MTA installs futuristic cameras in Manhattan to charge, track cars for congestion pricing

MTA installs futuristic cameras in Manhattan to charge, track cars for congestion pricing


The MTA has installed high-tech devices at dozens of locations around Manhattan ahead of its planned launch of congestion pricing — but transit officials said on Wednesday that New Yorkers will hardly notice them.

The equipment, designed to automatically track and toll cars driving below 60th Street, contains E-ZPass readers and cameras that use “infrared illumination” to photograph vehicles’ license plates without using flash.

“This will help with respect to those working or living nearby,” Allison de Cerreno, the MTA official overseeing congestion pricing, said during an agency board meeting. “But it’s also important for birds or wildlife that are sensitive to pollution.”

It’s a shift from the cameras at the MTA’s tolled bridges and tunnels, which rely on cameras with bright flashes to snap photos of license plates.

De Cerreno said the new devices can also automatically detect the size and type of vehicle entering the congestion zone. The MTA plans to charge different toll rates for personal vehicles, motorcycles, small trucks, large trucks and buses.

De Cerreno explained during a presentation that devices will capture a vehicle’s front plates when it enters the congestion tolling zone, scan for an E-ZPass tag, and then photograph the rear plates. The system can use that information to determine a vehicle’s length and size and automatically issue the correct toll amount, she said.

Several lawsuits in federal courts aim to stop the MTA from launching congestion pricing, which will charge personal vehicles a daytime toll of $15 to enter the zone. But the MTA is forging ahead anyway, and plans to launch the program in June.

MTA officials said they’ve installed the technology at 104 of the 110 locations where they’ll be set up.

A third of the readers are hung on existing street poles, pedestrian walkways and overpasses, according to the MTA. The rest are on poles and gantries built by the MTA.

The technology was set up by the private company Transcore, which in 2019 inked a $507 million contract with the MTA to design, build and operate the infrastructure for congestion pricing.

State law requires the program to bring in $1 billion a year, which must be used for MTA construction projects and upgrades.

MTA officials said on Wednesday that they’re worried about drivers evading the tolls by covering their license plates. They called on the state Legislature to increase the penalties for toll evasion and upgrade the charge to a misdemeanor “theft of services,” similar to the penalty for jumping a subway turnstile.


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