Many of our restaurants are still struggling from nearly three years of COVID challenges and the thought of yet another financial burden doesn’t sit well with many small business owners.
Last month, after years of delay over the federal environmental review, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) began accepting public comments on their congestion pricing proposal to charge vehicles between $9 and $23 to enter Manhattan below 60th Street.
We can appreciate the stated goal of raising $1 billion a year for new transit projects and improvements. Our restaurant employees depend on the subway to get to their jobs every day, and so many of our customers use public transportation too. We also understand the desire to reduce traffic congestion and emissions. But now, so early in our city’s pandemic recovery it is not the time to implement this hefty new fee.
Delivery trucks carrying the products restaurants purchase must enter the congestion zone, they can’t opt to deliver food products using the subway, so they’ll pay the fee. The plumber driving to a restaurant south of 60th Street to fix kitchen equipment will pay the fee. We’ve investigated and tried overnight deliveries as an option, but unfortunately it hasn’t worked very well for restaurants and suppliers for various reasons.
Ultimately, these delivery trucks need to enter the zone during peak times, so charging them will not reduce their vehicle usage or emissions and they’ll pass on the congestion fee to their restaurant customers, just like the fuel surcharges many businesses are already paying.
Many customers also take yellow taxis and for-hire vehicles into the congestion zone to dine at restaurants and drink at bars. Perhaps they’re all dressed up on a rainy night and don’t want to take the train, or they’re not comfortable doing so at night. So now, in addition to the fare and $2.75 congestion fee customers already pay, they must pay another $12 congestion fee. Will it deter them from visiting the area to spend money and support local businesses? Maybe this helps the bar in Brooklyn get a few more customers who opt not to take a taxi and pay the fee, but will it hurt the bartender who lives in Brooklyn and bartends at the restaurant in midtown Manhattan?
Congestion pricing was discussed back when Michael Bloomberg was mayor and then later passed when he was out of office, but its implementation was delayed by the Trump administration and the pandemic. Now it has returned in the form of seven different proposals from the MTA. Our suggestion is that the Transit Mobility Review Board continue to hear everybody’s perspectives on all sides of the issue, which they’ve been doing through a series of public hearings, and then table these proposals and implementation of the fee for the time being until our city and industry gets back on its feet. Funding public transportation, reducing traffic and emission are all laudable and we support them, and we should work towards them through various polices, but now is not the time to add another fee that will make it more expensive to operate a small business in Manhattan or for people to dine out at restaurants.