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

Carl Heastie's Democratic conference has a plan designed to relieve elected officials from sweating out a tough decision, not to improve New York's transportation system.

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

  • JarekFA

    So pathetic.

  • NYCyclist

    Were the last six months of bluster from Andrew Cuomo about tackling congestion all just an elaborate put-on?

    YES

    Cuomo is Trump-Lite.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “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.”

    Right, but his generation does get to go away.

    Look across the political spectrum at every level of government. No one wants to be the person who hands out pain. Everyone wants to hand out goodies to the generations born before 1957 or so, who are used to getting them. Now every level of government is broke in year eight of an economic expansion, during which NYC has added more than 500,000 serf jobs in just five years.

    “Were the last six months of bluster from Andrew Cuomo about tackling congestion all just an elaborate put-on?”

    Nope, the state legislature, which could not care less about the state, said “boo.” So Cuomo feels it’s not his responsibility. He just needs to get back to Washington, somehow.

    Oh the’ve promised $millions for this and $millions for that, but it’s both unfunded an inadequate given the debts and pension increases that body has already stuck us with.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Trump, Cuomo, DeBlasio. Pataki, Spitzer, Silver, Bruno. Reagan, Bush, Trump. Gingrich, Ryan and Schumer. Giuliani, Bloomberg, Vallond. Christie, Whitman, DeFrancesco, Murphy, Corzine, Cody, McGreevey. All ideological opposites, by the terms with which they were prepared to debate. No one is anything lite by their terms.

    But when you consider the fact that we are being told we are going to have to pay more, accept less, or both together. Today and into the future, as a result of the past. Are they really any different? Are their supporters?

    I want an admission, first and foremost. There will never be an honest debate about who should lose what until there is an honest discussion of who has taken what, and how bad the situation really is.

    What you are starting to see is a desperate search for victims. That’s what the Obamacare repeal bill that allowed the rest of the state to rob New York City, and the Trump tax bill that robbed New York and New Jersey are. That’s what the attempt to find one group of people who have to pay — in this case for-hire car riders and drivers — so others don’t have to pay. That’s what the blame of immigrants is about.

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Andrew Cuomo knows he’s the governor of New York, right? You couldn’t tell from this exchange about congestion pricing yesterday, via Transportation Nation: Q: Have you seen Sam Schwartz’s revised congestion pricing plan? Do you support it? A: I have not seen it. We’ve talked about congestion pricing for many years. We’ve tried to pass […]