Opinions & Observations: Cuomo and de Blasio are MIA concerning congestion pricing
When it comes to the actual implementation of Congestion Pricing, there is more to the story than just the Federal Highway Administration issuing future guidance on how the MTA should proceed with the NEPA process (probably an Environmental Impact Statement) followed by issuing a finding. After Washington does its part, it will be up to the MTA, Mayor Bill de Blasio, Governor Andrew Cuomo for implementation.
Since November 2019, Governor Cuomo and NYC Mayor de Blasio have delayed announcing their appointments to the MTA Traffic Mobility Review Board. Details of who will pay what can never be resolved and made public until this board is established and completes its mission. It is now fifteen months late. Last year, it was announced that they will be meeting behind closed doors. This is inconsistent with both Cuomo and de Blasio’s promises of managing the most open transparent administrations under their respective time in office. Tolling pricing recommendations were originally promised to be made public by November 2020. It is now four months late.
This process is politically sensitive. Congestion Pricing may not kick in until January 2023 (that was the MTA’s announcement late last year) or the start of the fourth year of a five-year capital program. The final details of who will pay what have never been worked out. Many elected officials will lobby for exemptions for those who provide essential services such as police, fire or teachers, low income, outer borough residency, seniors, small commercial based delivery businesses, user of electric vehicles or other special niches. Some of these exemptions will be adopted to placate the constituents of different elected officials who have to stand for reelection in 2021 or 2022. As a result, the MTA will not be able to count on all $15 billion in congestion pricing funding. (Assuming congestion pricing starts in January 2023 — I predict the MTA will only end up with $6 billion.) A late start for the implementation, downturn in the economy, and increasing numbers of people who are going to telecommute on a permanent basis will result in billions of lost anticipated revenue. This could result in a corresponding reduction in the MTA $51 billion 2020 – 2024 Five Year Capital Plan.
It could take many months to a year before congestion pricing is set. Placing your hopes on President Joe Biden and federal DOT Secretary Pete Buttigieg instructing FHWA to fast track completion of the NEPA process might not result in a finding until June 2021 or later in 2021.
I’m still waiting for MTA Chairman Foye’s future New York Times Guest Op-Ed holding Mayor de Blasio and Governor Cuomo accountable for their respective inaction delaying implementation. This $15 billion could have gone a long way in solving the financial crises. Mayor Bill de Blasio and Governor Cuomo need to also be held responsible for their inaction to date in completing appointments to the MTA Traffic Mobility Review Board.
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