Congestion Pricing Faces Albany Gridlock


The City Council may have greenlighted congestion pricing Monday night in a ‘home rule message’ of support for the mayor’s plan, but legislators in Albany have final say about instituting $8 tolls for driving below 60th street in Manhattan. And while the last few weeks have shown that just about anything can happen in Albany, it ain’t looking too good for congestion pricing.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver told NY1 that it was a matter of “philosophy,” and he didn’t say much at all to Daily News reporter who tried to get his position. Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries told the Post congestion pricing was on “life support.”

The New York Civil Liberties Union is asking Albany lawmakers to strengthen privacy protections in the bill before approving congestion pricing.

“Our lawmakers may deem congestion pricing right for New York City, but it would be wrong for them to adopt legislation that does not effectively address the serious privacy issues raised by a system that would rely on hundreds of surveillance cameras monitoring and recording lawful activity,” said Donna Lieberman, executive director of the NYCLU. “New Yorkers should not have to trade their privacy to enforce an $8 toll, and happily they don’t need to.”

Some background: The Gotham Gazette’s Wonkster provides a great recap of the late day lead-up to the Council vote: a few Council members described arm-twisting and “bribes” of borough-specific transit upgrades on the part of pricing proponents to get the resolution passed. During the afternoon session several members voiced opposition to how and why the council was voting on the proposal. Also, the City Council’s endorsement came only after the State Senate amended their version of a pricing bill, upping the tolls for drivers from New Jersey unless the state contributes $1 billion to MTA, amended the plan’s fee structure, and widening a fee exemption for handicapped drivers.

Congestion pricing remained unpopular with politicians from the outer boroughs, with the exception of the Bronx, where all seven of that borough’s Councilmembers backed the proposal. Streetsblog has a breakdown and analysis of the vote count. Organized opposition hasn’t let up its attack on the plan, with Keep NYC Congestion Tax Free telling the New York Times CityRoom that the deadline for state funding has already passed, and other groups pushing an argument about pricing’s impact on the operations of non-profits. Exact political ramifications from the vote seem uncertain, but the endorsement split candidates in the Staten Island Borough President’s race, and set-off a campaign for City Council by a pricing opponent in the Bronx.

Congestion pricing is meant raise funds for MTA transit improvements, but many doubt whether New York will see tangible results. OnNYTurf points out that the authority has a fairly large credibility gap to fill, and Second Avenue Sagas points out the shallowness of MTA promises with regards to its recent fare hike. Still, the promises keep coming, this time with transit officials promising a Bronx to Lower Manhattan express bus line, should congestion pricing receive final approval.

(Regardless of whether MTA actually builds any of the new transit projects, reducing sometimes terrifying subway ads might be a reason all of its own to support new revenue sources for the authority).

That April 7th deadline is coming up fast.