Skip to Content
Streetsblog New York City home
Streetsblog New York City home
Log In
Congestion Pricing

Hochul’s Congestion Pricing Reversal Won’t Win Democrats Any Votes in November

Hochul left billions of dollars and massive drop in congestion on the table with no guarantee of quieting congestion toll opponents ahead of November's election, according to political insiders.

Yes, those are flip-flops covering a picture of Gov. Hochul doing the verb version of the footware.

She's made it much worse.

Gov. Hochul reportedly abandoned her years-long support for congestion pricing to help Democrats facing competitive Congressional races this November — but her move to "indefinitely delay" tolls for Manhattan below 60th Street may have the opposite effect, political insiders told Streetsblog.

Hochul's 11th-hour reversal came in response to "worries" from U.S. House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries that the issue might affect Democratic chances to retake Congress, Politico reported.

But the clumsy flip-flip — punctuated by a hostage video-like speech in which the governor essentially endorsed many criticisms of the tolls — may inadvertently elevate the salience of the issue in national elections by letting it linger long past its former planned June 30 launch date.

"This was not an issue until Kathy just made it one," said one Democrat working on House races in the New York City suburbs. "There would have been a few tweets and maybe part of a mailer, but by taking dramatic action and drawing attention to congestion pricing, Kathy ensured that it would be more front and center than it was before.

"Congestion pricing is just going to loom needlessly on these races now," the person added.

In global cities that already implemented congestion pricing, public opinion was a matter of delayed gratification — tolls were somewhat popular when passed, extremely unpopular as implementation approached, and very popular after their launch. Opponents chilled out and even changed their minds once they experienced less congestion, cleaner air and fewer traffic fatalities.

Yet by "indefinitely delaying" the plan, Hochul abandoned any political benefits to those upsides — and left the issue on the table for Republicans to use against Democrats in the fall, according to insiders who work on Democratic campaigns in the state.

There's a political payoff from congestion pricing. Graph: FHWA/CURACAO

Her decision to kill the plan will "backfire," another Democratic political consultant warned.

"You have a situation where you don't get to see the benefits of it and there's still a scary specter of it — she didn't say it's not going to happen, she said it's not going to happen now," the person said. "It's almost designed in a lab to cause backlash and not make anyone happy. There might be people on the street who say they are happy this is delayed, but it's not going to mollify opposition."

Hochul's maneuvers echo Democrats' continued insistence on running against the state's own bail reforms, the consultant said — instead of letting the issue fade into the background in favor of winning topics, the topic will never go away.

Multiple sources described the tolls as a "third tier" issue in swing seats. The topic barely registered in U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi's dominant special election victory over Mazi Pilip four months ago, despite Pilip's efforts to ding Suozzi for his past support for tolls. There's little reason to think it'll resonate more five months from now — especially if the pre-launch hullabaloo has died down.

Swing seat Democrats could even use the issue to their advantage to demonstrate a point of alignment with former President Donald Trump to conservative voters.

"If you look at any of the polling in swing districts, immigration, public safety — those remain top issues," another local political consultant said. "You could say cost of living is a top issue, but people are not pointing to congestion pricing... They're talking about inflation overall."

Congestion pricing meant billions of dollars in transit spending for Hochul to tout in her 2026 reelection. The insider questioned whether Jeffries's reported pushed to kill the tolls was for swing seat New Yorkers or New Jersey moderates like pro-car transit foe U.S. Rep. Josh Gottheimer.

"If it's good policy, if you actually think it's good policy, then do it. This splitting the baby — all it does is make Democrats look fickle and spineless," the person said. "Helping out Josh Gottheimer instead of yourself is bizarre politics."

Stay in touch

Sign up for our free newsletter

More from Streetsblog New York City

Pols Let Suffolk Co. Red Light Cams Expire, Inviting Deadlier Streets

Long Islanders should be red hot mad that streets are about to become less safe.

June 19, 2024

Wednesday’s Headlines: Juneteenth Edition

We're off for the holiday, but we still have a slate of news for you!

June 19, 2024

Elmhurst’s ‘Little Thailand’ Gets Open Street Redesign

An already popular open street will be converted to one-way — with the space used to bolster the many restaurants nearby.

June 19, 2024

MTA Halts Work On Second Avenue Subway After Hochul’s Congestion Pricing ‘Pause’

Gridlock Gov. Hochul has joined the history books as the next governor to stop work on the Second Avenue subway.

June 18, 2024

National Green Groups Condemn Hochul’s Congestion Pricing ‘Pause’

Had New York engaged congestion pricing, the state would have "played a nation-leading role." Alas.

June 18, 2024
See all posts