After months of hurling verbal grenades at the MTA, Governor Andrew Cuomo took a first step toward "blowing up" the agency he controls on Tuesday, with the release of a proposal that would significantly shift the transit authority's command structure, its funding stream, and the way it carries out major projects.
The 10-point plan, which the governor described as "management reforms," is intended to "transform and fund the MTA," according to a press release. It calls for a financing model based on congestion pricing, which under Cuomo's plan would add electronic tolling devices to streets below 61st Street, with an exemption for FDR Drive. The cost of the tolls would be set once the Capital Plan is finalized, with a deadline of December 2020.
Last month, a Fix NYC panel convened by the governor recommended an $11.52 charge for cars, a $25.34 charge for trucks, and $2 to $5 per ride on for-hire vehicles entering congestion zones.
Mayor Bill de Blasio, who has long advocated against congestion pricing in favor of a Millionaire's Tax proposal that went nowhere in Albany, begrudgingly backed the new plan. "The time to act is running out, and among all alternatives, congestion pricing has the greatest prospects for immediate success," he said in a statement. "In light of this reality, it is my hope that critics of congestion pricing will join me in acknowledging its necessity."
Partial city and state tax revenues from marijuana legalization as well as a new internet sales tax would supplement the congestion pricing funds, though it remains unclear how much money either of those initiatives will bring in. The widely-supported MoveNY plan for congestion pricing was estimated to generate roughly $1 billion in annual revenue, with the potential for $15 billion in transit investment. But that plan called for tolls on the East River bridges, meaning drivers wouldn't be able to hop onto the FDR to avoid the toll.
In terms of structural changes, the proposal would have the MTA consolidate its six existing entities under one roof, limit holdover of board members, and pursue a "design build" approach to all major construction projects. Fare hikes would be limited to inflationary increases of 2 percent per year, while farebeaters would be more aggressively targeted through a partnership between the city, the MTA, and local District Attorneys (some of whom have said they'd stop criminally prosecuting the offense).
Appearing on the Brian Lehrer Show on Tuesday, Cuomo said the MTA had reached "a point of absurdity where it's almost a voluntary fare system," adding that he'd personally witnessed people walk through the emergency exits. The governor hasn't ridden the subway since 2016.
He also noted that the congestion pricing plan remains subject to change, and will need approval from the legislature. And while the governor has had little trouble bending the MTA to his will over the years, there is a new political reality in Albany, and nothing is assured.
"The legislature has to pass a law doing this," he said. "This is a proposal that the mayor and I agree on, but it has to go to the legislature. I'm sure there will be a lot of debate and discussion."