NYC’s congestion pricing unfair to truckers, new federal lawsuit claims

May 31, 2024

Tyson Fisher

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Another federal lawsuit has been filed challenging New York City’s congestion pricing, but this one is specific to the fees for truckers.

On Thursday, May 30, the Trucking Association of New York filed a lawsuit against the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority and New York Attorney General Letitia James. The lawsuit is challenging the constitutionality of New York City’s congestion pricing, which is expected to begin on June 30.

This marks at least the seventh federal lawsuit against the Big Apple’s congestion pricing plan. However, the Trucking Association of New York’s lawsuit is much different than the other six, which all focus on mostly the same arguments surrounding the environmental review process required under the National Environmental Policy Act.

In its lawsuit, the Trucking Association of New York focuses specifically on the congestion pricing fees against trucks. Truckers will be charged as much as $54 each time they enter the Central Business District. Passenger vehicles, on the other hand, will pay no more than $22.50 and will be capped at one toll fee a day.

In the final report published by the Traffic Mobility Review Board last November, it was revealed that trucks make up only 4% of traffic in the congestion pricing area. For-hire vehicles and taxis make up more than half of all traffic. However, those vehicles are exempt from the new toll. Rather, taxis will charge customers $1.25 per trip.

Congestion pricing is supposed to encourage motorists to ditch their cars and use public transit instead. The city is expected to generate about $1 billion annually from toll fees. That money will go exclusively to New York City’s transit system.

The Trucking Association of New York points out that truckers do not have the luxury of choice.

Truckers cannot use an alternative mode of transportation to do their jobs. Since all congestion pricing revenue will go towards public transit, truckers will receive no benefit from the tolling program, despite paying significantly more.

There is also the issue of timing. Motorists, including truckers, will pay a reduced congestion pricing fee during the off-peak hours of 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. However, truckers typically do not get to choose their schedules. Rather, they must deliver freight during their customers’ hours, which usually fall within peak hours.

The lawsuit claims the congestion pricing violates the Commerce Clause and the right to travel because it imposes a financial burden on truckers, which is not a fair approximation of their use of the Central Business District.

The toll scheme also is excessive in relation to the benefit. The trucking association also claims the program violates the Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act, which prohibits states from enacting laws or programs that affect the prices, routes or services of motor carriers.

“The MTA’s reckless congestion pricing policy ignores the warnings and counsel of industry experts on both sides of the Hudson, who warn that the discriminatory way trucks and logistics companies are targeted by the plan will increase costs for residents everywhere,” Kendra Hems, president of the Trucking Association of New York, said in a statement. “This lawsuit was a step we took only out of necessity after the MTA repeatedly refused to make any concessions to our industry and ultimately used our essential, hard-working members as a tool to meet their arbitrary funding requirements. We hope that we can, through this litigation process, create a more equitable and fair policy that works for New York City.”

The Trucking Association of New York said that it is “not fundamentally opposed to congestion pricing.” Rather, the association is trying to overturn the current pricing structure and replace it with one that reduces adverse impacts and introduces parity for the logistics industry.

Other federal lawsuits

There are at least six other federal lawsuits seeking to undo New York City’s congestion pricing plan.

In March, Rockland County filed a lawsuit against MTA, making the following arguments:

  • Congestion pricing violates the Equal Protection Clause by discriminating against drivers from outside the central business district and in favor of people who garage their cars within the district.
  • The toll is an illegal tax.
  • MTA failed to properly analyze the possibility of a toll reduction for persons paying the George Washington Bridge toll or other tolls for transportation infrastructure.
  • Because the toll is implemented to deter people from driving, it is subject to the Eighth Amendment prohibition against excessive fines.

Rockland County’s lawsuit was preceded by five other federal lawsuits challenging the congestion pricing plan.

Those lawsuits mostly focus on the environmental review process required under the National Environmental Policy Act. Specifically, the lawsuits argue federal, state and local transportation agencies illegally expedited that process.

Individual lawsuits have been filed by the United Federation of Teachers, the mayor of Fort Lee, N.J., residents of Manhattan’s Battery Park City neighborhood and New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy. A class-action lawsuit was filed by a group called New Yorkers Against Congestion Pricing Tax. LL