Last Friday at the Jamaica Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) station, eastern Queens legislators slammed the agency for failing to answer basic questions about the proposal, including how much drivers would be charged, what the funds will be spent on and how it would impact congestion.
Top MTA brass were grilled about their plans at a budget hearing in Albany last week.
“We are very concerned about the rush to do a plan with no details,” said State Senator Leroy Comrie.
The southeast Queens lawmaker said there have been no talks of HOV lanes, carpooling or other efforts to reduce traffic in Manhattan’s central business corridor, where congestion pricing would take effect.
While Comrie said he understands the need to raise revenue, he cast doubt on the MTA’s management and priorities.
State Senator Toby Ann Stavisky added that she’s never received a full analysis of congestion pricing.
“The budget hearing demonstrated that there is no plan,” she said. “No one from the MTA has told me what they’re planning to do here in Queens with any funding that is provided.
“This is not a plan, this is chaos,” Stavisky added. “When someone says trust me, that’s when I think we have to ask questions.”
Newly elected State Senator John Liu said he has supported congestion pricing proposals in the past. When former Mayor Michael Bloomberg trotted out his plan, for example, that proposal “actually had details,” he said, including off-peak pricing, how much the additional tolls would cost and new express bus lines.
At the hearing, Liu said, the MTA only said one thing: that they need $1 billion per year.
“Honestly, we showed up at the budget hearing this year fully expecting to hear some details about what this congestion pricing plan would do,” he said. “I didn’t think we’d have to be there for five hours asking the MTA question after question, and getting no answers whatsoever.”
While some lawmakers were waiting for more details, others outright oppose any plan. Assemblyman David Weprin, an outspoken critic of congestion pricing, said this proposal is worse than Bloomberg’s because it “gives a blank check” to a subsidiary of the MTA without accountability to the public.
He added that it would create a disproportionate burden on small businesses and residents who drive into Manhattan.
“This plan, in my opinion, is the worst,” Weprin said.
MTA spokesperson Shams Tarek responded that they look forward to continuing discussions around congestion pricing.
“We appreciate our legislative partners’ support for congestion pricing,” he said in a statement, “which will bring desperately needed funds to modernize New York’s mass transit system while averting massive fare hikes.”
Transit advocates are continuing to push the need for congestion pricing across the city.
Danny Pearlstein, a spokesperson for the group Riders Alliance, said the governor presented a broad outline for the plan in his executive budget, so it’s his job to see it through to passage by April 1.
“At the same time, the fact that there are details left to work out gives legislators an opportunity to shape a transit funding plan that will deliver for his constituents,” he said in a statement.
“Politics aside, riders are suffering mightily from a broken transit system,” Pearlstein added. “We need all of our leaders in Albany to stand up for transit and make a deal on congestion pricing that will fix the subway.”