New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said the long-awaited congestion pricing plan for the busiest parts of Manhattan has hit another snag that might delay its implementation yet again.
Speaking on the WCBS-TV debate stage Tuesday night, alongside two other rivals for the Democratic nomination for governor, Hochul said “an additional environmental issue” had been raised by the federal government that could derail the plan, which aims to charge drivers who enter Manhattan below 60th Street fees of between $9 and $23.
Supporters of the program and transit leaders say congestion pricing serves the dual purpose of deterring drivers from entering the most gridlocked parts of the city, while generating much-needed revenue for public transit. The MTA estimates it could levy an additional $1 billion in tolls each year which could be used to bond for capital improvements.
“We’re asking them for a timeframe, but we are on a path. And now we have to address their concerns and their flags that they’ve raised,” Hochul said. “We’re committed to getting it done.”
When asked by moderators if the plan should be delayed she added, “This is not going to happen in the next year under any circumstances, but now is not the right time.”
It’s unclear if Hochul’s comments mean the congestion pricing plan will be pushed past the state’s more recent timeline, which promised implementation by the end of 2023, following a 16-month environmental review and a year-long period to install all the needed infrastructure.
Even that plan for a timeline came two years late. State lawmakers had approved congestion pricing during the 2019 legislative session, after which came months of foot-dragging by former Gov. Andrew Cuomo as well as holdups from the Trump administration.
The governor’s office and the MTA didn’t return requests for clarification on Hochul’s remarks immediately.
Recent polling from NY1 and Siena College suggested congestion pricing would have its intended effect of deterring people from driving into Manhattan and encourage them to use mass transit instead. Sixty-four percent of New Yorkers polled planned to use public transportation more and 42% said they would drive into Manhattan less if they faced an additional fee to do so.
Despite just a fraction of workers having returned to their Manhattan offices full-time, car traffic has quickly rebounded to pre-pandemic levels, and pedestrian fatalities are on the rise. New York was deemed the most congested city in the country, and fifth most congested city in the world last year, according to INRIX.
At the Tuesday debate, Rep. Tom Suozzi of Long Island, who is running to the right of Hochul, said congestion pricing should be postponed for at least a year.
“I support congestion pricing, but not now in the middle of this financial crisis we’re facing,” he said. “And why are people not coming back to New York? They’re not coming back to New York to their offices because they’re afraid. They’re afraid to take the subways.”
Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, running to Hochul’s left, disagreed.
“We should do it now,” Williams said. “It’s important, not only because of the climate, but because of the revenue, we need to deal with so many issues.”