New York Governor Andrew Cuomo recently embraced the idea of congestion pricing as a salve for New York’s wounded transit system. As transportation advocates who have been fighting for a fair traffic tolling system for over a decade, we at Transportation Alternatives commend Governor Cuomo for taking the first important step of identifying pricing as a key solution.
What happens next will be a true test of whether Governor Cuomo is serious about drafting, fighting for and passing a plan that will yield meaningful improvements for the transit system that undergirds our city and state economies. To be successful, there are two key elements to his congestion pricing strategy that the Governor must get right.
First, the Governor’s plan must address congestion at the city’s core, and it must do so equitably. Congestion pricing by definition must include new tolls on driving trips entering the most congested part of the city. Specifically, this means new tolls on the East River bridges and a new tolled cordon for vehicles entering the Manhattan CBD from points north. Recognizing the practical and political need to balance these new charges with toll relief for outer borough motorists, the Governor’s plan should also include another key element that is central to the Move NY pricing plan: the simultaneous reduction in tolls on outer borough crossings like the Throgs Neck Bridge.
Second, the Governor must treat pricing just the same as his other big policy initiatives on which he has staked his legacy. From the passage of marriage equality to a raised minimum wage, New Yorkers have seen powerful results when the governor throws his weight behind a wholesale change. The steps leading up to the change are critical: press conferences, specific articulation of why the status quo is unacceptable, and standing in solidarity with business and union leaders, advocates and legislative allies. If Governor Cuomo is in this to win, he will spend the waning months of 2017 lining up the allies he needs to pass congestion pricing through the legislature in 2018. The extensive coalition backing the Move NY plan provides a starting point for the Governor to find powerful allies.
Governor Cuomo recently said that creating incentives for overnight trucking was tantamount to congestion pricing. Incentives for off peak deliveries are not a bad idea, but they are not congestion pricing, and will not produce the revenue and traffic mitigation that New York City needs. Every day, thousands of vehicles clog neighborhood streets leading to our toll-free East River bridges. Almost half the traffic in Downtown Brooklyn consists of drivers who are heading to the free Brooklyn Bridge instead of incurring the toll at the nearby Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel. Similar ‘toll shopping’ inundates the neighborhoods of Long Island City, Soho, and Northern Manhattan. Righting these massive pricing distortions requires more than just tinkering with incentives; the gridlock, pollution and danger caused by these inequities will only be remedied by a comprehensive congestion pricing system such as the one outlined in the Move NY plan.
At Transportation Alternatives, we are hopeful that Governor Cuomo is ready to fight and win a common sense congestion pricing system that is long overdue. In addition to providing much needed revenue to fund transit improvements, a fair, rational and equitable tolling system will serve as a useful traffic management tool as more subway lines are taken out of service for capital rehabilitation.”