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Camera jam

Camera jam

I’m staying local again for this week’s blog, as I fittingly “focus” on cameras, and how they relate to a topic that has been discussed in NYC circles for nearly two decades – congestion pricing.  

Guess I should first briefly explain what congestion pricing is for those who do not live in the Northeast, or specifically the Greater NYC Metropolitan Area. Congestion pricing was a plan developed by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) back in 2007 to facilitate improved traffic flow, more predictable travel time, and reduce carbon emissions in Lower Manhattan’s Central Business District (CBD).

Tolls would be collected electronically and vary depending on the time of day, type of vehicle, and whether a vehicle has an E-ZPass toll transponder.

Following numerous delays, and even lawsuits, over the years, it looked like congestion pricing would finally become a reality as of June 30, 2024. But on June 5, NY Governor Kathy Hochul, out of nowhere, placed an “indefinite delay” on congestion pricing, citing NYC economy concerns, including city merchants who are fearful that patrons would be unwilling to pay the $15 toll for vehicles entering Manhattan south of 60th Street.

So, what now? With the uncertain future of congestion pricing, we cannot ignore the uncertain future of all the cameras that were installed to track the vehicles entering the toll zones.

The MTA originally awarded a contract of more than $507 million back in 2019 to a Nashville-based engineering solutions provider named TransCore to design, build, operate and maintain a network of tolling devices over the course of seven years.

As a result of the delays over the years, the MTA and TransCore agreed in October 2023 to extend the contract another seven years to 2030 for an additional $48.5 million, meaning that it cost the MTA nearly $556 million to install and operate these congestion pricing tolling devices!

These devices were designed to pick up signals from E-ZPass transponders and photograph license plates in order to assess tolls and track individual vehicles in order to determine when a levy was not necessary. In addition, these cameras could track the number of vehicles in lower Manhattan to determine whether the congestion toll was reducing traffic, as was the original intent.

I reached out to TransCore to find out if it had heard anything from the MTA as to what will happen to its cameras while congestion pricing is in limbo, and the company requested to direct all questions to the MTA.

Of course, I then reached out to the MTA, and much to my dismay, was told to direct my questions to TransCore.

So, my attempt to find out what will happen to the millions of dollars’ worth of cameras installed for congestion pricing is also in limbo.

Will I ever get answers to my questions? I’m not optimistic. But one thing I know for sure – these cameras that are stretching across 60th Street, as well as at bridge and tunnel crossings into the tolling zone and along the FDR Drive and West Side Highway, will just collect dust (or pollen, or anything else that wafts in the NYC air during the summer) for the very near future.


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