Congestion Pricing Pause to Have ‘Serious Implications’ for Agency’s Finances: MTA

Congestion Pricing Pause to Have ‘Serious Implications’ for Agency’s Finances: MTA

By Michael V. Cusenza

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority this week reacted to Gov. Kathy Hochul’s stunning decision to press pause on Congestion Pricing.

“Circumstances have changed and we must respond to the facts on the ground — not from the rhetoric from five years ago. So, after careful consideration, I have come to the difficult decision that implementing the planned congestion pricing system risks too many unintended consequences for New Yorkers at this time. For that reason, I have directed the MTA to indefinitely pause the program,” Hochul said last week.

In a joint statement issued Monday, MTA Chief Financial Officer Kevin Willens and MTA General Counsel Paige Graves wrote that Hochul’s announcement “regarding the future of Congestion Pricing has serious implications for the MTA’s 2020-2024 Capital Program and likely other aspects of the agency’s financial condition.

“The MTA cannot award contracts that do not have a committed, identified funding source. Until there is a commitment for funding the balance of the 2020-2024 Capital Program, the MTA will need to reorganize the Program to prioritize the most basic and urgent needs.

“As such, the MTA Board will be evaluating what changes need to be made to the Capital Program in the lead-up to this month’s Board meeting. Modernization and improvement projects like electric buses, accessible (ADA) stations and new signals will likely need to be de-prioritized to protect and preserve the basic operation and functionality of this 100+ year old system.

Photo Courtesy of Marc Hermann/MTA “Circumstances have changed and we must respond to the facts on the ground — not from the rhetoric from five years ago,” Gov. Hochul said.

Photo Courtesy of Marc Hermann/MTA
“Circumstances have changed and we must respond to the facts on the ground — not from the rhetoric from five years ago,” Gov. Hochul said.

“New York State law places an obligation on MTA to implement a congestion pricing program, and the agency stands ready to do so. But under applicable federal law and regulation, the MTA cannot act until the Central Business District Tolling Program is approved by New York State, New York City and the federal government – and with the announcement of the pause, we no longer have the State’s consent.”

In March, the MTA Board approved Central Business District toll rates by a vote of 11 to 1. Under the plan, passenger vehicles and small commercial vehicles – sedans, SUVs, pick-up trucks, and small vans – paying with a valid E-ZPass will be charged $15 during the day and $3.75 at night, when there is less congestion, to enter the congestion relief zone in Manhattan below 60th Street. They will be charged no more than once a day.

Trucks and some buses will be charged a toll of $24 or $36 during the day to enter the congestion relief zone in Manhattan below 60th Street, depending on their size and function, and $6 or $9 at night. The toll for motorcycles will be $7.50 during the day and $1.75 at night. Yellow taxi, green cab and black car passengers will pay a $1.25 toll for every trip to, from, within or through the zone; customers of app-based for-hire vehicles will pay $2.50. As previously proposed, qualifying authorized emergency vehicles and qualifying vehicles carrying people with disabilities will be exempt. As will school buses contracted with the NYC Department of Education, buses providing scheduled commuter services open to the public, commuter vans licensed with the NYC Taxi and Limousine Commission, and specialized government vehicles.

As previously proposed, a 50-percent discount will be available for low-income vehicle owners and a tax credit is available for low-income residents of the Central Business District.

In a statement titled “MTA Board to Outerborough Commuters: Drop Dead”, the City Council Common Sense Caucus wrote, “Congestion Pricing was a fait accompli ever since the New York State Legislature approved the Manhattan Central Business District Tolling Program five years ago, so we fully expected the MTA Board to rubber stamp this multi-billion-dollar tax today. Under this scheme, our constituents, who have the misfortune of living in communities that don’t have adequate public transit options, will now be paying exorbitant fees for transit improvements in communities that already do. At the very least, our MTA overlords could have been truthful about this cynical money grab rather than pretending it’s all about helping the common folk commute.

“We will continue fighting Congestion Pricing in the courts, but this is a sad day for New York City.”

Last week, Ariola took to social media to voice her approval to indefinitely pause the polarizing plan.

“Thanks to the strong opposition from officials in NYC and NJ, and the pressure from the lawsuit we filed, we were able to halt this disaster from coming into effect,” Ariola posted to Twitter. “The state has consistently been spineless on the subject of congestion pricing, refusing to stand up for the people of New York and alleviate the burdens on already cash-strapped New Yorkers. We won a small victory today with this delay, but we need a real change in Albany to ensure that congestion pricing is never able to rear its ugly head and threaten our citizens in the future.”

Hochul’s explanation for the historic move echoed Ariola’s sentiment.

“Let’s be real: a $15 charge may not mean a lot to someone who has the means, but it can break the budget of a working- or middle-class household. It puts the squeeze on the very people who make this City go: the teachers, first responders, small business workers, bodega owners. And given these financial pressures, I cannot add another burden to working- and middle-class New Yorkers – or create another obstacle to continued recovery,” the governor said. “This decision is about doing what’s right for the people who make our City thrive. It’s about standing up for the hard-working men and women who get up every single day, do their jobs and just want a fair shake. The little guy who feels no one listens to them. I’m here to say, we are listening. This decision is about you. And to those cynics who question my motivation, I approach every decision through one lens. What is best for New Yorkers? And we need to make sure our solutions work for everyone – especially those who are struggling to make ends meet.”

Hochul also emphasized that the State is not abandoning the vulnerable MTA.

“We remain fully committed to advancing all the improvements that New Yorkers have been promised. That includes immediate investments in reliability and accessibility: track repairs, new signals, adding more elevators at subway and commuter stations. It means security cameras and other technologies to improve safety for riders throughout the system. And it means moving forward with transformative projects, like the extension of the Second Avenue Subway and the Interborough Express,” she said.

State Sen. Joe Addabbo, Jr. (D-Woodhaven) added, “Congestion pricing would impose heavy financial burdens on taxi drivers, truck drivers, the elderly, the infirm, and the disabled community. Additionally, restaurants, theaters, concert halls, and an entire business ecosystem dependent on financial support from outer-borough residents and visitors would suffer as people are deterred from visiting the city. I believe that delaying the implementation of the Central Business District Tolling Program would allow residents and tourists to better prepare for this unwarranted expense, as we continue recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic and inflation. I applaud the Governor for recognizing the widespread consequences this program would present for residents, businesses, and tourists.”


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