your eyes on the road and your wallets because Big Brother is definitely watching and paying you.
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