Stop Rushing Congestion Pricing Plan, CB1 Committee Demands

Supporters of congestion pricing say it will help unclog city streets and raise desperately needed funds for mass transit. Opponents argue it's an unfair burden on some who must use their cars. Photo: Carl Glassman/Tribeca Trib

Mar. 11, 2019

Put the brakes on it.

That’s the message from Community Board 1’s Transportation Committee to Gov. Andrew Cuomo on his congestion pricing plan for the city.

In its resolution this month, the committee took no position for or against the long, hotly debated proposal to charge a fee for vehicles entering Manhattan below 60th Street. They say that not enough is known about how the plan, now in the governor’s budget, would work. And the public, they insist, needs a chance to weigh in on it.

“This is not how to implement congestion pricing,” CB1 Chair Anthony Notaro said of the resolution. “It simply says we don’t want anything to happen until there is an open, transparent dialogue.”

The plan, Notaro said, “is being rushed through as a budget item. Not as a piece of legislation where the public can review and comment on it.”

Under the current proposal, drivers would pay a fee based on the time of day, and other factors yet to be negotiated by state legislators. Advocates say the plan would both unclog the city’s streets and infuse an estimated $15 billion into the struggling subways, buses and commuter railroads of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which Cuomo controls. Without it, the governor asserts, fares could rise 30 percent. Opponents argue that the fee unfairly taxes commuters from the outer boroughs who rely on their cars to get to work in Manhattan. Some Lower Manhattan drivers also complain that, because they live in the congestion pricing zone, they will be unfairly penalized. It is still unclear what exemptions, if any, residents would be given.

“Why are we putting this in a budget to basically tax the hell out of people,” said Transportation Committee member and Battery Park City resident Tammy Meltzer.

A congestion pricing plan, promoted by former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, famously failed in Albany 10 years ago and legislators have been reluctant to take it up since. A proposal last year, which would have charged passengers cars $11.52 and trucks $25.34, was set aside. In its place, the state imposed a $2.50 per ride surcharge for taxis and $2.75 on for-hire vehicles.

While the committee was split over the idea of congestion pricing, Notaro insisted that the plan is too unformed for the board to take a stand. “I want to recognize we have a problem,” he said. “I don’t know this is the solution.”

The full board will discuss congestion pricing and vote on the committee’s resolution at its March 26 meeting. On March 21, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer will hold a public hearing on congestion pricing, with experts, elected officials, agency leaders and the public on hand to debate the potential plan. The hearing takes place at 6 p.m. in Cooper Union's Frederick P. Rose Auditorium, 41 Union Square.