Straphangers vs. drivers

Andrew Cuomo at the train station
Andrew Cuomo at the train station
Marc A. Hermann/MTA New York City Transit
Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Straphangers vs. drivers

Winners and losers of a Cuomo panel's congestion pricing plan
January 19, 2018

As if going to Manhattan wasn’t expensive enough.

On Friday, the Fix NYC advisory panel, which was convened by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in October, released its long-awaited congestion pricing proposal for implementing tolls in Manhattan’s central business district. This would reduce traffic and create a dedicated revenue stream to repair the ailing subway system.

The cordon would exist below 60th Street and would be applied at street, bridge and tunnel crossings into the zone, but would not include the F.D.R. Drive above the Brooklyn Bridge. The $11.52 toll would be one-way, but the price is derived from the two-way charge of $5.76 that is the average toll rate for MTA and Port Authority tolled tunnels. The report proposes a credit for drivers using tolled tunnels, such as the Lincoln and Queens Midtown Tunnels, so that they would not be doubly charged. Buses

The first phase of the plan would improve public transportation alternatives, and implement the zone pricing technology, which would be similar to cashless tolling. This would allow the subway system and buses to have the capacity to support an increase of riders, as congestion pricing will mean that more people are using public transportation instead of driving. In the second phase, a congestion surcharge would be placed on taxis and app-based for-hire vehicles within the zone. The third phase would see the implementation of zone pricing in 2020, beginning first with trucks driving in the central business district.

A congestion pricing plan proposed by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg failed in 2008, and it still faces considerable odds in the state Legislature. But if Cuomo offered his support – which seems possible, given his positive statement on the report – perhaps it could be muscled past its opponents.

Here are the winners and losers of this congestion pricing plan – if legislation based on the Fix NYC report was proposed and passed:

WINNERS

Public transportation riders – Straphangers have suffered signal problems, derailments and increasingly bad service for years, but an injection of around $1 billion from this congestion pricing plan into the MTA, dedicated specifically for service improvements, could ease the pain. The revenue would also be used to improve bus service, which would be aided by decreased congestion and a crackdown on traffic violations such as driving in the bus lane that the report also proposes. Buses would be exempt from the toll.

Move NY Campaign – Alex Matthiessen, the director for Move NY campaign, which has long advocated for congestion pricing, led a conference call on Friday in support of the Fix NYC report. After years of struggling to get congestion pricing to be considered as a viable option for reducing traffic and funding the subway system, the Move NY campaign finally has a proposal to rally behind.

Low-income New Yorkers – An argument often made against congestion pricing is that low income New Yorkers who use cars to commute into Manhattan would be disproportionately burdened by adding a toll. However, Census data cited by the report suggests that fewer than 5,000 residents who use cars to commute into Manhattan could be considered the working poor, and Fix NYC recommends adding a tax benefit for low-income New Yorkers who must commute in a car. Meanwhile, the 190,000 working poor who use the subway and buses could benefit from repairs paid for by the congestion pricing plan.

People who breathe – Greater traffic leads to more exhaust polluting the air, which contributes to climate change and lower air quality. And New York could use the help: much of the city suffers from air pollution.

Commuters from the Brooklyn, Queens and Long Island who can avoid Midtown and Downtown Manhattan – If drivers going to Uptown Manhattan or other points north choose to take the Brooklyn Bridge or the Queensboro Bridge, they can avoid the $11.52 toll by going directly to the F.D.R. Drive, which is exempt from the charge, while still enjoying the benefit of less traffic on the bridges.

LOSERS

Truck drivers – After the congestion pricing technology is installed, there will be a period of time that the toll only applies to trucks before it affects all vehicles. This makes truck drivers guinea pigs, as it gives officials time to work out any issues. Truck drivers will also be paying $25.34 for each trip into the central business district, which is a big chunk of change, even by Manhattan standards.

Taxis and app-based for-hire vehicles – The good news: if you’re a taxi or Uber driver, you don’t have to pay the toll below 60th street. The bad news: there will be an extra charge for riding in a taxi or for-hire vehicle in the central business district and even further uptown. The report proposes options of $2 through $5 surcharges below 96th Street depending on the day of the week and the time. That may potential riders from taking a cab, car service, or rideshare when the subway will do – unless they consider a $5 surcharge reasonable. Taxi drivers, who are also generally known for flouting the rules of the road, may also be affected by the proposal’s phase one, which would entail a crackdown on traffic laws.

Placard abusers – The panel recommended an overhaul of the city’s system of handing out placards that exempt the recipient from certain parking rules, with the creation of a review board to assess existing parking placards and the criteria for handing out new ones. Parking placard abuse increases congestion in the central business district, as many holders park illegally in bus lanes or loading zones. So if you’re one of the 114,600 New York City employees with parking placards, your days of parking obnoxiously may be numbered.

Mayor Bill de Blasio – Congestion pricing is one of the many points of contention in the longstanding feud between de Blasio and Cuomo. The mayor has previously voiced his opposition to congestion pricing, but he could have his wishes overruled if the Legislature decides to pass a version of Fix NYC’s proposals. Ultimately, the state – and not the city – controls all taxes and tolls. De Blasio has also been reluctant to pay the city’s half of $836 million to fund emergency subway fixes, which is required for the first phase of the Fix NYC plan. In a Friday interview with “The Brian Lehrer Show,” de Blasio eased his opposition to congestion pricing, saying that the revenue would have to be used only to fix the subway and bus system to earn his support. Unfortunately for the mayor, his support, or lack thereof, may not matter very much.

 

INFRASTRUCTURE ISSUES

NYC Subway Action Plan

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s $836 million New York City Subway Action Plan was proposed last year to fix and improve the city’s ailing subway system. It also marks the latest development in the long feud between Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. Cuomo is demanding the city pony up half of the plan’s cost after he allocated $429 million for the state’s portion in his budget proposal. But the de Blasio administration has said it already pays plenty toward the MTA, and shouldn’t be asked to provide more funding for the state-run agency.

MTA payroll mobility tax

Cuomo proposed transferring the revenue from the metropolitan commuter transportation mobility tax straight to the MTA, rather than waiting for the state Legislature to appropriate the funds. The reason for the change, Cuomo said, is to allow money to be available more quickly. He said the change would result in a one-time benefit of $60 million to be used toward fixing the New York City subways. But critics said the proposal is a ploy to make it seem like the state is spending less money to meet a 2 percent growth cap.

Gateway rail tunnel

The proposed rail tunnel under the Hudson River between New York and New Jersey has hit a number of speed bumps. Earlier this year, the Trump administration backed out of covering half the cost of the $13 billion project. That decision came after New York and New Jersey had reached an agreement on funding the project. The plan suffered another blow when Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen announced he was stepping down. The New Jersey Republican chaired the House Appropriations Committee and has been a prominent voice in trying to win Trump’s support. But transit officials remain hopeful the project will still come to fruition.

Capital funding

Last month, Cuomo touted a record state investment of $8.6 billion into the MTA capital plan. His budget also features downstate projects like the Gov. Mario M. Cuomo Bridge and the New York City Subway Action Plan. Downstate transit initiatives would receive many of the benefits from Cuomo’s transportation budget, while upstate was barely mentioned and some of its transit agencies face funding cuts. The Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority could lose $1.7 million in funding, while the budget includes $205 million in operating support for upstate transit systems.

Design-build

According to Cuomo’s budget, the state saved $31.8 million through design-build construction, a procurement method that bundles the designing and building phases of a construction project into one package to save money and streamline completion. Cuomo has proposed new legislation that would expand design-build authorization to a limited number of state agencies – but not to New York City. The biggest state design-build project is the replacement of the Tappan Zee Bridge with the Gov. Mario M. Cuomo Bridge. However, last year, Cuomo failed to persuade state lawmakers to authorize an expansion.

Grace Segers
is City & State’s digital reporter. She writes daily content on New York City and New York state politics.
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