"It's time that we authorized congestion pricing to carry our transportation infrastructure into the 21st century. The Legislature has the facts and now they must act."
Today, the New York Daily News published an op-ed by New York State Budget Director Robert Mujica on the Legislature's need to pass congestion pricing. The text of the op-ed is available here and below.
After decades of underinvestment, the deterioration of the New York City regional public transportation system is not only a regular source of frustration for commuters; it's a threat to our entire state's long-term economic success.
Fortunately, there is a promising path forward. Congestion pricing - a toll on drivers into Manhattan's Central Business District below 60th St. — would raise critical funding for public transit while also reducing the traffic and air pollution that plagues midtown and lower Manhattan.
This year, Gov. Cuomo proposed in his executive budget a congestion pricing plan drawing on the input of the Metropolitan Transportation Sustainability Advisory Workgroup and Fix NYC advisory panel of transportation experts, representatives from the MTA region, local leaders and stakeholders.
Now it's up to the Legislature to get it done. While many legislators recognize the vital need for congestion pricing, some have recently said they need more details before moving forward. In fact, we have provided all details necessary to enact a framework. The governor's budget contains 11 pages of details that address most New Yorkers' questions. The suggestion that there is insufficient information shouldn't be used as red herring for delaying a vote they fear will be politically challenging.
Let's be very clear: Not only is congestion pricing good for the environment and New Yorkers who use public transit, its impact on the region's car commuters is nowhere near as significant as some critics would like to claim. According to U.S. Census data, far fewer New Yorkers commute into Manhattan by car than rely on public transportation. In fact, 25% of the commuters who would pay a congestion pricing fee are from out of state. Meanwhile, a tiny percentage of residents in the surrounding boroughs and counties actually drive to work in Manhattan. In Suffolk County, it's 0.8% of residents. In Nassau, it's 1.8%. In Westchester, 2.2%; Staten Island, 2.3%; Bronx, 1.9%; Queens, 2.2%; and Brooklyn, 1.3%.
The bill language establishes a comprehensive program providing a reliable revenue stream that will help the MTA raise an estimated $15 billion in capital funding. Cars and trucks will be charged for passing below 60th St., except along the FDR; E-ZPass and discreet gantry technology will collect tolls; if you arrive in the zone through a tunnel, you won't be charged twice.
Since the executive budget was released, the governor has issued further details, including on the mechanism for setting tolls. In amendments to his budget, he called for an expert MTA oversight panel that will set and approve variable pricing rates within the congestion pricing zone. The tolls — which would take into account factors such as the type of vehicle, the time and day of the week, and credits from other bridges or tunnels — will then be implemented by the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority.
This approach is in line with how tolling is established across the state. The Legislature doesn't set the tolls on the Thruway or on tolled bridges operated by the MTA and Port Authority. What is needed is for the legislative authority to enact a framework.
The governor's budget amendments also establish a dedicated lockbox to ensure that 100% of congestion pricing revenue goes to the MTA capital budget to fund priorities such as signal updates and improved station accessibility, and prohibits the use of congestion revenues for non-capital spending.
Without this critical new source of revenue, the MTA has acknowledged it would have to raise fares and tolls by almost 30% in the near future to cover capital costs. It's time that we authorized congestion pricing to carry our transportation infrastructure into the 21st century. The Legislature has the facts and now they must act.