During a recent town hall at Martin Van Buren High School in Queens Village hosted by state senators John Liu and Leroy Comrie with Councilman Barry Grodenchik, community members shared their concerns.
Anthony and his father, John, own and operate a linen supply company with ten routes that go into Manhattan daily.
“While we understand that the MTA needs funding, we just don’t feel like we should be burdened with the payment,” Anthony said. “They’re talking about putting $25 fees onto commercial trucks going into the city, and that would be a hefty amount of money daily.
“There’s no incentive for us to deliver differently and it’s not like we can fly a helicopter into the city and drop off all the supplies to the restaurants,” he added. “We’re paying for a system that we really don’t benefit from, and I think that’s a little unfair.”
But for single mother and transit advocate Shamala Abraham, failing mass transit has led to her missing job opportunities due to delays. She also shared how it once took her three hours on the subway to get to her teenage son, who suffers from asthma.
“That’s unacceptable, three hours stuck in the middle of a tunnel for what?” Abraham asked. We’re traveling on 1920s and 1930s infrastructure.”
Legislators have until April 1 to approve the state’s budget, but both Liu and Comrie expressed doubt in supporting congestion pricing when there is little information available on the measure.
“We’ve been struggling with the fact that the MTA does need funding, although we hate the MTA,” Liu said. “On the other hand, we want to make sure our constituents will be well served, especially if people are going to be called upon to pay a lot more money.”
During public hearings in Albany, Liu learned that the MTA and governor’s representatives were unable to answer basic questions like how much the plan would cost, where the money will go, and how much congestion would be reduced.
“How can you, meaning Governor Cuomo, possibly expect us to vote in the affirmative on a plan that doesn’t tell us anything,” Liu said. “The last people you want to trust with a blank check is the MTA.”
Comrie said the discussions surrounding congestion pricing have been mishandled.
“Every other major municipality that put together a plan to reduce traffic in their core ensured that the suburbs and outer regions had a transit plan, not only in place but operational before they started,” Comrie said. “That has not been done here.
“In fact, it has been done in reverse, where they say to give them money and they’ll figure it out and you’ll be happy with anything that they decide to give you,” he added.
Latchman Persaud, a member of the Queens Village Civic Association, is supportive of congestion pricing if it means commuters from eastern Queens neighborhoods saw improvements to the buses and the 179th Street subway station.
“The money should be used solely for infrastructure, not healthcare payments and a whole bunch of other stuff,” said Persaud, while conceding that the April 1st deadline is too soon.
Some worried that even if congestion pricing generated enough money to improve subways and buses, the improvements would only be seen in Manhattan rather than the transit deserts in eastern Queens, which are often neglected.
Harold Moscowitz started working in Midtown at the age of 19. Now, at the age of 62, he still drives there everyday for work.
“I’m the enemy, here I am,” Moscowitz told the crowd. “Why do I have to pay? If all of you want this, all of you reach into your pockets and let’s all pay for it together.
“Don’t stop me from making my living,” he added. “I’ve got to go to work, I’ve got a family, I’ve got a house and I’ve got taxes.”