BREAKING: Mayor de Blasio Endorses Congestion Pricing as Part of Cuomo MTA Takeover

A file photo of the governor and the mayor — but this picture may happen again. Photo: Kevin P. Coughlin/Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo
A file photo of the governor and the mayor — but this picture may happen again. Photo: Kevin P. Coughlin/Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo

Mayor de Blasio is finally on board with Governor Cuomo’s push for congestion pricing — and he’s teaming up with the governor to boost what the two are pegging as a total reform of the MTA.

“This crisis runs deeper than ever before, and it’s now clear there is no way to address it without congestion pricing and other dedicated revenue streams. The time to act is now,” de Blasio said in a statement, sent minutes after he and Cuomo released a 10-point plan (below) to fund and fix the city’s broken transit system.

The funding plan outlined by Cuomo and de Blasio on Tuesday morning would set up congestion pricing by 2020, and supplement the $15 billion that would raise with a “new internet sales tax derived from sales in New York City,” something Brooklyn Assembly Member Bobby Carroll proposed earlier this month. The MTA faces major financial upheaval right now, in terms of both its $18-billion operating budget and its $40-billion-plus capital needs.

Tolls for driver entering Manhattan below 61th Street will vary by time of day, in part to encourage off-peak commercial deliveries, according to today’s announcement. It would also exempt the FDR Drive. Cuomo and de Blasio also outlined what they described as “limited” exemptions for emergency vehicles and select drivers.

Other highlights include using a tax on legal marijuana to fund transit and more emphasis on fare enforcement. (Opponents of the so-called pot tax, such as Council Member Rafael Espinal, have said revenue from the sale of recreational weed should benefit communities that have been most adversely affected by decades of marijuana prosecutions.)

In endorsing congestion pricing, de Blasio signed onto Cuomo’s plans for MTA governance reform, which include the creation of multiple new panels whose powers would supplant those of the MTA board.

The proposed reforms would also limit MTA subdivisions to their day-to-day operational responsibilities, sidelining New York City Transit President Andy Byford from the implementation of his own “Fast Forward” plan, according to John Kaehny of the government watchdog group Reinvent Albany.

“The job of president of New York City Transit is going to be vastly diminished [under this plan]. They will be in charge of operational planning and scheduling and maintenance,” Kaehny said. “That means they’re taking Fast Forward away from Byford and putting it in MTA headquarters.”

A united front from the governor and mayor gives congestion pricing an important boost as it faces negative headwinds from state legislators, who have shown an unwillingness to come up with their own governance and funding solutions. Many outer-borough and suburban legislators refuse to fully endorse congestion pricing, passing the buck to Cuomo to come up with a plan. Such opponents often claim that congestion pricing is a tax on outer-borough drivers, ignoring evidence that very few of their constituents regularly drive into the central business district — and that those who do tend to be wealthier than their transit-using neighbors.

At a happy hour panel hosted by Tri-State Transportation Campaign Monday night in Manhattan, freshman State Senator Alexandra Biaggi said a failure to pass congestion pricing would be a “failure for the entire city and state.”

“What is the alternative? Do we just hit a button and turn off all the trains and stop the buses?” Biaggi said. “It’s a total negligence of power if we don’t actually do something.”

The 10 points are actually 11 (we broke out one so it wouldn’t get lost, and edited slightly for length and clarity):

1. MTA will develop a reorganization plan to make the agency more efficient and effective. The antiquated structure will be fundamentally changed to centralize common functions among the six existing entities. Currently — New York City Transit Authority, LIRR, Metro-North, MTA Capital Construction, MTA Bus, SI Railway — operate as six separate entities. … All common functions such as construction management, legal, engineering, procurement, human resources, advertising etc. will be consolidated and streamlined in a central operation. … The restructuring plan will be completed by June of this year. The restructuring plan must be coupled with a change in culture, which will generate fresh ideas and new perspective from new and recently appointed senior and mid-level management recruited from the private sector and other cities and states.

2. The MTA Transformation Plan would include a congestion pricing financing model. Electronic tolling devices would be installed on the perimeter of the Central Business District defined as streets south of 61st St. in Manhattan. The FDR Drive will not be included in the Central Business District. … The system will be installed and operated pursuant to an MOU between the City of New York and the MTA for the purposes of ensuring the timely completion of the installation of congestion infrastructure in order to effectuate a congestion pricing plan, and recognizing the expertise of the TBTA for purposes of running and operating cashless tolling systems and city agencies for purposes of the use and impact of infrastructure installation on city streets. Tolls would be variable providing discounts for off-peak hour travel. Emergency vehicles will be exempt from congestion pricing tolls. Other exemptions or discounts will be provided to a limited group of vehicles entering the CBD including vehicles operated by or transporting people with disabilities and individuals who have an identifiable hardship or limited ability to access medical facilities in the CBD.

3. Congestion pricing tolls would be supplemented with state and city revenue from a fixed amount of the new internet sales tax derived from sales in New York City, with a growth factor, and a percentage of the State and City revenue from the cannabis excise tax. Congestion pricing revenue and these two taxes will be placed in a “lockbox” to provide a funding source necessary to ensure the capital needs of the MTA can be met, with priority given to the subway system, new signaling, new subway cars, track and car repair, accessibility, buses and bus system improvements and further investments in expanding transit availability to areas in the outer boroughs that have limited mass transit options. Tolls will be set … no later than December, 2020.

4. The MTA fares for public mass transportation must be controlled in future years through cost containment actions and improved management. The MTA should be able to operate with mass transit fare increases limited to inflationary increases of 2 percent per year.

5. All MTA Board appointments will be modified so that all terms end with the appointing elected official’s tenure.

6. Partnership between the state and city is necessary to combat fare evasion. We cannot have a voluntary fare system and still maintain a system that ensures operational stability. The state will work with the MTA, city and District Attorneys to develop an enforcement strategy, with both personnel and station design modifications that do not criminalize fare evasion but instead prevent fare evasion, sanction violators and increase enforcement.

7. The MTA will undergo an independent audit to determine their actual assets and liabilities.

8. The Capital Plan shall be reviewed by a committee of transportation, engineering and government experts who have no existing financial relationship with the MTA (The Regional Transit Committee, “RTC”). The Committee will have appointees by the Governor, Mayor, State Assembly and Senate, and organizations representing subway riders and driving commuters. The RTC will also review the toll and fare increases proposed by the MTA as necessary to fund the Capital Plan.

9. The MTA will have all major construction projects and planned projects pursued as “design build.” The MTA will do preliminary drawings only to the point necessary for bidding the project in a private sector competition based primarily on cost and timing of the project. Selections will be made with incentives and sanctions for performance. All major construction projects will be reviewed by construction and engineering experts who are not affiliated with the MTA or its consultants. The construction review team will be headed by the Deans of Cornell School of Engineering and Columbia School of Engineering to assure state of the art design and technology is being deployed.

10. The MTA will immediately expedite the completion of the Subway Action Plan including: signal repair; water management; station enhancements; rail welding; friction pad installation; increased refurbishment efforts; and other service improvements.

11. The Governor and Mayor will work closely with the Legislature to effectuate provisions in this framework.

  • Any word on if this would affect bus lines going into the Port Authority Bus Terminal? Would really suck if they penalize people taking transit just because the buses arent run by the MTA

  • Andrew

    The construction review team will be headed by the Deans of Cornell School of Engineering and Columbia School of Engineering to assure state of the art design and technology is being deployed.

    Uh oh.

  • 1ifbyrain2ifbytrain

    ” a percentage of the State and City revenue from the cannabis excise tax” Oh yeah.

  • 1ifbyrain2ifbytrain

    “a percentage of the State and City revenue from the cannabis excise tax”

    Oh yeah!

  • Larry Littlefield

    “Cuomo and de Blasio also outline what they describe as “limited” exemptions for emergency vehicles and select drivers.”

    Emergency vehicles? Of course. But I can’t want to see who the select drivers are.

  • foody4booty

    The photo here is REALLY misleading and confusing… even with the disclaimer.

  • reasonableexplanation

    i don’t get something: on WNYC this morning Cuomo kept talking about how this congestion fee would mostly affect out of state drivers…

    From NJ at least, there’s no free bridge or tunnel to cross into Manhattan. Cuomo also said that the congestion fee would give you a discount for any toll already paid…

    Does that mean that you only get a discount for MTA tolls paid, but not Port Authority tolls? Will NJ drivers be tolled twice?

  • qrt145

    I’m sure we’ll see people like disabled skydiver Marty Golden getting those exemptions.

  • vnm

    From the press release: “a limited group of vehicles entering the CBD including vehicles operated by or transporting people with disabilities and individuals who have an identifiable hardship or limited ability to access medical facilities in the CBD.”

  • vnm

    Why? It shows the governor and the mayor apparently agreeing on something. The news is that they apparently agree on something.

  • ohnonononono

    I really don’t think anyone has suggested changing any tolls on the NJ side… my understanding was that all tolls with NJ would remain unchanged. If you drive into Manhattan through the Holland or Lincoln you already paid your congestion charge to get there, even though that money goes to the PA…

  • JarekFA

    You’re right — it probably won’t effect those out of state drivers. You would get a credit for the PA tolls in the congestion cordon even if the PA and MTA are different entities This really effectively tolls the free e. river bridges (if you’re heading into the CBD).

  • John Dillworth

    Here, I fixed that for you
    “limited” exemptions for emergency vehicles and select drivers Packard Holders.

  • 1soReal

    Yeah, doesn’t change much coming from Jersey. From CT it would make a difference as there are many free bridges btwn the Bronx and Manhattan. Its more a difference maker for drivers in NY and CT then NJ. Also would in theory reduce the incentive to exit the Bruckner and Major Deegan to take one of the local bridges into Manhattan to avoid paying the toll on the RFK. (assuming you are continuing on to Midtown) Keeping excess traffic off 135th,138th Sts etc would be a good thing.
    I would think same thing in Queens, drivers exiting to use the 59 St Bridge to avoid Qns Midtown tunnel toll would be a less attractive option.

  • Sassojr

    This is correct according to his budget proposal (released last month). In that proposal he named the Lincoln and Holland tolls as being discounted from congestion pricing.

    That will definitely help reduce “bridge shopping” (GWB not named) and will definitely discourage NJ drivers from driving into the CBD.

  • reasonableexplanation

    the GWB costs the same as the PANYNJ tunnels going into NY

  • reasonableexplanation

    So then I guess the governor was being deliberately misleading? On the radio he was all like “This will mostly affect out of state drivers.”

  • reasonableexplanation

    Also, I notice there is no talk about reducing the toll on the Verazzano and other outer bridges like the MoveNY plan initially called for.

  • Vooch

    Yup – about 250,000 Ubermensch Drivers will be exempt – placard holders all.

  • If he’s going to exempt Packards, then he will have to exempt Studebakers as well.

  • Larry Littlefield

    That would be nice. But this is NY, so we’ll see.

  • Larry Littlefield

    The question is simple — will there be enough money to fund both operations and ongoing normal replacement “capital expenditures” on an ongoing basis, over and above whatever comes in from the feds?

    That’s what I want to know.

  • 1soReal

    I think they didnt mention the GWB specifically b/c crossing it doesnt immediately put you into the congestion pricing zone, like the Lincoln and Holland tunnel does. If one was to cross the GWB and head downtown within a reasonable time frame id assume youd get credit for paying the GWB toll.

  • John Dillworth

    🙂 point taken and fixed, thanks

  • foody4booty

    It implies there was some sort of live announcement. Instead, the Mayor released a statement. It’s a little strange that he would announce his support for such a monumental policy position via press release.

  • Joe R.

    There’s already a tax on Internet sales, namely the state and local sales taxes. The idiotic proposed $3 per package surcharge should remain DOA.

    Also, in the current version of the plan, the congestion tax revenues won’t be going into a “lock box” solely for capital expenditures. It will all be going to pay off bond holders forever. All the bond holders will do is put up an initial $15 billion loan. The question is should we take $15 billion now, or $1 billion per year forever? The latter makes more sense but evidently well-connected people who want to invest in triple tax-free bonds are peddling their influence.

  • What about Megabus and others who drive all the way down Manhattan form points north?

  • Daphna

    There is sales tax on internet sales for businesses that have a physical location in New York State. The proposal is probably to put a sales tax on all internet sales regardless of whether the seller has a physical location in New York or not. This proposal has bounced around the legislature for a while. Online retailers are very against a NY sales tax applying to all vendors regardless of whether they have a physical presence in NY.

  • Sassojr

    In other words: Drivers from NJ have no disincentive to drive into the CBD.

    If this is about raising revenue, NJ drivers should pay. If this is about reducing congestion, NJ drivers should pay.

    Anyone know the percentage of PANYNJ toll revenue going towards the MTA (honest question)?

  • Joe R.

    And I agree with the stance of those vendors for logistical reasons. Imagine if every state and locality did this. A small vendor could potentially have to submit sales taxes to thousands of different entities. It would make online selling virtually impossible for small vendors without the army of accountants the big guys like Amazon or Newegg or eBay have.

    Back when online selling was just starting, the federal government should have stepped in and prohibited localities from taxing internet sales.

  • Sanjeev Ram

    The mayor was very reluctant in supporting congestion pricing but appeared to do so out of desperation to get some funding secured.

  • StanChaz

    The legislature CAN’T vote on a blank-check proposal that will leave the question of the amount of fees up in the air for some future date. And what about small businesses in the outer boroughs who work to supply the inner core with goods and services? Are we going to cure the patient of Manhattan by choking him off and blocking his arteries while claiming to save him? There are better and more fair solutions to both congestion and access. Congestion in our central core and elsewhere is a symptom of success not a indicator of disease. Let’s further that success by not limiting access, but by better facilitating access and free movement in more creative ways, rather than this sledge-hammer congestion pricing approach that hurts far more than it helps.

  • reasonableexplanation

    Based on more recent reporting, looks like NJ drivers won’t pay a second, additional toll above the PANYNJ tolls. So all of this new congestion charge will only be paid by Brooklyn, Queens, Long Island, and potentially CT drivers.

    NJ drivers’ incentives won’t change.

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Photo: Crain's New York

Bucking de Blasio, Speaker Candidates Support Congestion Pricing

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Mayor de Blasio is pulling out all the stops to frame congestion pricing as a "regressive tax," even though low-income New Yorkers stand to gain enormously. Not a single contender for council speaker is on the same page as the mayor. In a debate hosted by Crain's this morning, they all signaled support for congestion pricing, with a few caveats.