WE CAN’T AFFORD TO DELAY CONGESTION PRICING ANY LONGER
Who will pay to fix the MTA? That question needs to be resolved before the New York State budget is put to bed on April 1.
The most promising source of new revenues are charges on private cars, trucks, buses and for-hire vehicles that move through the congested Manhattan central business districts during busy times of day. This would generate over $1 billion annually for the MTA.
The Assembly has taken an important first step, proposing surcharges on taxis and for-hire vehicles below 96th street in Manhattan. But, with elections for state offices taking place this year, many leaders in Albany remain reluctant to sign off on a congestion pricing system. We need to remind them that further delay in fixing the subway, commuter rail and bus services is enraging many more constituents than the relative few who will object to a toll on private vehicles.
Legislators with substantive concerns about congestion pricing typically represent districts in the boroughs outside Manhattan that have unmet transit needs. They need to take this opportunity to make their demands known to the MTA, whether it is for a new bus rapid transit line, access to Metro-North or Long Island Railroad at a subway rate, or connectivity with the ferries.
The Fix NYC panel, on which I serve, recommended phasing in a traffic relief and revenue generating plan over three years, starting with a charge on for-hire vehicles as well as improved traffic enforcement. It also called upon the MTA to respond to needs for new services in “transit deserts” while developing the terms of the congestion pricing zone.
Assuming the state budget commits to creation of a congestion zone, the phasing plan also allows time for input into how it will work. On the Fix NYC panel, we talked about variable tolls depending on the amount of traffic and time of day. We discussed a single daily charge for businesses that have to make multiple service calls or deliveries into the zone. We proposed deducting from the zone charge any other bridge or tunnel toll paid on the way to the zone. The budget agreement can stipulate a forum where legislators, local officials and the public can participate in discussion of the precise terms of the plan.
Congestion pricing will not generate all the revenues necessary for the MTA. Our transit agencies must be more entrepreneurial in how they deploy their assets, whether it is air rights, advertising, retail rentals or working with municipal and county governments to negotiate a share of the increased tax revenues that result from new transit projects. The budget language should encourage the MTA to initiate these self-help funding efforts, as major transit agencies in cities around the world have been doing for many years.
Governor Cuomo has installed energetic and creative new leadership at the MTA. He has unilaterally committed state funding to help NYC Transit respond to the emergency needs of the subway system. But longer term, comprehensive solutions require action by the legislature. There are only a few weeks left for Albany to enact a bold plan that sets the MTA on the road to recovery, reliability and greater self-sufficiency. It is time to be bold.
Kathryn Wylde is President and CEO of the Partnership for New York City.