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Congestion Pricing

Two Assembly Pols: Congestion Pricing is Good Policy — Democrats Should Embrace It

Let’s be clear: the Governor’s announcement to “indefinitely delay implementation” is effectively a cancellation of congestion pricing.

Assembly Members Robert Carroll and Emily Gallagher have been strong supporters of congestion pricing in New York City and advocated for its implementation since it was first approved by the New York State Legislature in 2019. This op-ed was submitted in hopes of derailing Gov. Hochul's last-minute effort to blow up the MTA's long-term financing plan.

Let’s be clear: the Governor’s announcement to “indefinitely delay implementation” is effectively a cancellation of congestion pricing.

This is bad environmental and transportation policy, shortsighted politics, and a usurpation of the legislative process. New York City’s vibrancy and that of the entire metropolitan region depends on a high functioning mass transit system. It is in no one’s interest to have traffic-clogged streets, bridges, and roadways; if we want a more livable and prosperous city, we must reduce traffic and improve public transportation.

Congestion pricing does both and there is no fair or viable alternative way to fund the MTA’s capital needs at this juncture. The governor is creating a $15-billion hole in the MTA capital budget with no real plan of how to fill the gap. This will mean residents in East Harlem will not see the extension of the Second Ave subway, Bronx residence will not see new Metro-North stations, and Long Island residents will not see essential accessibility upgrades as well as many other necessary projects being shelved. We must not capitulate to suburban politicians and others who are prioritizing the narrow interests of a small subset of the population who want the benefits of living near New York City but not to shoulder any of the costs.

Last December, the governor held a press conference lauding the benefits of congestion pricing. She again praised the program in a speech before a global audience in Ireland just two weeks ago. Now she is saying that New Yorkers can’t afford the congestion pricing fee to drive into Manhattan’s central business district.

Stoking fears about inflation hardly seems like a winning strategy for Democrats and is in fact a Republican talking point. She should tell it like it is: city residents, especially working-class New Yorkers, and suburban commuters depend on public transportation and we simply cannot afford to let the system deteriorate. Those who insist on driving into the city or must do so for work will also benefit from the reduction in traffic and improvement in air quality that congestion pricing will bring.    

Congestion pricing correctly values the cost that driving has on all New Yorkers. What should also be clear to anyone who loves New York City, whether you are a resident, tourist, or occasional visitor from the suburbs, is that its uniqueness and vibrancy is because of its diverse and varied neighborhoods and its amazing public spaces – sidewalks, plazas, and parks – where people rule, not cars.

The COVID pandemic was a profound blow to this culture and resulted in a retreat from the public sphere accompanied by a surge in reliance on automobiles – whether personal vehicles or for-hire ones like Uber and Lyft.  We can’t give up on the vision of a city that is both economically and culturally dynamic, and that meets the needs of the majority of its residents. 

It is deeply disappointing that Gov. Hochul has made the shortsighted political choice to abandon congestion pricing.  There are many ways to help working people that would not require walking away from good policy. It is also unclear that Democrats will reap any political rewards from her maneuver. What is more, as Democrats we should be champions of cities, the public sphere and the role of government as a force for the greater good rather than pander to the self-perceived interests of a disgruntled or myopic few. The truth is we have all been paying for traffic congestion in lost time, poorer air quality, and climate-wrecking emissions. It is past time for New York to join such cities as London, Milan, Stockholm, and Singapore and implement congestion pricing without further delay.

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