New York State

State lawmakers want to boost bus funding before congestion pricing

Additional money would fund more free bus lines in New York City.

State Senate Deputy Majority Leader Michael Gianaris is advocating for more bus funding.

State Senate Deputy Majority Leader Michael Gianaris is advocating for more bus funding. NYS Senate Media Services

While congestion pricing is held up in court, some state lawmakers are getting impatient. And reliable public transportation will only become more important after car commutes into Manhattan’s central business district have a $15 surcharge. State Senate Deputy Majority Leader Michael Gianaris and Assembly Member Zohran Mamdani said the solution was obvious: buses.

At a Tuesday press conference in Albany, Gianaris and Mamdani proposed investing $90 million into New York City’s bus infrastructure via the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. That total would be split in half between increasing bus reliability and expanding the fare-free bus pilot that currently operates on one line in each borough. Each borough would have three free bus lines under the proposal.

“If we’re pushing people out of their cars we need to give them some other way to travel and buses, and public transit in general, is the way to do it,” Gianaris said. He and Mamdani stressed now was the perfect time – before a full rollout of congestion pricing – to implement the proposal. But time Mamdani added is running out.

“Congestion pricing is only a few months away, we’ve heard estimates it could launch as early as June of this year,” Mamdani said. “So that means this is our last opportunity as a state to intervene to ensure that the MTA has enough funding right now to increase its operations with regard to local select and express buses as well as with the expansion of fare-free bus routes in every borough of New York City.”

Several weeks away from budget negotiations, the two lawmakers feel good about its adoption. Gianaris noted that the same coalition that was behind bailing out the MTA and creating the free bus pilot program was backing the proposal.

“Improving bus service is the fastest and most efficient way to get New Yorkers moving,”  Open Plans Co-Executive Director Sara Lind said in a statement. ”It’s time to give New York the fast, reliable, convenient routes we deserve, which will attract more riders, further reduce congestion and help to truly transform our city streets.”

Gov. Kathy Hochul increased funding for the MTA in 2023 but not as much as she intended. Budget negotiations staved off disaster as the authority stared down a budget deficit expected to grow to $3 billion by 2025.

“Hopefully the same formula will work again,” he said. Assembly Member Emily Gallagher, a self-proclaimed “bus girlie,” called the proposal a sequel.

“This is a golden opportunity for us to actually fix the (buses), the most important transit that we have in New York City,” Gallagher said.

The two Assembly members plan to introduce the Get Congestion Pricing Right Act soon.

“We have to hold the MTA to account for the money that we do invest in it,” Mamdani said. “We also have to ensure that we actually provide sufficient money so that they can follow through on the commitment we are setting for them.”