Riders Alliance rallies for congestion pricing
Protesters demonstrate outside Cuomo’s office
Mounting a last-minute push to win approval of congestion pricing, members of the transit advocacy group Riders Alliance held a protest demonstration outside Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s midtown Manhattan office during the evening rush hour on Tuesday.
The protesters said they want the state Legislature to approve congestion pricing in the state budget currently being negotiated in Albany. In addition to the Riders Alliance, members of the Straphangers Campaign and Transportation Alternatives also took part in the protest.
Under congestion pricing, motorists would have to pay a toll to drive into Manhattan south of 60th Street. The funds generated by the tolls would go toward repairing the city’s subway system. Congestion pricing could raise an estimated $1.5 billion a year to modernize the city’s old and deteriorating subway system, according to the Riders Alliance.
But with the state budget due on April 1, the effort by groups like the Riders Alliance to convince lawmakers appears to be running out of time.
“We’ve seen what Gov. Cuomo can accomplish when he decides to make something happen. It’s time for the governor to treat the subway crisis like marriage equality or gun control, as an urgent need that requires his strong leadership,” John Raskin, executive director of the Riders Alliance, said in a statement. “Riders are frustrated, riders are angry, and we’re looking for the governor to put in place a serious plan to modernize the MTA and create a sustainable revenue source like congestion pricing to make it possible.”
As the budget deadline draws near, congestion pricing still faces hurdles in Albany.
While supporters of the measure, including Gov. Andrew Cuomo, contend that congestion pricing would help alleviate traffic jams on midtown Manhattan streets and would raise important revenue for repairing the subway system, opponents charged that imposing a toll on drivers to cross the East River bridges is unfair to residents of the city’s outer boroughs, since public transportation options in many parts of the city are limited.
Opponents also expressed skepticism that congestion pricing would reduce traffic on streets.
In an interview with The New York Times, Assemblymember David Weprin (D-Queens) called the congestion pricing concept “another potential nuisance tax that will be a disincentive for living in New York City.”
And even some state lawmakers who support congestion pricing in theory said they aren’t ready to sign onto a bill unless certain provisions are met.
State Sen. Marty Golden (R-C-Bay Ridge-Southwest Brooklyn), the only Republican state senator representing a Brooklyn district, said he generally supports congestion pricing but wants other transportation issues addressed within the bill.
“We all know something has to be done. It’s important that we get funding for the MTA,” Golden told the Brooklyn Eagle in a recent interview.
Golden is pushing for toll relief for Brooklyn residents driving on the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. Under his plan, the toll, currently $17, would be lowered for Brooklyn residents so that they could get the same discount enjoyed by Staten Island residents.
Staten Island residents who have the EZ Pass receive a discount that allows them to pay less than half of the $17 toll.
Golden also wants the bill to codify the congestion pricing toll that commercial vehicles and ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft would pay. “They are largely responsible for the congestion in Manhattan. They should help pay for it,” he said.
Cuomo declared that the subways were in a state of emergency last summer in the wake of numerous subway delays, train breakdowns and derailments.
On weekdays, subway trains are delayed nearly 50 percent of the time, according to the Riders Alliance. More than 76,000 trains were delayed in January. That’s up from January 2017, when more than 60,000 trains saw delays.
“Between our dysfunctional transit system and congestion that ranks among the worlds worst, New York City has reached its breaking point,” said Paul Steely White, executive director of Transportation Alternatives. “Congestion pricing could fix the transit system, make our streets safer and end gridlock as we know it.”
Congestion pricing would also bring economic fairness, according to Eddie Bautista, executive director of NYC Environmental Justice Alli.
“Congestion pricing isn’t just about raising money to fix the subway. It’s about fairness for everyone in New York, particularly the low-income New Yorkers and communities of color who rely every day on public transportation. Investing in public transit and reducing car traffic are environmental imperatives, and they are also moral imperatives for our city,” Bautista said in a statement.
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