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Congestion Pricing

Teachers Union Prez: You Can’t Expect My Members To Ride The Train Or Bus!

Teachers don't like using transit, and have been enabled to feel that way thanks to the parking placards they were gifted in the de Blasio era.

4:19 PM EST on January 4, 2024

Photo: Josh Katz|

Staten Island Borough President Vito Fossella and Staten Island resident (and teachers union president) Michael Mulgrew have sued to stop congestion pricing.

It's a lesson in cynicism.

The United Federation of Teachers joined with Staten Island Borough President Vito Fossella in the newest lawsuit seeking to delay congestion pricing by demanding that the MTA perform a lengthy environmental impact statement instead of the also-lengthy 4,000-page environmental assessment.

But this suit isn't just about the alleged environmental impact of a toll designed to reduce car traffic. Buried in the lawsuit itself is UFT President Michael Mulgrew's legalese that his members can't be expected to ride the train or bus.

"The toll’s prohibitive cost would force daily commuters to ride the very same inadequate and ill-equipped public transit system that needs the billions of dollars in contemplated repairs and improvements [from congestion pricing] in the first place," the UFT argued in the suit.

More than five million New Yorkers per day rely on the subway, bus and commuter rail, which hardly qualifies it for the description of "inadequate and ill-equipped." Teachers, however, may feel that way, given that they were gifted tens of thousands of parking placards in the de Blasio era, a move that encouraged more of them to drive.

Mulgrew's legal eagles called the MTA's effort to fund improvements through a toll as "one of the ironies of the Congestion Pricing program," but it's also ironic that the teacher's union would sue to allow unfettered car access to schools — where children are more at risk of being hit by a car in the blocks surrounding their schools, as Streetsblog reported.

One anonymous teacher who has been taking the train to work for over a decade blasted the Staten Island resident Mulgrew for crusading against the traffic toll without actually polling his members.

"If there was a majority of teachers who agreed to fight congestion pricing, fine, OK, I may disagree wholeheartedly, but at least, I know," said the teacher. "From what I can tell, there has not been one vote posed to the UFT Delegate Assembly — I am a UFT delegate and can vote myself — on whether our union wanted to do such action."

Other outraged teachers took to social media to express their displeasure with the lawsuit. Members called it a waste of union dues, disappointing, embarrassing and self-serving.

In addition to the argument that UFT members can't be expected to get to work on public transit, the lawsuit makes a similar argument as other suits that emissions from rerouted traffic would cause localized pollution in Staten Island and parts of New Jersey.

MTA and FHWA determined there would be no significant impact from the potential emissions increases because the air quality in affected areas still wouldn't violate federal standards — and the MTA has committed to funding a number of mitigation efforts to fight the localized increases.

Fossella's involvement in the suit suggests he is fighting on behalf of Staten Island teachers — another irony, considering that the vast number of teachers who live on Staten Island also teach on the Rock or in other boroughs, rendering them exempt from the congestion toll.

There are only 151 Staten Island residents who teach in Manhattan, according to the Independent Budget Office. Many of those 151 are assigned to schools north of the congestion zone, and even those who do are more likely to take transit than drive to Lower Manhattan.

In other words, there are likely to be only a few dozen Staten Island residents who might be affected by the toll.

Teachers who live on Staten Island but work in Manhattan (red box) are few and far between.Chart: Independent Budget Office

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