How congestion pricing could impact emergency response times in NYC

Dan Krauth Image
Wednesday, June 19, 2024
Investigation into emergency response times in New York City
7 On Your Side Investigative reporter Dan Krauth looks at response times for emergency crews in New York City and the traffic impact.

NEW YORK (WABC) -- When a fire breaks out, every second counts in a city like New York where buildings and people are close together, and the flames can quickly spread.

The time it takes for firefighters to travel to the scene of an emergency in New York City has grown by more than a minute over the past decade, and some areas are worse than others.

7 On Your Side Investigates started looking into response times when city leaders said congestion pricing would help improve response times south of 60th Street. The plan was paused, but the data shows trends in response times.

Janno Lieber, the CEO and Chair of MTA has said over and over again one of the main reasons why the city wanted to charge drivers congestion pricing tolls was to reduce emergency response times.

"The most important thing is we got to start getting to a place where ambulances can get to hospitals," he said.

7 On Your Side found response times have increased by more than a minute in the congestion pricing zone south of 60th Street from 2013 to 2023 from 4 minutes and 26 seconds to 5 minutes and 34 seconds.

"There are some places where there's so much traffic you can't even go around it, it doesn't matter if you have lights and sirens, it's just gridlock," Fire Commissioner Laura Kavanagh has said while talking about the issue.

The response time data also shows the gridlock has led to even longer response times outside the congestion pricing area. Last year, it took firefighters 5 minutes and 39 seconds on average to travel to fires just north of 60th Street in Manhattan. In 2023, Staten Island also had longer response times than the CBD area and the Bronx had the longest, with an average of 5 minutes and 57 seconds.

"In a sense they really should take a step back and really take a look at all of their locations and study the response times," said fire expert Glenn Corbett of John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

He says if congestion pricing moves forward, response times may improve in Midtown, but could make traffic and response times worse in other areas as more people avoid the proposed new tolls.

"A real potential here is we may see longer response times for fire apparatus in areas surrounding the congestion pricing," said Corbett. "It could be pushing the problem from one location to another."

We found response times are even longer for EMS workers. Citywide, it took paramedics about 9 minutes and 9 seconds to travel to a scene last year. The number slightly improved in the proposed congestion pricing area.

However, the MTA said an analysis showed congestion pricing would lead to an overall reduction in traffic even outside the congestion relief zone. MTA officials say there would be a projected reduction in car trips by commuters to Manhattan that range from 5% to 11%.

An FDNY spokesperson sent a statement in response to the data stating: "The Fire Department is committed to protecting life and property and is dedicated to responding as quickly as possible to all emergencies."

RELATED | Hochul still 'committed' to MTA improvements despite congestion pricing pause

Jim Dolan has more on the MTA CEO's comments about congestion pricing on Monday.

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