A controversial plan to reduce traffic congestion  by charging drivers to enter New York's central business district will hurt local business owners and force up prices on clothing, food, and other goods in the nation's most populous city, business and trade groups contend.

The plan, unveiled on April 22 by Mayor Michael Bloomberg as part of a broader initiative to reduce air pollution and greenhouse gasses, would charge drivers an $8 fee for entering Manhattan below 86th Street -- a move similar to one adopted by London in 2003. The strategy, known as congestion pricing, would require the approval of state lawmakers.

The plan's supporters say it will encourage more commuters to use mass transit. Under the mayor's proposal, revenue generated from the fees would go toward improving the city's bus and subway systems. More than 250,000 workers from across the region commute into the city every day, according to U.S. Census data.
Opponents counter that not all drivers are commuters, and that truckers and other delivery vehicle drivers will simply be forced to pay the fees.
"Pricing schemes are unfair, ineffective, and ignore our real transportation needs," Bill Graves, the CEO of the American Trade Association, said last week.

Graves said truckers  entering the city will seek alternative routes to avoid tolled bridges and tunnels. Shippers might also raise their rates to absorb the new fees, passing on the costs to the city's manufacturers, retailers, and restaurant owners.

City Councilman Tony Avella has called the plan a tax on working- and middle-class families and small businesses. "Everyone agrees that we need to address traffic congestion problems throughout the city, but the first step has to be improving mass transit," Avella said in a statement.

Much of the local opposition has been rallied by the Queens Chamber of Commerce, which estimates the plan would cost the city $1.5 billion in economic activity and up to 15,000 jobs annually for every 20,000 fewer cars entering the business district on a daily basis.

The study released by the chamber in March 2006 was entitled "A Cure Worse than the Disease."

In a survey of 500 local drivers released last week, 51 percent said they were opposed to the plan.

The survey, commissioned by Partnership for New York City, a non-profit group of local business executives, found that just 17 percent take their cars to work as a result of inaccessible or inconvenient mass transit options, while 61 percent said mass transit would be as fast or faster than driving.

Ironically, most drivers blamed other vehicles -- not themselves -- for causing traffic congestion, especially truckers and delivery vehicles.

"While New York City drivers are one of the primary, if not the top cause of congestion, most drivers claim to have seen the enemy and it is someone else," Kathryn Wylde, the group's president and CEO, said in a statement.