NYC congestion pricing plan indefinitely paused, Hochul says

NYC’s congestion pricing plan will be indefinitely paused, an action that is driven by the cost of living and economic recovery concerns for NYC, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said Wednesday.

“After careful consideration, I have come to the difficult decision that implementing the planned congestion pricing system risked too many unintended consequences for New Yorkers at this time,” she said. “For that reason, I have directed the MTA to indefinitely pause the program.”

The announcement dealt a stunning blow to a program, years in the making, that was intended to raise billions of dollars for New York’s beleaguered subways and commuter rails while reducing emissions and gridlock on the city’s streets.

The plan, the first of its kind in the U.S., was slated to turn all of Manhattan south of Central Park into one giant toll zone beginning June 30. Most drivers would have needed to fork over $15 to enter the zone.

Hochul cited New York’s fragile economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the financial burden that the toll would pose on state residents struggling with inflation, as reasons to “indefinitely pause the program.”

“A $15 charge might not seem like a lot to someone who has the means but it can break the budget of a hardworking or middle class household,” Hochul said. “It puts the squeeze on the very people who make this city go.”

The program was scheduled to begin on June 30, five years after it was first signed into law by the former Gov. Andrew Cuomo and more than a decade after it was first proposed. It had divided many in the region, pitting drivers against those who rely on the city’s public transit system.

Until Wednesday, Hochul had been one of the plan’s staunchest backers, describing the “transformative” impact it would have on the climate and the city’s transit services as recently as two weeks ago.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy thanked his New York counterpart in a statement.

“We have always had a shared vision for growing our regional economy, investing in infrastructure, protecting our environment, and creating good-paying jobs on both sides of the Hudson River,” Murphy’s statement read.

The abrupt reversal sent shockwaves through New York’s political circles, while raising questions among transportation advocates about how the state would pay for badly needed transit upgrades previously slated to be funded by the toll revenue.

Kate Slevin, executive vice president of the Regional Plan Association, a nonprofit advocacy group, called the move “a total betrayal of New Yorkers and our climate.”

As the plan neared its launch date, it drew increasing pushback from commuters and officials in the city’s suburbs. Hochul, who is helping to lead Democrats’ efforts to retake congressional seats in New York, has largely geared her political strategy toward addressing the concerns of suburban voters.

U.S. Rep. Pat Ryan, a Democrat who represents a Hudson Valley district north of the city, touted his role in killing the plan, noting in a statement that he’s “proud to say we’ve stopped congestion pricing in its tracks.”

Other opponents of the plan — including unions representing teachers and police officers, truckers and several officials in New Jersey and Connecticut — also celebrated the decision.

The plan called for people driving passenger vehicles into Manhattan below 60th Street — roughly the area south of Central Park — to pay at least $15, with larger vehicles paying more. These payments would come on top of already steep tolls for using bridges and tunnels to enter Manhattan.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which would have overseen the program, has largely completed the process of installing cameras, sensors, license plate readers and other equipment on city roadways in anticipation of the plan’s launch. And they have inked contracts to pay more than $500 million to private vendors for the design and operation of that technology.

Neither the MTA nor Hochul’s office responded to questions about whether any of that money would be recouped if the plan does not move forward.

MTA spokesperson Tim Minton would not confirm or deny that congestion pricing is in jeopardy: “Need to speak to the governor’s office about that topic.”

What is congestion pricing?

Most drivers in private cars would pay a congestion fee of at least $15, or $22.50 if they aren’t enrolled in a regional toll collection program. That would come on top of the already hefty tolls to enter the city via some river crossings, like the $13.38 to $17.63 it costs to take a car through the Lincoln or Holland tunnels.

Traffic moves along 42 Street as the sun sets on July 10, 2021 in New York City. (Photo by Gary Hershorn/Getty Images) Expand

Under the transit authority’s plan, trucks would be subject to a charge of $24 or $36 per trip, depending on their size. Most drivers in private passenger cars, in contrast, should expect to pay about $15, with lower rates for motorcycles and late-night entries into the city, according to the proposal finalized in March.

That price tag, it’s hoped, will lead to fewer traffic jams, reduce air pollution and provide a desperately needed annual cash infusion of around $1 billion for the city’s subway and bus systems, which carry some 4 million riders daily.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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