Controversial congestion pricing toll delayed in Manhattan


(NEW YORK) — New York Gov. Kathy Hochul announced Wednesday she has indefinitely postponed the implementation of congestion pricing, which had been scheduled to begin at the end of the month.

The plan would charge a $15 toll for passenger cars driving south of 60th Street from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. on weekdays.

In a pre-taped address released Wednesday, Hochul said congestion pricing would have been too great a financial burden on “everyday New Yorkers,” and that implementing the toll would risk hurting the city’s economic recovery from the pandemic. She said she “remain[s] committed” to investing in public transit, but did not say where the needed funding could come from.

“I understand the financial pressures you’re facing,” Hochul said. “I cannot add another burden.”

Hochul framed the decision as purely economic, but there are two reasons for the delay, according to the sources — one economic and one political.

The governor had become convinced the timing was not right because Manhattan businesses have not fully recovered from the pandemic and because Democrats are facing difficult House races in the New York City suburbs where the plan is unpopular, according to the official.

Republicans have planned to use congestion pricing as a political wedge.

However, Hochul hit back at critics who’ve characterized the postponement as a political decision in an election year.

“To those cynics who question my motivation, I approach every decision through one lens: What is best for New Yorkers?” Hochul said.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which would potentially face a $1 billion budget deficit without implementation, declined to comment.

“Delaying congestion pricing is a slap in the face to the millions of New Yorkers who rely on public transportation every day just to appease the program’s loudest foes,” Elizabeth Adams, deputy executive director for public affairs for Transportation Alternatives, a group that advocates for public transit, said in a statement. “Congestion pricing is a $15 billion lifeline for the MTA — critical funding that will be lost if the program is stalled.”

She continued, “The next time your train is late, your bus is trapped in traffic, your subway station is still missing an elevator, you know who to blame: Governor Kathy Hochul.”

The revenue from congestion pricing is intended to fund improvements to public transit, according to the MTA. About $12 billion — 80% of the funding — would go toward the subway and bus system, with the remaining $1.5 billion spent on revamping the Long Island Railroad and Metro-North Railroad. Proposed projects include improvements to accessibility, signal modernization and electrifying buses.

Hochul said Wednesday the state had already set aside funding for the MTA in case congestion pricing was held up by the courts.

“We remain fully committed to advancing all the improvements New Yorkers have been promised,” she said, including track and signal repairs, security cameras and the extension of the Second Avenue subway line.

There remains a belief that congestion pricing is inevitable.

The plan has exemptions for school buses and “specialized government vehicles” that perform critical work in the congestion zone. Fire trucks, ambulances and police cars are also exempt, as are bus lines like Greyhound, Megabus and the Hampton Jitney. However, the fees will be higher for some other vehicles, such as trucks and some buses.

There are several pending lawsuits in New York and New Jersey that could complicate the plan’s implementation. New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy vowed to fight the fee on behalf of commuters going into New York City, calling it a “blatant cash grab.”

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