Tech & Science

Big Brother is watching in Big Apple with sneaky new plan to spy on drivers, charge them


New York City drivers buckle up because Big Brother (aka the MTA) is keeping a watchful eye on you by installing cameras along New York City streets to track you. But why? Well, it all boils down to money, of course. The MTA is rolling out a controversial $15 per day congestion fee for all drivers venturing south of 60th Street. They’ve even given this area of Manhattan a snazzy name: the toll congestion zone.

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Big Brother is watching in Big Apple with sneaky new plan to spy on drivers, charge them

License plate readers in NYC (Kurt “CyberGuy” Knutsson)

How license plate readers are keeping tabs on NYC drivers

Now, let’s dive into the nitty-gritty. License plate readers have been strategically placed above FDR Drive at East 25th Street and on Route 9A (The West Side Highway) to keep tabs on drivers entering the congestion zone. This means that any driver who enters this zone will have to pay the fee, regardless of where they live or where they are going.

Big Brother is watching in Big Apple with sneaky new plan to spy on drivers, charge them

License plate readers in NYC (Kurt “CyberGuy” Knutsson)

But here’s the twist: state law prevents the MTA from charging drivers who stick to the highway. While both the FDR Drive and Route 9A are currently excluded from the toll under state law, some motorists express concern that this infrastructure could eventually be used to charge tolls on these highways as well. After all, with the equipment already in place, what’s stopping state legislators from changing that law and starting charging for highway usage, too?

Big Brother is watching in Big Apple with sneaky new plan to spy on drivers, charge them

License plate readers in NYC (Kurt “CyberGuy” Knutsson)

Discounts, deductions and the transit equation

But what about discounts, you ask? If you’re using the Hudson River or East River tunnels, you’ll snag a sweet $5 discount off that $15 toll. Meanwhile, the FDR Expressway and West Side Highway remain toll-free, as we mentioned. And if you live in the congestion zone and make less than $60,000 annually, you can deduct the cost from your taxes. Plus, low-income drivers trekking from areas more than half a mile away from a subway, commuter railroad, or express bus stop get their own slice of the discount pie.

Big Brother is watching in Big Apple with sneaky new plan to spy on drivers, charge them

License plate readers in NYC (Kurt “CyberGuy” Knutsson)

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The journey of congestion pricing

Let’s rewind a bit. Back in 2019, former Governor Andrew Cuomo and the Democratic-run Assembly and Senate gave the green light to the congestion pricing program. Current Governor Kathy Hochul is all in, predicting that this program will rake in a cool one billion dollars annually. And where will that cash flow? Straight into major upgrades for the MTA’s subway, commuter railroads, and bus systems. Talk about a transit makeover.

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Big Brother is watching in Big Apple with sneaky new plan to spy on drivers, charge them

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul (Kurt “CyberGuy” Knutsson)

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Councilman calls out MTA’s spy game

Councilman Joe Borelli (R-Staten Island) couldn’t resist a quip about the license plate readers saying, “It’s amazing to see the MTA turn into the MI6 spy agency when it comes to screwing drivers, but it can’t even make a turnstile to prevent subway fare beating.” Touché, Councilman Borelli.

Big Brother is watching in Big Apple with sneaky new plan to spy on drivers, charge them

License plate readers in NYC (Kurt “CyberGuy” Knutsson)

Borelli raises a valid concern. Could the MTA eventually expand the congestion zone to include toll-free highways? Remember how the legislature expanded speed cameras during the city’s pilot program? Well, they might just do the same with the congestion toll. As they say, “Where there’s a legislative will, there’s a tollway.”

Big Brother is watching in Big Apple with sneaky new plan to spy on drivers, charge them

License plate readers in NYC (Kurt “CyberGuy” Knutsson)

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Kurt’s key takeaways

As New York City’s streets become watched by license plate readers and surveillance cameras, drivers find themselves at the crossroads of convenience and scrutiny. The $15 congestion toll promises to fund transit improvements, but it also raises questions about fairness and future expansions. So, fellow commuters, keep your eyes on the road and your wallets because Big Brother is definitely watching and charging you.

What do you think? Will this model of congestion tolls spread to other cities, including yours? Let us know by writing us at Cyberguy.com/Contact.

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