D’Esposito slams MTA congestion pricing, introduces bipartisan bill targeting chairman

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D’Esposito slams MTA congestion pricing, introduces bipartisan bill targeting chairman
U.S. Rep. Anthony D'Esposito, of Island Park. (Photo courtesy of the Town of Hempstead)

Nassau Republican Anthony D’Esposito and New Jersey Democrat Josh Gottheimer introduced a bipartisan bill in the House Friday calling on Congress to prohibit the use of federal funds for a passenger vehicle or personal driver for MTA Chairman Janno Lieber after they discovered he commutes to work in a government car.

“Whether it’s a big piece of legislation or a small piece of legislation, I think it’s a piece of legislation that is beneficial to the people we serve,” said D’Esposito, who represents Nassau in Congress and Gottheimer the northern border of New Jersey.

D’Esposito and Gottheimer, both members of the Problem Solvers Caucus, slammed the MTA for its incoming congestion pricing plan and financial “mismanagement.” The duo accused Lieber of hypocrisy.

“Apparently, he uses a government vehicle, a car, to get around the city – the very thing his congestion tax, ironically, is aiming to get off the road,” Gottheimer said. “Here’s the kicker. Janno’s government car won’t even be subject to the congestion tax when the congestion tax goes into place.”

But the MTA said the organization is fiscally responsible and called out Gottheimer for his own hypocrisy.

“The MTA is the one with soaring reliability and satisfaction ratings all while balancing its financial plan with a half billion dollars in annual savings from efficiencies,” MTA Chief of Policy and External Relations John J. McCarthy told Blank Slate Media in a statement. “Meanwhile, Gridlock Gottheimer stays in his traffic-congesting chauffeured car doing nothing to improve transit in New Jersey and instead sticks its riders with a 15% fare hike.”

The congestion pricing is set to hit commuters June 30, MTA officials said. Car drivers face a $15 charge to enter Manhattan at 61st Street and below, while truck drivers can expect between a $24 to $36 charge depending on vehicle size. Motorcycle drivers are looking at a $7.50 charge.

Proponents of the plan argue that it will reduce traffic and generate much-needed revenue for the MTA. Opponents say the tolls are unfair for residents who work and seek healthcare services in the city.

The bipartisan legislation pushed by D’Esposito and Gottheimer is not the first attempt to halt the long-coming congestion pricing plan – the Town of Hempstead filed a federal lawsuit May 1.

And New Jersey Gov. Philip D. Murphy and other state officials have sued the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration, a lawsuit which the MTA later joined.

There have been at least six lawsuits attempting to halt the plan, including a suit filed by Rockland County.

Hempstead’s suit made it the first Long Island town to initiate legal action against the plan. Town Supervisor Don Clavin called congestion pricing a “money grab” and said the town is seeking an injunction to stop the plan.

“It’s a way for them to try to find money to pay for their mismanagement and it needs to stop,” D’Esposito said.

To paint a picture of this financial mismanagement, D’Esposito listed some examples of MTA spending over the past few years.

He said the MTA allocated $3 billion toward its debt, spent $1 billion to expand a Second Avenue subway station that alleged experts said was “twice as much money as needed,” spent $5 million on employees and $700,000 on subway gates.

According to D’Esposito, the MTA spends $700 million per year to compensate for fare evasion. The representative said the congestion pricing plan is meant to decrease traffic and increase public transit ridership, yet many riders are evading the ticket fares.

The congressman said the MTA “unnecessarily spent [$200 million] on the Long Island Rail Road expansion,” referencing a now-completed, years-long Third Track project.

The MTA said the new tolls will relieve Manhattan traffic and fund Long Island projects.

“Central Business District Tolling is expected to not only manage the traffic congestion that is clogging Manhattan streets, but also fund $1 billion in infrastructure improvements across the Long Island Rail Road, much of it the congressman’s district,” MTA spokesman Aaron Donovan told Blank Slate Media in a statement.

Nearly 80% of Long Islanders who travel to Manhattan for work use public transportation, according to the MTA. The corporation said the tolls will further improve the LIRR by funding capital projects.

The MTA said it has invested $15 billion already to upgrade the LIRR, including a 41% increase in services with the addition of lines to Grand Central, the Third Track project on the Main Line, an additional Second Track to Ronkonkoma and a reconstruction of the LIRR Concourse at Penn Station.

D’Esposito, who represents District 4 including parts of Valley Stream, Freeport, Oceanside and Garden City, said many of his constituents live in neighborhoods bordering the five boroughs. The representative said business owners have told him they are worried about affording the incoming congestion pricing, since their company truck drivers often have to travel between the boroughs and Long Island.

“These are our Main Street businesses who are saying we don’t know if we can keep our doors open with the increase in congestion pricing,” D’Esposito said.

D’Esposito and Gottheimer said they want transparency from the MTA and answers on how the organization came up with congestion pricing numbers and where the money is headed.

“We have been on the front lines and fighting the good fight against the MTA, their mismanagement, the congestion pricing, the fact that they’re not keeping riders safe, and again this is another step in the right direction of finding what I think is common-sense solutions to problems,” D’Esposito said.

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