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Andrew Cuomo

While Cuomo Sits on the Sidelines, the Assembly’s Joke of a Congestion Pricing Plan Fills the Vacuum

11:17 AM EDT on March 14, 2018

Governor Cuomo unveiling his budget, which said nothing about a toll cordon. Photo: Flickr/NY Governor Cuomo

Were the last six months of bluster from Andrew Cuomo about tackling congestion all just an elaborate put-on? The only concrete traffic management proposal in Albany this session is a joke of a plan released this week by Assembly Democrats. If Cuomo is serious about congestion pricing and not out to juke the public with a series of clever head fakes, he'll have to assert himself soon.

For all his speechifying about moving beyond "cheap political slogans" to solve New York's traffic problems, Cuomo still hasn't put any muscle into getting a congestion pricing plan through Albany. Even after his Fix NYC panel recommended a solid framework for alleviating the city's worst traffic jams, the governor distanced himself from the plan, and his budgets have skirted the issue.

Now Carl Heastie's Democratic conference in the Assembly has filled the vacuum left by Cuomo with their own plan to add surcharges on for-hire vehicles. It's a plan designed to relieve elected officials from sweating out a tough decision, not to improve New York's transportation system.

The basic flaw in the Assembly plan is that it doesn't touch personal cars or truck traffic. Without a toll cordon around the Manhattan core to put a price on those motor vehicle trips, most of the congestion reduction benefits of Cuomo's Fix NYC panel recommendations vanish, and so does most of the revenue raised, as Charles Komanoff explained last month.

It gets worse, though, because the Assembly's plan is weaker than the weakest version of the for-hire vehicle recommendations from the Fix NYC panel. It doesn't even level the playing field between street-hail cabs and app-based services like Uber and Lyft. Instead, a 50-cent surcharge would be added to street-hail trips below 96th Street, and a $2.75 fee would be tacked on to Uber and other pre-arranged for-hire trips below 96th, with a $1 fee above 96th, reports AMNY.

You can expect the traffic reductions to be minimal, and Manhattan buses to remain mired in congestion. The main effect will be to take a few more dollars from people who don't get around in their own cars, sparing the parking placard class -- including the legislators in Heastie's conference -- from paying to drive on the most congested streets in the city.

If Cuomo stays on the sidelines and accepts the Assembly plan as a substitute for his own panel's recommendations, he'll be squandering the political moment. There's a huge business-labor coalition ready to mobilize for a real congestion pricing plan. Turnover in Albany has led to a more favorable environment for congestion pricing than 10 years ago. The City Council speaker wants it to happen, and just a few weeks ago Mayor de Blasio was sending strong signals that he's ready to deal.

Cuomo can sit back and watch the legislature butcher this chance to fix New York's traffic dysfunction. But the thing about avoiding a problem is that the problem doesn't go away.

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