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Cuomo’s transport deputy unveils congestion pricing details at Brooklyn Chamber’s Newsmakers event

Owners: ‘It’s going to hurt business’

February 11, 2019 By Mary Frost Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Michael Wojnar, deputy secretary of transportation for Gov. Andrew Cuomo, unveiled the latest details on the governor’s congestion pricing proposal at the Brooklyn Chamber’s Newsmakers event at NYU Tandon on Thursday. Eagle photo by Mary Frost

If congestion pricing is put into effect, it’s going to cost a whole lot more to get to Manhattan by car, Michael Wojnar, deputy secretary of transportation for Gov. Andrew Cuomo, told a crowd at the Brooklyn Chamber’s Newsmakers event in Downtown Brooklyn on Thursday.

Wojnar gave the attendees the latest details available on the proposal, which is included in the upcoming state budget. If the budget passes on April 1 — “and it better,” Wojnar said — congestion pricing would not be implemented any sooner than 2021.

Congestion pricing is designed to cut back on vehicles clogging the city’s streets and raise funds to fix the MTA. The proposal would charge roughly $11.52 to vehicles traveling into Manhattan’s central business district, south of 60th Street.

As part of the roll out, taxis and ride-share vehicles like Uber and Lyft have already started charging customers a $2.75 surcharge per ride in the district. (Pooled trip riders pay $.75 each.)

“There will be a single uniform price for entering the central business district, no matter which entry point you use,” Woljar said. “So the four bridges that are free now will have a toll upon entering the zone.” The bridges will use cashless tolls, which don’t require booths.

He added, “We’re trying to eliminate bridge shopping.”

“I have a very good feeling that there’s consensus around a variable price, so it’s not the same price overnight as it is during the day or morning. But that will be a product of discussions to come over the next several months,” he said.

The money would go into a lockbox to be used by the MTA for the subway action plan and for a fund to be used specifically for outer borough transit improvements, Wojnar said.

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He cautioned that congestion pricing is “still just a proposal.”

“We now have two months of negotiation with the houses. It’s a crazy process and we’ll be up late a lot of nights working with the Senate and the Assembly. And even though we’re taking some hits in the press lately about not having all the details laid out in the governor’s plan, I think the thought there is we’ll be in these negotiations with the houses for the next couple of months, and a lot of those details could be worked out then,” he said.

No Business Exemptions

In response to questions from local business owners, Wojnar said that no exemptions would be given to businesses from other boroughs needing to make deliveries in Manhattan.

“There’s no carve-out at this point for any specific type of business, except for emergency vehicles and for-hire vehicles already subject to the surcharge,” Wojnar told business owners.

He assured them their vehicles would be hit with the charge only one time a day, however. “You wouldn’t pay over and over again all day.”

Peter Petino, president of Active Transport Messenger Service on Fifth Avenue in Brooklyn, told the Brooklyn Eagle that congestion pricing fees are going to hurt his business. The company’s vans make deliveries from Brooklyn to Manhattan.

“We drive emergency pipes that need to be delivered to construction sites; we deliver to the boutique manufacturers. They need templates, they need supplies, they have to put together their models, and we rush it into the city. Will it hurt me? Yes. Will it hurt the people doing all this yes. Will it hurt the plumber that’s trying to get the business in Manhattan? Yes. The handyman? Yes. If you want to say, ‘Five dollars is not that much, you can afford it,’ but it adds up, and every business is watching pennies, and watching their money. This is going to have a negative impact on business.”

In addition, Petino doesn’t trust the governor’s promise of a “lockbox” for the funds.

“We had lockboxes before and what happened? They were broken into, they were taken out. We’ve had the promise that the Verrazzano Bridge would be toll-less. Is it? No. And what did they do with the money? One of the treasures of New York, the Verrazzano Bridge, I have to cross it looking at rust and dirt on that bridge. Yet I still pay an exorbitant toll for it.”

“So do we believe that all this is going to work? No. They’re doing it for money,” he said.

Another attendee told Wojnar, “I don’t understand the logic of adding fees on Uber pools. You want to encourage people to not take their cars. The pool is the best-case scenario of carpooling. Most cities encourage carpools and carpool lots. It seems so counterintuitive.”

Wojnar made it clear that while reducing congestion was one of the aims, making money for the MTA was the other.

“We’re trying to provide the incentive you’re talking about  by making the surcharge for pool trips only 75 cents vs. $2.75 for others … I can see why you’d like to pay nothing for pooled rides, but it is a revenue maker for the MTA,” he said.

How Will Congestion Pricing Affect Traffic on the BQE

One major concern of Brooklyn Heights residents is the ability of congestion pricing to reduce traffic on the Brooklyn–Queens Expressway, in light of its upcoming massive reconstruction involving the triple cantilever. This structure underpins the Brooklyn Heights Promenade.

Ken Fisher, Chamber board member and a former City Council member, told Wojnar that he felt that one of the benefits of congestion pricing is that it has the potential of extending the useful life of the cantilever. He asked Wojnar if he had studied how long it might extend the BQE’s life, “to buy a little more time to come up with an alternative.”

“I don’t know if that’s been looked at. I hope we have to,” Wojnar said. “I hope the congestion program is successful enough that we do see a marked difference … but I don’t know for sure.”

Worries from a Dad

Brooklyn Heights resident Neal Gorman, the father of two young children, told the Eagle he felt that congestion pricing would disadvantage small businesses and working families who struggle to commute to Manhattan.

“There has to be a way for hard working moms and dads with young kids to get back and forth very easily. And if the Uber drivers and the Lyft drivers are disproportionately penalized, it’s going to trickle down to the families,” he said.

“I think the solution is still out there. I’m not hearing it,” he added. “Some people are going to be disproportionately penalized, and I don’t want to see hard working businessmen and women be at risk because of congestion pricing. I think we need to go back to what was the original point in all of it. And it was, in my mind, to reduce pollution and increase the use of public transportation for hard working, family-minded people like me.

On Thursday, Cuomo called on the state Legislature to enact congestion pricing, threatening mass transit fare hikes of up to 30 percent if it fails to pass.

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Congestion Pricing Details: What We Know So Far

– Congestion pricing would charge roughly $11.52 to vehicles traveling into Manhattan’s central business district, south of 60th Street.

– Taxis and ride share vehicles like Uber and Lyft have already started charging customers a $2.75 surcharge per ride below 96th Street. (Pooled trip riders pay $.75 each.)

– No exemptions for businesses.

– When entering the FDR via the Battery Tunnel, Hugh L. Carey Tunnel or the Brooklyn Bridge, drivers can be exempt when traveling up the FDR past 60th Street.

– The revenue will allow the MTA to bond $15 billion for the future capital account.

– Revenue will be lockboxed.

– Details still have to be hashed out by both houses in Albany.

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  1. Was Neal Gorman speaking as “the father of two young children,” or was he speaking as a seasoned public relations expert, which is what he does for a living? I doubt seriously he decided to attend the event in his capacity as a parent. Peter Petino, as the president of an industry association, clearly came to lobby against the proposal; he hit all the standard arguments (and the Eagle recorded them all). Were the comments at the event as one-sided as this article? Brooklyn Heights and Downtown Brooklyn stand to benefit enormously if congestion pricing is enacted.

    • Yes, those poor rich people who live in Brooklyn Heights and Downtown Brooklyn. Wonder if people south of Prospect Park will see any major benefits- until the MTA gets fixed some 10 years later, if that.
      As part of the solution, they should encourage and exempt congestion and pollution reducing vehicles like motorcycles, scooters and ebikes from all congestion tolls- as done in every single European city with a congestion plan. The benefits to anyone who chooses to adopt any of these modes is immense. Saves me at least 20 hours of commute every month.