On Sunday, January 21st, New York Governor Kathy Hochul declared a stringent approach against motorists evading the $15 congestion pricing toll in Midtown Manhattan. In her $233 billion state budget plan, Hochul introduced a “toll fraud” proposal, aiming to treat toll evasion as a criminal offense.
Under this proposal, drivers who fraudulently attempt to avoid paying tolls could be charged with Class A misdemeanor toll theft. This charge is defined as fraudulently obtaining a credit, discount, or exemption from tolls. For scammers evading tolls valued at more than $1,000, the charge escalates to a Class E felony, and for amounts over $3,000, a Class D felony. Under this law, misdemeanors could result in up to one year of jail time.
The new law, if enacted by the legislature, is projected to generate $35 million to $45 million in revenue for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA). The MTA will collect the toll imposed to enter the central Midtown Business District as early as May, aiming to fund transportation operations and infrastructure improvements.
Hochul’s proposal also recommends imposing fines ranging from $100 to $500 on drivers who pass through license plate readers with intentionally obscured plates to avoid tolls on all New York’s tolled bridges and tunnels. Additionally, the bill authorizes police to confiscate materials covering license plates and raises the minimum fine for such offenses to $250.
Drivers caught beating the tolls on Hudson River and East River crossings, and the Thruway Authority would also face theft of service charges. The crackdown on toll evasion is expected to generate an additional $35 million to $55 million for toll collection agencies, including the MTA and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
Governor Hochul’s proposed law is a clear indication of her support for the congestion pricing program, initially approved in 2019 under former Governor Andrew Cuomo. The program is expected to raise $1 billion annually to fund $15 billion worth of upgrades for the MTA’s subways, commuter railroads, and bus systems while aiming to curb congestion in the Manhattan business district during peak hours.
As the MTA begins installing license readers on the FDR Drive and West Side Highway as part of the congestion toll program, opponents have filed federal lawsuits to block the program. They argue that the state failed to conduct an adequate environmental review and is diverting traffic to other neighborhoods by imposing a new Midtown toll.
Governor Hochul’s budget plan, including the “toll fraud” proposal, represents a significant step in enforcing the congestion pricing program and addressing toll evasion in New York City.