Facing growing frustration over New York City’s deteriorating mass transit system, Gov. Andrew Cuomo is dusting off an old idea that stalled a decade ago: congestion pricing.
Albany lawmakers in recent years have pushed for congestion pricing as a way to reduce traffic in the Manhattan core and raise funds for needed infrastructure upgrades. Last year, Assembly lawmakers introduced a congestion pricing proposal called Move NY.
The plan would charge a toll on crossing Manhattan’s four East River bridges, in addition to vehicles driving below 60th Street in Manhattan. This would reduce congestion during peak business hours and generate approximately $1.35 billion each year.
When the governor rolls out his latest state budget proposal in January, supporters of the bill hope he endorses their plan to address the city’s growing transportation woes.
Assemblyman Robert Rodriguez, who introduced the Move NY bill, said he’s hopeful that Cuomo will announce funds for the plan in his State of the State address. “So far, he’s only announced support for the idea, but this shows he understands the need for it,” Rodriguez said.
Assemblywoman Sandy Galef, a co-sponsor of the bill, said, “I am very much in support of some kind of congestion pricing. One of the issues I always had with it the last time, and I did support under Bloomberg, but if we have congestion pricing … I think there needs to be some compensation for people that are employed that need a truck to go into New York City just as part of their employment, and we have to deal with that as another issue. There is a lot of pressure to get something done and there will be a compromise on all of this as we go forward.”
However, the mayor has publicly dismissed the idea of congestion pricing, calling it “inconceivable” with Republican control of the state Senate. Instead, the mayor has proposed a tax on the wealthy to fund transit upgrades.
De Blasio added that while the Move NY plan is an improvement over former Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s failed congestion pricing proposal, it still did not fully address his concerns about costs for outer borough residents.
“I still think there’s a huge number of outstanding issues particularly on equity,” de Blasio said at a press conference days after Cuomo announced his support for congestion pricing. “So I still don’t see a path forward on this, but if the governor comes up with a different kind of plan, we will assess it at the time.”
In spite of the support for congestion pricing, lawmakers said it may not be the one-stop solution for transit woes that can also be attributed to years of mismanagement and operational faults in the MTA. “Congestion pricing is supposed to fund the cost of doing that, but it’s definitely not going to singlehandedly solve the problem,” Galef said.
Assemblyman Michael Benedetto, another sponsor of the Move NY bill, called it a “good start,” but added that “we have been sitting on charging toll taxes for nine years now and the transit problem has gotten worse.”
“There is certainly an interest in the Independent Democratic Conference for the plan,” Benedetto said, “although it’s premature to speculate on funds for its implementation in the upcoming state budget.”
Referring to differences between de Blasio and Cuomo on congestion pricing, the assemblyman said it was vital for them to unite on this issue so as to not exacerbate the MTA’s condition. “Both of them have a vested interest in improving the subways,” he said.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story included comments from Assemblywoman Sandy Galef saying that MTA commuters were disappointed with delays, that the MTA’s worsening condition would motivate the governor and the mayor to support congestion pricing, and that there needs to be a revamping of equipment and redress for operation missteps. Those remarks have been removed due to transcribing discrepancies and the story has been updated with additional comments from Galef.
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