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Congestion Pricing

OUTRAGE: ‘Spineless’ Hochul’s Surrender on Congestion Pricing Feeds the Trolls

By channeling the very rhetoric of the toll's car-centric opponents, the governor has undermined her stated goal of improving the city.

“Spineless,” said one advocate.

From first to worst.

Gov. Hochul's apparent decision to delay and undermine the nation's first congestion pricing plan — and to do so by channeling the very rhetoric of the toll's car-centric opponents — has undermined her stated goal of using the tolls to improve the city, according to advocates and experts who woke up on Wednesday to growing outrage.

For now, this much has been reported: Hochul is planning to indefinitely delay the June 30 start of congestion tolling on the grounds that "the timing was less than ideal [because it] might deter commuters from returning to the central business district which has yet to fully recover from the pandemic," as the Times reported.

Of course, if congestion is a measure, Manhattan has indeed fully recovered from the pandemic: Unlike transit use, road use is above pre-pandemic numbers. Yes, return-to-office numbers are down, but congestion is not.

Politico, true to its name, made this issue political, reporting that "Hochul is responding to worries raised by Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, the House minority leader who is fiercely trying to win back a Democratic majority this year. Republican victories in New York congressional races helped the GOP seize power two years ago, and Hochul and Jeffries are both anxious to reverse that fortune."

Advocates seized on Hochul's apparent flip-flop — previewed by disgraced former Gov. Cuomo earlier this year — that congestion pricing is bad politically and would also hurt the city economy at a critical juncture and that the new toll is an albatross around the necks of Democrats seeking re-election.

"This last-minute, end-of-session move is cynical, Albany at its worst and will hurt everyday subway and bus riders who need investment in the system to get to work and school," the watchdog group Reinvent Albany said in a statement.

"Gov. Hochul should not fall prey to the myth that defunding vital government programs will help Democrats at the polls. New York State Democrats agreed to repeal the Commuter Tax in 1999 in a cynical move to try to improve their electoral chances, and it didn’t work, and instead has cost the city billions."

But it's not just good government groups that are howling about the cowardice. Carlo Scissura, president of the NY Building Congress, a construction trade group, called Hochul's move, "a bad episode of 'The Twilight Zone.'"

"Delay[ing] the implementation of congestion pricing ... would be a devastating blow to commuters, to the hard-working men and women of the construction industry, and to our city’s workforce, all of which will suffer greatly as a result – as will all New Yorkers," Scissura said, touting the $15 billion in funding congestion pricing would deliver to the transit system for such projects as the Second Avenue Subway, station accessibility, buying new subway cars, and just basic state-of-good-repair modernization.

With congestion pricing, Scissura said, "New York City will be on its way to a stronger, fairer, more breathable and accessible future. There can be no more delays."

It's important to also point out that the tens of billions that the MTA spends on repairing and upgrading the New York region's lifeblood network of rail and bus lines floats the local economies across the state, region and nation.

As Streetsblog has reported, every single state Senate and congressional district within New York State is home to companies that receive MTA payments, with $26 billion spent from 2014-2022, creating tens of thousands of jobs.

That's true of New Jersey and the nation, too.

Which makes Gov. Hochul's decision particularly troubling because it ignores those facts in favor of a Grand Bargain with opponents who haven't been mollified by all the benefits of congestion pricing and the existing billions they've received over the years.

A political insider grumbled that New York's Democratic leaders — Sen. Charles Schumer and Rep. Hakeem Jeffries — have simply decided that Democrats will lose House if congestion pricing happens (former and possibly future President Trump is literally running on that idea).

The insider reminded New Yorkers that Hochul was a very strong supporter of congestion pricing, including during her own recent election, but has now entered "the realm of pure politics and buying the fiction that congestion pricing will be decisive issue in suburban congressional races."

"This is Chuck and Hakeem fucking up the national Democratic strategy, flailing around and making Hochul look really weak. It's that stupid."

But another insider, Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, also chimed in on the politics.

"An indefinite pause on congestion pricing will do irreparable harm to the city while undermining public confidence," Williams said in a statement. "No version of congestion pricing was going to make everyone happy. No policy ever does. That doesn’t detract from the reasons it was developed – to reduce vehicle congestion, protect our environment, and improve our public transit infrastructure – causes which the governor has now put second to politics."

Sara Lind of Open Plans said if the reports are true, Hochul has made a "spineless choice."

"During a time when we have chaotic and car-clogged streets, a transportation system that needs extra cash, and a climate crisis, prioritizing supposed political considerations over a long overdue, much-needed policy could not be more wrongheaded," she said. "Delaying the measure would be transparently craven and worthy of derision and ridicule. We hope the Governor is able to recognize this reality, stick to her guns, and abandon the amateur-hour attempt at warding off backlash to a policy that she knows will prove effective.”

Ironically, many of the drivers on whose behalf Hochul would be delaying congestion pricing probably don't even agree with the decision.

“This is crazy, there are way too many cars here," said Jamie Jayson Heredia, a 41-year-old Amazon worker who was waiting for a bus on Second Avenue on Wednesday morning. "I think it’s way too easy to get a car and people should start taking public transportation to avoid car traffic. We have people coming from Jersey, and all other parts, it’s just too much.”

Of course, the vast majority of New Yorkers get around on transit — and those are the people who are part of the very recovery that Hochul repeatedly said congestion pricing would aid. Those riders know the truth of how congestion undermines our lives and our productivity.

“I have a job interview and I’ve been waiting for 20 minutes for the bus and it still hasn’t come. It’s always the same thing with these buses. I’m tired of it,” said Victor Ayuso, 36.

Fellow bus waiter Carmen Cedeno, 78, added that missing a bus "sucks because then you have to wait at least a good amount for the next bus. This shouldn’t be happening.”

— with Jackie Zamora

Advocates from Riders Alliance and other groups are planning a noon rally at Gov. Hochul's Midtown office, 633 Third Avenue.

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