Brooklyn Boro

Congestion pricing is approved. What does that mean for Brooklyn?

Could reduce congestion and remake MTA, but small businesses worried

April 1, 2019 Mary Frost
The state legislature approved congestion pricing in Manhattan in the 2020 budget, passed on Sunday. The measure is expected to reduce not only congestion in that borough, but relieve clogged arteries into Manhattan, such as the BQE, shown above. Eagle file photo by Don Evans
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After years of debate, congestion pricing in New York City was approved in the $175 billion 2020 budget hashed out by the state legislature and Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Sunday.

Cuomo touted the measure, which has been discussed since the days of Gov. Nelson Rockefeller, as a means of funding and reforming the MTA and reducing congestion on crowded Manhattan blocks below 60th Street.

Transportation advocates have long backed congestion pricing, which would cut back on traffic into Manhattan. Downtown Brooklyn and Brooklyn Heights organizations have supported congestion pricing as a means of reducing pollution and traffic via the decrepit BQE, in light of its upcoming massive reconstruction.

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Some business owners in Brooklyn, however, are worried about the effect the tolls will have on their bottom line.

Congestion pricing “forms a Central Business District [and] charges a higher rate for traveling in the Central Business District,” Cuomo said in a news conference in Albany. “It’s designed to reduce congestion, raise revenue.”

The exact toll will be set next year by the MTA “once we have the capital plan established and we know what we have to raise,” he said.

Cuomo said reforming the MTA was about management and money. “I’m not going to ask New Yorkers for more money for the MTA unless I know there’s a better management system at the MTA.” He said that the reforms would “fundamentally remake the MTA to a point not seen since Rockefeller created it.”

Additional revenue for funding the MTA comes from a $5 billion mansion tax and a tax on internet purchases in New York State, which will add another $5 billion, Cuomo said.

Congestion pricing was passed on the same day tolls on the Verrazzano–Narrows Bridge went up to $19 (or $12.24 with E-ZPass), making the bridge the most expensive in the nation, according to the New York Post.

Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Monday that he endorsed congestion pricing “because I knew – if done right – it was our best hope at getting the trains moving and ending the suffering our riders face every day.”

He added, “With a guaranteed lockbox for New York City riders, fairness for the outer boroughs, and exemptions for people experiencing hardships, I am confident this dedicated revenue stream will go a long way toward fixing the MTA’s broken subway system.”

Pros and cons in Brooklyn

Congestion pricing could shorten express bus travel times on Brooklyn and Queens routes by up to two hours per week, according to a report released in October by transit advocacy group Riders Alliance. The organization estimated that commuters could see speed increases of 20 percent in Central Manhattan and 7 percent elsewhere.

While some Brooklyn commuters will be hit by the fees, the majority of residents will not feel the pinch, several Brooklyn officials, including State Sens. Andrew Gounardes, Zellnor Myrie and Julia Salazar, said in a December statement.

“Drivers who commute into Manhattan represent a small, comparatively wealthy portion of the public,” they wrote.

But at the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce Newsmakers event on Feb. 7, some Brooklyn business owners expressed dissatisfaction that the plan would not allow exemptions for local businesses to make deliveries in Manhattan.

Brooklyn Heights resident Neal Gorman, the father of two young children, told the Brooklyn 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,” he said.

Michael Wojnar, Cuomo’s deputy transportation secretary, told event attendees, “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.” He said that vehicles would, however, be charged only once a day, no matter how many deliveries they make.

Wojnar estimated the charge would be roughly $11.52 for vehicles traveling into Manhattan south of 60th Street, thought that figure is subject to change. Drivers traveling over the four East River bridges would be tolled using technology similar to that of E-ZPass, he said. New toll booths would not have to be built. The money would go into a “lockbox” to be used only by the MTA.

Several Brooklyn organizations back the plan, reasoning that more people will choose to take public transportation or forego travel into Manhattan altogether, clearing up clogged arteries.

The Brooklyn Heights Association and A Better Way NYC, two community organizations working on the BQE reconstruction problem, say that congestion pricing would reduce the number of traffic lanes required on the BQE, making alternative construction approaches more feasible.

Public Advocate Jumaane Williams said in a statement on Monday that while congestion pricing could help relieve New Yorkers “struggling with #CuomosMTA,” the fact that the details of the plan are being left to a review board is concerning. “As we move forward with the plan, I will be watching carefully to ensure it is implemented how it should,” he wrote.

Support from transportation advocates

Transportation groups, as expected, applauded the measure’s passage.

“For more than a decade, New Yorkers from across the five boroughs have stood up and told their elected leaders that the status quo — a decaying transit system, chronic gridlock, and driver-deferential politics — was simply unacceptable. By passing congestion pricing, lawmakers showed they finally listened,” Transportation Alternatives interim executive director Ellen McDermott said in a statement.

She added, “Now it’s up to the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority to implement a pricing program that minimizes exemptions, discourages unnecessary driving and raises revenue to fix the transit system.”

“Congestion pricing is welcome news for everyone who enjoys breathing clean air,” said Conor Bambrick, air and energy director for Environmental Advocates of New York, on Sunday.

“Exhaust from tailpipes is New York’s largest source of climate pollution — congestion pricing will help this by removing tailpipes from the road and providing the resources necessary to invest in New York’s mass transit,” he added.

Uber has said it supports congestion pricing. After the governor’s announcement, Via CEO Daniel Ramot also voiced approval, saying the measure “will help fix our subways and buses, reduce congestion, and encourage shared modes of transit over single occupancy vehicles.”

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