Cuomo is expected to back Manhattan vehicle fee in his address this week
With New York’s streets clogged by traffic and its subway system struggling with delays, proponents of a so-called congestion charge on vehicles in Manhattan see new momentum for their cause in 2018.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo, during his annual State of the State address on Wednesday, is expected to endorse a congestion plan that would charge motorists to enter Manhattan’s central business district. The plan is being pieced together, according to people familiar with the process, who say details may not be released until later in the year. Congestion pricing also faces significant political hurdles and, even with support, could take years to set up.
The people familiar with the discussions say that establishing a fee for vehicles entering Manhattan’s business district south of 60th Street is one of a menu of options Mr. Cuomo is considering as he attempts to raise revenue for the city’s beleaguered subway.
Options include a surcharge on app-based services such as Uber and Lyft, increasing the current 50-cent surcharge on taxi fares that goes to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which runs the subway, and encouraging the city to better enforce traffic regulations.
A spokesman for Mayor Bill de Blasio, Austin Finan, said the city has already stepped up traffic enforcement as part of a congestion plan launched last year. “Ticket numbers are up for both double parking and blocking the box, two of the main offenses that slow down traffic,” Mr. Finan said.
Proponents of congestion pricing say it would increase average traffic speeds in the city while providing as much as $1 billion annually for the subway, which carries about 5.7 million passengers on an average weekday.
This summer, following years of declining subway service and a string of high-profile disruptions, the MTA launched an $836 million plan to restore and modernize the subway. The plan relies upon the hiring of thousands of subway workers, which will strain the authority’s finances for years.
At the time, Mr. Cuomo said that congestion pricing’s “time has come.” Mr. de Blasio says he favors an income tax on the city’s highest earners to fund the MTA.
Freddi Goldstein, a spokeswoman for the mayor, said Friday: “In a choice between funding public transit by taxing millionaires or by taxing working and middle-class people from the boroughs, there’s no question where the mayor stands.”
“If the governor comes up with a new plan that isn’t regressive, we’d love to review it,” Ms. Goldstein added.
In October, Mr. Cuomo convened a panel, Fix NYC, which included transit specialists and business and public leaders, to study ways of creating a new, dedicated funding stream for the MTA as well as reducing congestion in the city.
Asked about Mr. de Blasio’s latest response to the governor’s support for congestion pricing, a spokesman for the governor said Friday: “The mayor’s idea isn’t serious and legislative leaders called it dead on arrival. The governor has been clear we need to reduce gridlock, cut emissions and fund mass transit, which is why he empaneled Fix NYC to explore all options that could accomplish these goals.”
The panel hasn’t sent its final recommendations to the governor, though panel members seemed unclear about who was drawing up the recommendations and how they would be transmitted to Mr. Cuomo.
The panel includes Sam Schwartz, a proponent of Move NY, a congestion-pricing plan that rose out of former Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s plan for congestion pricing, which died in the state legislature in 2008.
Move NY proposes introducing tolls on free East River crossings and reducing by nearly half tolls on crossings such as the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. It also proposes a surcharge on taxis, black cars and app-based services based on time and distance in Manhattan south of 96th Street.
Members of the panel said that congestion issues facing the city today are much different than they were 10 years ago.
The number of vehicles entering Manhattan on a typical weekday has fallen over the past decade. Yet in the past five years, average speeds in Midtown have dropped to 4.7 miles per hour from 6.5 mph.
Bruce Schaller, a former city transportation official, published a report in December that found congestion was caused by many factors, including increases in employment, tourism and construction.
But Mr. Schaller singled out the swift rise of app-based services, such as Uber and Lyft, as a prime contributor to congestion. More than 68,000 app-based vehicles are licensed in the city, dwarfing the 13,600 licensed yellow taxis.
App-based services already pay an 8.875% sales tax on rides. Most of that money is divided between the city and the state. Uber opposes adding a surcharge on top, though it does support congestion pricing.
“Uber believes a new transit tax system should fully fund mass transit by setting fees based on how crowded the roads are, not the type of vehicle people are traveling in,” Alix Anfang, an Uber spokeswoman, said.
Mr. Cuomo may have a tough time pushing the congestion pricing plan through the state Legislature, where lawmakers in both parties said they were concerned about the idea.
Assemblyman Daniel O’Donnell, a Democrat, said a plan could push more congestion and pollution into neighborhoods, like his Harlem-area district, that sit just outside a higher-priced zone.
Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, a Republican from Long Island, said the city should be on the hook for funding subways: “I don’t think that’s unreasonable,” he said. And Sen. Jeff Klein, a Democrat who represents the Bronx, said he is awaiting more information on the plan but added he is “hopeful it doesn’t create new tolls.”
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