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Congestion Pricing

Opinion: Gov. Hochul Risks Handing Donald Trump the Keys To NYC’s Transportation Future

Is this really the way a New York Democrat wants her legacy on transit and climate change to play out?

She’s smaller than ever.

Gov. Hochul framed her decision to “indefinitely pause” congestion pricing on Wednesday as being in the interests of everyday New Yorkers. But it’s unlikely “everyday New Yorkers” want to outsource the state’s transportation decisions to Donald Trump. If history is any guide, the governor may end up doing just that — and killing off congestion pricing for good.

I can say that because of the small role I played in the late 2010s when then-Governor Cuomo — prompted by the #CuomosMTA campaign after the famous “Summer of Hell” — pushed the legislature to pass congestion pricing.

One problem that’s been apparent in the chaos of the last 24 hours is that five years was too long a time to wait for congestion pricing to be implemented. Back in 2019, when I worked for the New York City Department of Transportation, there was widespread demand for action in Albany and clear stakeholder consensus that congestion pricing was the right path forward for New York.

And, in 2019, after the legislature passed congestion pricing, I was part of a team of city officials that joined state counterparts in two meetings with transportation officials from the Trump administration to discuss the path forward. Getting the de Blasio and Cuomo administrations to jointly lobby the Trump administration wasn’t a small feat, but we got there. And it turned out to be one of the most surreal series of meetings I’ve ever been involved in. 

So why did it take five years to get here? You may recall that the issue was first whether the Trump administration would allow congestion pricing to go forward at all and, then, whether it would allow the MTA to conduct a less-intensive Environmental Assessment instead of a full-blown, multi-year Environmental Impact Statement.

It was clear from our meetings that the Trump administration was so interested in stalling congestion pricing that it would never provide the MTA with the formal guidance required to allow the agency to begin the Environmental Assessment.

It was clear in that moment that approval would have to wait until a Democrat defeated Trump — a prospect that was still very much in doubt in 2019.

The Trump administration’s delay tactics, paired with the Cuomo administration’s failure to be proactive on the environmental review, are the reason it has taken New York five long years to get to this point. And now, Gov. Hochul’s boneheaded “indefinite pause” threatens to put us right back where we started.

Now, we face the real possibility of a hostile administration taking the keys back from New York. Leaving aside the recent ramblings of the convicted felon on Truth Social, my meetings with Trump appointees in 2019 demonstrated that no one in the administration had any understanding of the policy or its importance for New York’s climate and economy. Their only interest was in taking another blue state policy hostage, much like Trump’s resistance to working with Sen. Charles Schumer on the similarly critical Gateway Project. 

And lest we forget: Congestion pricing only passed through the state legislature because there was such urgency after the Summer of Hell when all the stakeholders knew something needed to be done. There was real consensus around shoring up MTA finances, tackling gridlock in New York’s business district and combating the climate crisis. For once, advocates, the business community, labor, and officials in both Albany and city government came together and all moved with urgency.

But the further away we’ve gotten from 2019, the further we are from that shared sense of urgency. And with a presidential election around the corner, Hochul is risking delaying implementation until 2025 or later when there is a real risk that Donald Trump would once again be in a position to hijack our region’s future.

So that would be my insight for Gov. Hochul: by hitting the pause button now, you actually may be handing Donald Trump the keys to your state’s future. Is that what you want your legacy on transportation and climate to be? Do you want to be compared to Governor Christie, who continues to be criticized to this day for canceling the ARC tunnel project?

There goes your transit funding. There goes your drop in pollution. There goes your decreased childhood asthma rates. There goes New York’s climate leadership. There goes your power to control your own destiny—and the destiny of your constituents.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

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