Congestion pricing supporters furious at Hochul’s ‘betrayal’

Weeks before a plan to charge drivers in Manhattan’s main commercial district was launched, congestion charging supporters and organizers were celebrating a victory years in the making.

They were shocked Wednesday and furious with the governor. Kathy Hochul after shelving the project indefinitely, saying she didn’t think the time was right for a toll system that could deter visitors to Manhattan and slow the city’s economic recovery from the pandemic.

Those who had fought for congestion pricing were eagerly awaiting the implementation of an idea conceived here 72 years ago – an idea that aimed to transform the city’s busiest streets and give example to other American cities fighting against traffic and pollution.

But they woke up to shocking news on Wednesday, when it was revealed that Ms. Hochul had quietly worked to postpone the program. Defenders said they were discouraged.

“We were caught off guard,” said Kate Slevin, executive vice president of the Regional Plan Association, a New York planning nonprofit. “This is a betrayal of millions of transit riders and the future of New York’s climate and economy.”

After hearing about a possible delay, the Riders Alliance, a grassroots organization of transit riders, organized a protest in front of Ms. Hochul’s New York offices. Anger rose after his announcement.

“Congestion pricing must move forward,” Danny Pearlstein, a spokesman for the Riders Alliance, shouted at Ms. Hochul in the New York offices as he led a crowd of demonstrators, according to video published on social networks. “Congestion pricing is the keystone of New York’s recovery. This city works thanks to our metro. It runs in the millions of buses we have on the street.

Officials at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which would have overseen the program and collected the $1 billion it was supposed to raise each year, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. But this development was a bitter setback for the authorities, who had defended themselves against at least eight legal proceedings against the program.

Opponents of congestion pricing cheered Ms. Hochul’s reversal. They had complained that the planned tolls would have placed an unfair burden on commuters heading into Manhattan and that traffic would be diverted to other neighborhoods.

“Governor Hochul has heard the concerns of educators and everyday New Yorkers that this congestion pricing plan only shifts pollution, congestion and costs onto already struggling communities,” said Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers, which filed one of the lawsuits. against the program. “We commend the governor for making the right decision.”

Congestion pricing had been touted as a way to curb traffic and pollution while improving travel speeds on some of the world’s most congested streets. Money collected from drivers was reportedly used by the MTA to secure $15 billion in bond financing to help fund much-needed improvements to New York City’s transit system, which is the largest and the busiest in North America.

Under the congestion toll plan, which would have been the first of its kind in the United States, most motorists would have paid $15 to get to some of the city’s most famous destinations and neighborhoods, including the Theater District , Times Square, Hell’s Kitchen, Chelsea and SoHo.

Other major cities around the world, including Stockholm, London and Singapore, have imposed tolls for years to access central business districts. New York City would be the first in the country to deploy such a program.

“I always held my breath until the first car passed, and I hoped it would be mine,” said Samuel I. Schwartz, former city traffic commissioner and longtime proponent of pricing congestion. Mr. Schwartz pointed out that motor vehicles are a major contributor to greenhouse gases and lamented the construction jobs that will be lost because the MTA will not proceed with infrastructure upgrades using state money. congestion pricing.

He said suspending the program would be an economic blow to New York.

“This bottle of champagne, the cork stays in it,” Mr. Schwartz said. “It’s been around for almost 50 years.”

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