National News

Cuomo’s Congestion Pricing for New York City Begins to Take Shape

Posted January 16, 2018 9:34 p.m. EST

NEW YORK — Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s plan to charge drivers in Manhattan’s most congested neighborhoods finally began to take shape in his budget address on Tuesday, five months after he publicly embraced the idea.

The governor ruled out placing new tolls on bridges in favor of creating a geographic zone where drivers would be charged fees depending on the time of day and what kind of vehicle they drove. The overall goal of the congestion pricing plan would be to reduce traffic and raise money to modernize the city’s decrepit subway system.

Cuomo acknowledged that the contours of that zone had yet to be determined, as well as the times, the fees that would be charged and practically every other operational aspect. “It’s literally an ongoing spectrum of options,” he said.

Still, he added, “my point is it has to fair to all people and all industries.”

Cuomo said a report by a state task force, called Fix NYC, that has been looking at the issue, would be released this week. The report may signal where Cuomo is heading, though he can also reject any of its recommendations.

Any plan would require the approval of state legislators, some of whom have expressed reservations about congestion pricing. In particular, lawmakers from the boroughs outside Manhattan — an almost exclusively Democratic group that on many other issues backs the governor’s initiatives — have worried their constituents would be disproportionately affected.

The lack of detail in Cuomo’s plan earned the idea at least a temporary reprieve from those critics. Assemblywoman Nily Rozic, D-Queens, said she did not have enough information to pass judgment. “The proof will be in the expensive pudding,” she said.

She said she looked forward to reviewing Fix NYC’s plan but did not expect it to address her fundamental hesitations.

“Queens continues to grow and so do our transit deserts,” she said. Her constituents would not reap the benefits of congestion pricing even if subway service did improve substantially, she said. “It’s not that residents can’t turn to public transit to offset the costs of proposed tolls because service isn’t reliable; it’s because service doesn’t exist.”

Alex Matthiessen, the director of Move NY, a grass-roots campaign that supports congestion pricing, said he hoped a final plan would address the needs of commuters and working families outside of Manhattan. “A fair and bold plan will make a real difference in the lives of New Yorkers suffering from what has become a wholly unreliable transportation system, above and below ground,” he said.

Cuomo resurrected the possibility of congestion pricing last summer, declaring that it “is an idea whose time has come” following decades of failed efforts to adopt some version of it. But as the state moves toward an actual plan, congestion pricing could potentially become a thorny issue for Cuomo, who faces re-election this year.

Congestion pricing aims to reduce traffic in crowded areas at peak times by charging a fee to dissuade some drivers. The last major effort by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg in 2008 sought to charge drivers a flat fee of $8 to enter a congestion zone from Midtown to Lower Manhattan. It died in Albany after state legislative leaders refused to bring it to a vote. Other plans have sought to place tolls on the free East River bridges.

Mayor Bill de Blasio has opposed congestion pricing, saying that it would hurt lower-income drivers. Instead, he has proposed a tax on the wealthy to support the subway system.

Many residents and elected officials in Queens and Brooklyn have long resisted any new tolls or fees to drive into Manhattan, saying that it would hurt commuters who live in areas with limited bus and subway service.

On Tuesday, Assemblyman David I. Weprin, D-Queens, who has been a steadfast opponent of congestion pricing, said he was pleased that Cuomo was not considering bridge tolls but remained concerned about how the governor’s plan would affect lower and middle-class commuters who drive into Manhattan because they do not have convenient access to public transportation. He suggested that such commuters should be exempted from a congestion fee, or somehow issued a credit. “The devil will be in the details,” he said.

Senate Republican leader Sen. John Flanagan, who represents parts of Long Island, has also been seen as a possible hurdle. He has previously said he could not envision a form of congestion pricing that he could support.

Carl E. Heastie, the Democratic Assembly speaker from the Bronx, demurred when asked his opinion on the yet-to-be-fleshed-out plan.

In recent years, a growing fleet of Uber and other cars working for ride-hailing apps has exacerbated congestion on city streets. The task force has been looking at a new per-ride fee on all for-hire vehicles in Manhattan, which would be paid by passengers.