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Editorial: ‘Pause’ applause — Hochul hits brakes on congestion pricing

For weeks the news was dominated — until panic over Joe Biden’s fitness to run for reelection recently bumped it — by outraged articles about Governor Kathy Hochul having put an “indefinite pause” on congestion pricing. The nation’s first-of-its-kind plan was set to start June 30 — until Hochul slammed on the brakes, saying New York residents and businesses simply could not afford it right now, especially amid the city’s still-tenuous post-pandemic rebound.

It was a gutsy call. But the governor has stood by it despite the noise and hysteria. She’s the state’s chief executive, out of hard-boiled Buffalo politics. She showed leadership.

There’s been much hyperventilating by transit advocates — and pandering politicians, including notably Comptroller Brad Lander — over Hochul’s decision. But the fact is, per a Sienna poll, there is “bipartisan opposition” to congestion pricing, with 63 percent of New Yorkers against it — including majorities of Democrats, Republicans and independents — and only 25 percent for it.

Fourteen percent of those surveyed would travel into Manhattan less were the toll implemented; that’s a lot of people and clearly would hurt our borough’s economy.

Congestion pricing also would, unquestionably, pass along higher costs from tolls paid by trucks entering the zone (Manhattan south of 60th Street) to merchants and, in turn, local residents. Plus, zone residents absolutely should be exempt from the toll.

While a judge recently shot down several New York City lawsuits brought against congestion pricing, the fact is that one of these suits’ central claims — that a full environmental impact statement should have been done for the massive proposed plan — is a powerful argument. An environmental impact assessment, which has a much lower bar, was not enough.

Also, again, no question, an economic impact assessment must be done to show us how congestion pricing would affect struggling local mom-and-pop shops and other businesses that are the backbone of our local economy.

On June 26, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority board O.K.’ed Hochul’s pause by a vote of 10 to 1. While transit advocates howl that a huge hole now has been blown in the M.T.A.’s capital budget, Hochul, an experienced politician, obviously did not take this step lightly. She will find ways to replace the funding so the M.T.A. can do what must be done, if the Legislature lets her. Troubling, though, is the massive fare evasion — and infamously bad planning — that drains hundreds of millions of dollars from the M.T.A. coffers every year. The M.T.A. needs rigorous auditing.

Manhattan community boards in the zone have mounted a furious rear-guard action, passing resolutions saying congestion pricing must be implemented. This push started at Community Board 5, where members of the “astroturf” pro-development group Open New York now run the show. Several of the other boards that cover parts of the area south of 60th Street dutifully fell into lockstep. Tellingly, not among them was Community Board 3. C.B. 3 includes the East Village and Lower East Side, parts of which are de facto transit deserts and “environmental justice communities,” where residents are largely people of color and low-income. Data show congestion pricing would actually increase traffic and pollution in some of these areas. Refusing to be rushed, C.B. 1, representing Lower Manhattan, has not signed onto the letter, wanting to more carefully assess how it does or doesn’t align with the board’s already-stated position.

In addition, the Stuyvesant Town/Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association, Murray Hill Neighborhood Association and others — tens of thousands of hard-working residents living in “the zone” — flat-out oppose the toll.

We do support congestion pricing’s goals: fewer cars on our streets, less pollution, more M.T.A. revenue for essential projects. But its potential negative impacts absolutely must be given a harder look. Plus, who would benefit from this plan — and lobbied hard for it? App-hail companies like Uber, Lyft and Revel. How come these companies are not being asked to pay into congestion pricing — since, under the plan, their tens of thousands of cabs would continue to be circling our streets inside “the zone”?

Similarly, many of the most outspoken transit advocates, groups and publications, like Streetsblog, that decry Hochul for daring to defer on congestion pricing, are financed by the same hedge funders who are bent on revamping the city’s streets — i.e., obsessed with eliminating cars. Again, we are fine with fewer cars, that’s a good thing. It’s known as the “war on cars.” Yet, it’s not O.K. if that war’s collateral damage are the fixed-income, lower-income and middle-class residents and small merchants south of 60th Street.

Perhaps after November’s election — or next year’s gubernatorial election — Hochul will ease the pause. Maybe she will start by tolling trucks — and then cars, though at a much lower rate than $15. Maybe she will broaden the tolling zone. But the current plan was punitive, regressive and would have hurt Manhattan’s economy and the pocketbook of hard-working New Yorkers both living south of 60th Street and elsewhere.

Everyone take a deep breath. We will work it out.

23 Comments

  1. Zenobia Zenobia July 8, 2024

    America is turning into a Second World country because no one believes in the greater good.

    Congestion pricing is good for Downtown residents, good for public transit. Less air and noise pollution, safer streets, better transit.

    There should be no exceptions for anyone.

  2. David David July 8, 2024

    And good point on the regressive tax point. Hochul’s alternative payroll tax — which would hurt lower-income New Yorkers the most, who overwhelmingly don’t drive and don’t congest the streets, endanger pedestrians or give people chronic health issues (through pollution) — would be much better.

  3. David David July 8, 2024

    Yes, well-reasoned, even though most community boards in the Central Business District, including CB3 (and cb5, cb2, cb4), passed resolutions in favor of congestion pricing and against Hochul’s “pause.” And, yes, the biggest supporters are Uber and Lyft, even though there will be an added surcharge of $2.50 that passengers will pay, and that makes sense that they’d want to raise their costs, even though the last time the city forced them to raise costs was when NYC required them to pay fair wages and they said that would make them have to charge consumers more and they didn’t want to do that, so they sued the city. And, yeah, it will be a tragedy to business owners in the CBD, even though cars don’t buy anything, people do, and more people walking and taking the subway (and then walking to their destination) will be in positions to actually stop by a shop’s window and buy something. And it definitely hasn’t been researched enough — a 4,000-page environmental impact statement, even more in supporting documents, over years – and other decades of research is not enough. You are correct, good sir, even though NYC’s open data platform says 1,360 people have been injured by motor vehicles and 8 have been killed in the CBD, and on average every 54 minutes a driver crashes his or her car in the CBD, it would benefit no one.

  4. Choresh Wald Choresh Wald July 7, 2024

    “Fourteen percent of those surveyed would travel into Manhattan less were the toll implemented; that’s a lot of people”. That’s the whole point!
    Congestion pricing is meant to reduce congestion by 17%!
    Allowing asthma rates to go down, cutting down on air pollution, noise pollution and stress in our lives.
    This belief that Governor Hochul will come up with something is not based on facts. It is just a belief.
    Raising your hands to the sky and waiting for a solution doesn’t mean anything.
    When CB3 allows 3 people to speak for and against the issue it doesn’t reflect that 80% of area residents don’t own vehicles.

  5. Robert L LOBE Robert L LOBE July 6, 2024

    No one talks about even more of all the empty office space already and more and more cars will be electric or hybrid. This is just another tax on the working class. How much of the money would even end up with the MTA?

  6. jacDog jacDog July 6, 2024

    Quick addendum to jacDog comment: The congestion was intentionally created — by the Vison Zero infrastructure, with the assistance of the ride-share influx.
    Created to justify the congestion tax.

    No environmental impact study. No enforcement. All side-stepped because
    “Visionaries know best.” All the accidents, all the deaths, all the lithium-ion
    battery fires are so much collateral damage to the zealots and greedsters.
    Screw quality of city life. Screw human life.

    The zealots have scrambled the minds of many and offered inducement to others. Why? The great man illusion: Push back on Robert Moses’ obsession with the motor vehicle. Another “great man” delusionist. Undermine the NYPD. Disruption without construction…

  7. jacDog jacDog July 6, 2024

    Start with Mayor Bloomberg’s stated desire to make Manhattan a “luxury destination.” Stir in Placemaking X and Transportation Alternatives. Placemaking Fred Kent, now Ethan Kent, co-Founder of Trans Alt with the Sophist in Chief Charles Komanoff, the car killer. Placemaking –the privatization of public space. Trans Alt — Vision Zero and NO ENFORCEMENT against rogue bike riding. NO RESPONSIBLE BIKE CULTURE. Undermine the NYPD. NO SAFETY FOR ANYONE. Sprinkle hubris of former DOT Commish J Sadik Khan-“It’s good for real estate.” A dirty pinch of digital commerce. Ride sharing and the delivery typhoon. Layer political arm-twisting and the craven truckling of politicians — climbers and states people alike — what have we got?

    It has never been rational. The congestion tax was merely the third leg of the sequence in Bloomberg’s parade to a luxury destination.

    A toxic brew. The institution is being run by the zealots and inmates. Watch your back.

    • The Village Sun The Village Sun Post author | July 6, 2024

      Gorton.

  8. Bill Weinberg Bill Weinberg July 6, 2024

    Good reportage, but what do you mean by “New York City lawsuits”? The suit opposing congestion pricing was brought by New Jersey.

    • The Village Sun The Village Sun Post author | July 6, 2024

      Umm…Bill, there were more than half a dozen lawsuits. Some from New Jersey.

  9. Carol from East 5th Street Carol from East 5th Street July 5, 2024

    Community Board 3 was indeed in favor of congestion pricing. I received an email advising that the full board meeting would have a special section regarding congestion pricing. We were asked to join in participating to show our approval as all the community boards were going to send a message to the governor saying that they all support the issue. They allowed three speakers each for pro and con. I spoke against and received a rousing round of applause as did all the other nay sayers. I don’t know what their final decision was.

  10. Carol Frances Yost Carol Frances Yost July 5, 2024

    I do not own a car and live in Chelsea, but that congestion pricing deal seems like a really bad deal for anyone who’d be affected by it. Yeah, cut all the fare-beating! Transit needs the money; get it from people who use the system. When I use a cab, I probably would wind up paying the tax if I go outside the area and need to return. It sounds like a bad idea. Away with congestion pricing!

  11. David R. Marcus David R. Marcus July 5, 2024

    Bravo, Lincoln. Well said.

    Below are my email points to Brad Hoylman in response to his opinion survey, as well as to a few other electeds, only to get a tepid thank you and I will consider it:

    Confiscatory
    A regressive tax on the low-income
    Completely screws us Downtown residents having cars; something we are entitled to in order to suit our transportation needs and lifestyles.
    MTA mismanages its funds and already has countless funnels of money to its coffers. Stopping fare evasion and holding people accountable is adverse to you folks but there is gold in them thar hills.
    Environmental impact not studied, as well as the socio-economic impact.
    Good politics for you and the app-hail car services and bike zealots that threaten our streets but is opposed by the vast majority of the taxpaying public.

    Pay attention and listen to your constituents.

  12. Perry Rothenberg Perry Rothenberg July 5, 2024

    This would be a multiple tax if implemented: $15 at the sensor, plus surcharges on all goods and services delivered to NYC by all commercial enterprises. Very serious inflation and surcharges.

  13. Gail Fox Gail Fox July 5, 2024

    Insightful, objective editorial.

  14. Ed Ed July 4, 2024

    BRILLIANT!!!

    Quick question for the politicians — Whatever happened to politics being the art of the “possible” – i.e., is it “possible” to find another fiscal solution to fix the MTA, other than congestion pricing?

  15. Dwayne Nicholson Dwayne Nicholson July 4, 2024

    No new taxes until a full accounting is done. East Side Access (Grand Central
    Madison — which is the new name to cover up the cost overruns) was estimated at $4.3 billion with a final cost of $13 billion. Which elected official would allow any contractor to do that to any project in their house? But it’s ok because it’s public funding? Hell no! And the MTA board needs to be revamped to reflect where the users of the system live — e.g., 62% of NY’ers live in Queens or Brooklyn where there are no billion-dollar projects. That’s foul to ask any of us to approve transit projects in the borough with the least transit deserts.

  16. Lucy Koteen Lucy Koteen July 4, 2024

    Well said. It hit all the notes that activists and lawsuits opposing CP have been saying. The go-along electeds and community boards need to see this and stop supporting the corporations that stand to profit from this regressive, harmful tax.

  17. Mike Mike July 4, 2024

    The MTA needs to enforce fares. It’s unfair to expect car owners to pay for everything. All the bicycles and electric bikes also cause congestion. Impose a yearly licensing fee on them.

  18. Tommy Loeb Tommy Loeb July 4, 2024

    Excellent editorial. I hope our Lower Manhattan Elected Officials, Goldman, Nadler, Marte, Rivera, Kavanagh, Lee, Hoylman, Glick, all read it. Raises all the issues why the MTA says there are winners and losers — and Lower Manhattan is a big loser, in terms of environmentally, economically and equity for our Environmental Justice community.

  19. Apps are not our friends Apps are not our friends July 4, 2024

    Agree. Well-reasoned editorial. Thank you for pointing out the relationship between the special interest groups and the apps, like Uber and Lyft, that contribute to them and would benefit financially from CP.

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