As transit officials prepare for seasonal increases in traffic on I-95, by train and bus as Connecticut residents return to their New York City commutes this fall, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority will hold hearings next week to consider the idea of tolling vehicles entering Manhattan’s central business district.
MTA is the nation’s largest transit network, serving 15.3 million people in New York City, Long Island, southeastern New York State and Connecticut.
MTA Central Business District Toll Program it was authorized by New York State in 2019 and is now working through a federal environmental review process.
A map of the New York City Central Business District tolling program. (Courtesy of MTA)
In an interview with WNYC’s Brian Lehrer Show, MTA Executive Director Janno Lieber said the program could reduce road congestion, traffic violence and air pollution. According to MTA studies, tolls could range from $9 to $23.
According to Lieber, 90% of people who arrive in the Manhattan CBD do not drive, take public transportation or walk. Those are the commuters, Lieber said, that MTA prioritizes.
“I don’t want to universalize it, but it’s generally a more affluent group of people who come to New York by car and already pay all the costs associated with that,” Lieber said.
Metro-North Railroad has reported an increase in ridership that can be expected to continue into the fall as well.
Last year, the line reported an estimated 6,195,800 riders in September and October, up 17.2 percent from June and July. So far, summer 2022 ridership is up roughly 53.6 percent.
But while these numbers have increased, they have not yet reached pre-pandemic levels. Noting that Metro-North’s busiest days are Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, CTDOT Communications Director Josh Morgan attributes some of the influx of absentees to remote work.
“Are people going to go there five days a week ever again? Are people going to work in Manhattan but live in Montana because of telecommuting? There’s just a lot of data, a lot to look at and a lot to consider.”
Morgan also said the department has been seeing more drivers on I-95 compared to the start of the pandemic, and with that came an increase in traffic, speeding and distracted driving. “In 2022, unfortunately, we’re really on pace here to have the deadliest year on Connecticut roads because crashes are up,” he explained.
Although the accident numbers are high, this claim is not fully supported by the data. According to the Connecticut Accident Data Repository, there were 139 fatal accidents between January 1 and July 1 last year, the highest volume in the last 3 years. The 2021 fatal crash rate remains 15.8 percent higher than this year’s fatal crash rate.
Morgan said the department is trying to keep the roads safe for travelers by partnering Slow down New England, an initiative against speeding and increasing the efforts of law enforcement. He also said the department is aware of congestion on I-95, so construction typically occurs overnight.
Jim Gildea, chairman of the Connecticut Commuter Rail Commission, said that while he has also seen an increase in ridership, commuters want faster travel times and workable schedules that connect all lines. He recommended that the state focus on the initiatives described CT timea plan for faster trains and improved journey times.
Time for CT, announced by Gov. Ned Lamont in June 2021, promised to save rail commuters from New Haven to New York City 10 minutes by 2022. Last month, Metro-North began operating three new express trains with only four stops: New Haven, Bridgeport, Stamford and Grand Central Terminal.
Morgan said trips from New Haven to New York typically take an hour and 39 minutes, the fastest trip in about 10 years. “That’s where the significant time savings will be,” he said.
According to Morgan, Lamont is pushing for CTDOT to add more trains and reduce travel time. “There’s a commitment to speed up trains, add trains where we can, support bus service expansions because we really at the DOT want to make sure there are options for people.”
In contrast to the influx of trains, Connecticut buses have reached pre-pandemic levels thanks to free fares.
Doug Holcomb, the CEO of Greater Bridgeport Transit, said the number of buses will continue to grow and he is looking to transfer some of that success to local railroads.
Bridgeport Bus Station shares a transit hub with the city’s Metro-North stop. Despite this proximity, he said GBT has not done enough to promote rail use. “Now is the time, while the buses are free, to test this bus-rail connection.”
Transit buses to continue fare-free streak through December 2022 CTDOT reported no major construction projects on I-95 in Fairfield County and Time for CT aims to cut seven minutes of the train travel time from Stamford to New York City in 2035. .
“It’s really an interesting time to see how this plays out on rail lines, bus routes and highways,” Morgan said.
The CTDOT has yet to comment on the MTA’s proposed tolls, but Morgan said they are reviewing the documents and will send their response soon.
the project Environmental Assessment found that of those who work in the Manhattan CBD, about 1.3 million commute from outside the area. Connecticut residents make up 2 percent or about 25,248 travelers. The MTA will hold six public hearings via Zoom between August 25 and August 31 where they will consider all comments.