Governor Andrew Cuomo spoke publicly for the first time this weekend about his willingness to pursue tolls on New York City drivers that would reduce car traffic in lower Manhattan and generate a new funding stream for the ailing MTA.
"Congestion pricing is an idea whose time has come," the governor told the NY Times.
Cuomo has yet to detail what his version of congestion pricing will look like, telling the NY Times that his has been meeting with "interested parties" for months and envisions a plan substantially different from one pitched by former mayor Michael Bloomberg in the late aughts. The Governor's Office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
As the subway continues to crumble, beleaguered transit riders have directed their anger at Governor Cuomo, who controls the MTA. The Governor, meanwhile, has variously denied and embraced his leadership role. Last week, the MTA stressed its need for short-term emergency funding, as well as a new, longterm revenue stream to chip away at the authority's multi-billion-dollar debt.
Bloomberg was the first to champion congestion pricing, envisioning a pollution- and traffic-reducing measure. But outer borough City Council members took issue with the proposal, which died in Albany in 2008. Move NY formed in 2010 and later welcomed transit expert Sam "Gridlock" Schwartz, who suggested some of the toll revenue go towards bridges and roads, to appease drivers. Move NY pushed new congestion pricing introduced in Albany last spring, which was met with opposition from a coalition of Queens politicians who argued their constituents would shoulder an unfair financial burden.
Currently, there are tolls on the Verrazano, Kennedy, Throgs Neck and Whitestone Bridges. These would decline under the Move NY plan, which would also impose a $5.76 toll on the four East River bridges, and any vehicle entering or exiting Manhattan south of 60th Street. Taxis and other for-hire vehicles like Lyft and Uber would also pay a surcharge pegged to the amount of time spent in Manhattan's hyper-congested central business district.
if cuomo passes a good congestion pricing plan, expect "zero-to-hero" whiplash among NYC transit advocates
but the MTA will still be broken
— Stephen Miller (@miller_stephen) August 14, 2017
"The Governor, to his everlasting credit, seems committed to using this crisis to mobilize the resources we need to invest in our infrastructure and thus in our future," Alex Matthiessen, campaign director of Move NY.
The Move NY plan projects $1.47 billion in annual revenue, $1.1 billion of which would be directed to public transit.
By contrast, Mayor de Blasio's new "fair fix" millionaire tax, which is contingent on state approval, would bring in approximately $820 million annually by the year 2022 through a 0.5 percent increase in income tax on individuals who make over $500,000 and married couples who make more than $1 million.
Neither congestion pricing, nor a millionaire tax, would fund the MTA's short-term ask of roughly $800 million to improve subway service in the short-term, targeting issues like outdated signaling, tracks and cars.
De Blasio has consistently dismissed congestion pricing as unviable. Last week, he admitted that he hasn't studied the idea for years. "I have no idea how bipartisan or not it is," the mayor said last week. "I was briefed on it in 2013 and I have not looked at it since."
On Monday, City Hall spokesman Austin Finan said the mayor would review any viable proposal to fund the MTA in the long term. He also snuck in some familiar talking points, refusing the MTA's request for roughly $400 million in emergency funding, referencing funds diverted from the MTA to the state's general fund since the early aughts, and making a plug for the millionaire tax.
"We'll review any serious and viable plan the Governor puts forward," Finan said. "In the meantime, the Governor should immediately return the half-billion dollars the state diverted from the MTA and support New Yorkers' effort to have the wealthiest 1 percent chip in a few dollars to help subway and bus riders."
A spokesman for NY Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan did not immediately respond to a request for comment on congestion pricing Monday. Flanagan has already come out against de Blasio's proposal, stating that "raising taxes is not the answer."
The Riders Alliance has recently targeted Cuomo as the man best positioned to address NYC's transit crisis, and criticized him for letting the situation worsen on his watch.
"If Governor Cuomo is embracing a plan that will produce substantial revenue and reduce traffic congestion, he will have the support of millions of subway and bus riders who are desperate for long-term solution," director John Raskin stated.
"Riding public transit has become such a miserable experience that New Yorkers are ready to embrace bold solutions," he added. "As long as we have faith they will really lead to safer, more reliable commutes."
[Update 3:45 p.m.]: "This administration has been working with interested parties and the legislature to develop a proposal that would not negatively impact the outer-boroughs," stated Cuomo spokesman Jon Weinstein. "Bottom line—clearly congestion pricing is an idea whose time has come and we need to be discussing all options so we can invest in our system long-term."