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Could Congestion Pricing Help Curb U.S. Traffic?

The letter "C" is painted on the road to inform motorists that they are about to enter the new congestion charge zone in London.The letter "C" is painted on the road to inform motorists that they are about to enter the new congestion charge zone in London.
The letter "C" is painted on the road to inform motorists that they are about to enter the new congestion charge zone in London.Scott Barbour—Getty Images

Congestion charges—fees paid by drivers to enter highly trafficked areas in peak times—are coming to America. As part of the state budget, New York lawmakers have approved a daily charge on motor vehicles entering Manhattan below 61st Street. The plan is scheduled to go into effect in 2021, with the proceeds used to fix N.Y.C.’s ailing subway lines.

Drivers in London, Stockholm, Milan, and a handful of other international cities have been subject to similar charges for years. Since 2003, the number of private cars in central London has declined by 30%, according to transit authority Transport for London, and in its first three years, the tax was credited with a 17% reduction of nitrous oxide emissions. But its success has been tempered by the explosion of for-hire vehicles from services such as Uber and Lyft, which continue to create congestion for Londoners.

Experts point out that New York’s plan is distinct, and its impact is hard to estimate. “London is a very different city from New York,” says Mitchell L. Moss, director of NYU’s Rudin Center for Transportation. “It’s a much larger area than what’s [taxed] in London.”

Philadelphia and L.A. are considering similar schemes, but Moss points out that New York stands out from other U.S. cities because its 24-hour subway system makes it less dependent on cars: “The real reason you can do it in New York is five times as many people come in by mass transit as come in by car.”

But when it comes to shifting commuters back to overcrowded subways, the city and state could face a chicken-and-egg scenario, if lawmakers don’t act quickly to make updates to the aging transit system.

A version of this article appears in the June 2019 issue of Fortune with the headline “A Euro Solution for American Gridlock.”

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