Albany Agenda

Will the MTA board put the brakes on congestion pricing?

Four members of the MTA board have said that they disagree with Hochul’s decision to suspend congestion pricing, but Hochul seems likely to get her way.

Gov. Kathy Hochul and MTA Chair and CEO Janno Lieber announce the deployment of state police and National Guard troops into the New York City subway system on March 6, 2024.

Gov. Kathy Hochul and MTA Chair and CEO Janno Lieber announce the deployment of state police and National Guard troops into the New York City subway system on March 6, 2024. Adam Gray/Getty Images

If there was ever any doubt about who controls the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, Gov. Kathy Hochul put it to bed yesterday when she unilaterally announced that she had directed the transit agency to hit pause on congestion pricing indefinitely. The head of the agency was notably absent from that announcement. And even if the move needs to go to a vote by the MTA Board, there’s little chance it would make any difference. 

Rachael Fauss, senior policy adviser at Reinvent Albany, believes that the MTA Board is required to vote on Hochul’s delay. And she doesn’t see how they could approve it. “If the Legislature doesn’t approve other revenue, I don’t see how they square this with their fiduciary duty,” Fauss said. According to state law, board members are required to act in the MTA’s best fiscal interest. Halting a program whose revenue has already been budgeted for would seem counter to that responsibility.

Several voting board members have come out to criticize the governor’s decision since she made it. “I voted for congestion pricing in 2008 and still support it today, but even those who don’t should be very worried about the significant – really significant – hole in the MTA 2020-2024 capital budget created by changing course right now,” wrote board member Dan Garodnick on X. The tolling scheme was meant to provide $1 billion annually to the MTA for projects like the next phase of the Second Avenue Subway extension.

Board member Midori Valdivia wrote in a LinkedIn post that she was “shocked and disappointed” by the governor’s announcement, and asserted that the board needs to weigh in. “We voted twice to move forward with this program,” Valdivia wrote. “If there is a pause, I believe it is within the MTA board's authority to vote on such matters. Let's let it come to a vote.”

At least two other board voting board members have weighed in the decision. “It needs to happen, it needs to happen in (New York City), it needs to happen now,” New York City Deputy Mayor and MTA board member Meera Joshi said at a Transportation Alternatives benefit yesterday. And board member David Jones told The Associated Press that Hochul’s decision “could lead to a real financial disaster.”

These members all have something in common – they were all recommended for the MTA board by the New York City Mayor. The 23-member MTA board includes 18 voting members: four recommended by the mayor, five recommended by the governor and nine recommended by suburban county executives, though four of those suburban members share a single vote, giving a total of 14 votes on the board. In the event of a tie, MTA Chair and CEO Janno Lieber can cast the tiebreaking vote. 

So far, all four of the mayor’s recommended members have spoken out in favor of congestion pricing. That leaves the five members whom the governor (either Hochul or her predecessor) recommended, and the four votes from suburban members from Long Island, Westchester and the Hudson Valley. Elected officials from the suburbs have almost universally applauded the congestion pricing pause, and it’s likely that the four suburban votes will also oppose the congestion pricing plan. Governors have traditionally asserted tight control over their members on the board, but a loud enough backlash could prompt some to break ranks.

“They have not shown any gumption to buck any governor that I've ever seen,” said Transport Workers Union President John Samuelsen, who is a nonvoting member of the MTA Board. “But if it was ever going to happen, I could see it happening now.” He said that Hochul doesn’t command the same loyalty as her predecessor, former Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Her main ally is Lieber, who has been a major supporter of congestion pricing. “And if Janno turns on her, there is a chance that he could lead a little bit of an insurrection against her,” Samuelsen said. Lieber has made no public statements since Hochul’s announcement.

The MTA Board is scheduled to meet on June 24, six days before congestion pricing was supposed to go into effect. The MTA did not return a request for comment about whether the board will vote on Hochul’s decision to indefinitely delay the implementation of congestion pricing tolls.