Hochul halts congestion pricing in an 11th hour policy reversal

Hochul halts congestion pricing in an 11th hour policy reversal
Gov. Kathy Hochul announced her pause of the MTA congestion pricing plan Wednesday. (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Gov. Kathy Hochul announced Wednesday that she was halting the long-awaited MTA congestion pricing plan just weeks before tolls were set to hit New Yorkers. The move elicited support from Long Island Democrats and Republicans.

The governor said while the plan was initially created pre-pandemic with noble causes in mind, such as reducing city traffic and vehicle emissions and boosting funds for MTA capital projects, it is unfair for workers who are now being “hammered on costs.”

“Circumstances have changed and we must respond to the facts on the ground, not from the rhetoric from five years ago,” Hochul said in a video Wednesday. “I have directed the MTA to indefinitely pause the program.”

The tolls were set to hit commuters June 30, MTA officials said.

Car drivers would face a $15 charge to enter Manhattan at 61st St. and below, truck drivers would face a $24 to $36 charge, depending on their vehicle size, and motorcycle drivers would face a $7.50 charge.

The congestion pricing plan was crafted when city tourism was high and crime was low, the governor said. Now, in a post-pandemic world, she said inflation and the strain on middle- and working-class families is “just too much.”

While many have criticized the congestion pricing plan, especially Long Island and New Jersey representatives whose constituents often commute into the city for work, proponents of the plan argued that it would alleviate traffic and generate much-needed revenue for the MTA.

Some environmentalists have said they are disappointed in the governor’s move, pointing to similar tolls across the globe that are meant to boost public transit conditions.

Despite his outspoken opposition to the plan, Republican Rep. Anthony D’Esposito (CD-4) slammed the program pause. He called for a harsher response and accused Hochul of playing politics.

“Gov. Hochul is realizing her constant nickel and diming of taxpayers is widely loathed across New York,” D’Esposito said in a statement, “but we can’t allow Hochul and her Democratic allies to merely delay the implementation of this new tax until after the election for solely political purposes, and we will continue the bipartisan effort to ensure this bad policy is canceled permanently.”

The Island Park representative, who was recently endorsed by former President Donald Trump in his race for re-election, introduced legislation in July 2023 recommending federal agencies and the state halt the implementation of the program.

Just weeks ago, D’Esposito introduced a bipartisan bill with Democrat Rep. Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey to prohibit the use of federal funds for a passenger vehicle or personal driver for MTA Chairman Janno Lieber after they said they discovered he commutes to work in a government car.

Democrat legislators have largely applauded the governor’s move, calling congestion pricing a burden for workers in a tough economy.

“In these unprecedented times, as we navigate the complexities of a post-pandemic economic recovery, it is imperative that our policies adapt to the evolving commercial landscape and the real challenges faced by everyday New Yorkers,” Nassau County Minority Leader Delia DeRiggi-Whitton (D-Glen Cove) said in a statement. “The Governor’s approach takes into consideration the fact that many of our residents and small businesses are still struggling to make ends meet.”

Deputy Minority Leader Arnold W. Drucker (D-Plainview) released a statement in support of Hochul’s move and called for specific changes from the MTA.

“Congestion pricing should not go into effect until the MTA meets several targets,” Drucker said. “Nassau residents must be included in discount programs that train ticket holders in the Five Boroughs currently benefit from – and Long Islanders are inexplicably excluded from. Finally, we must reduce the impact upon EMT workers, teachers, law enforcement professionals and other first responders – many of whom reside in Nassau County – because they are essential to public safety and should not be shouldering the cost.”

Assemblywoman Gina Sillitti, who represents parts of Great Neck, Manhasset, Port Washington, Roslyn, the Willistons, New Hyde Park and more, thanked the governor for pausing the incoming program.

“We certainly need to get more cars off the road and encourage residents to take mass transit but this wasn’t it,” Sillitti said in a statement. “This proposal should have been about benefiting the environment by supporting mass transit, and not making money off the backs of our residents.”

The Town of Hempstead previously challenged the plan, filing a federal lawsuit in early May as the first Long Island town to initiate a legal action against the plan.

Hempstead Town Supervisor Don Clavin called the congestion pricing plan a “money grab” at a press conference in May.

While the Town of Hempstead lawsuit was the first suit filed by a Long Island municipality against the MTA’s new plan, it came after Rockland County filed a suit in March and Staten Island leaders and members of the United Federation of Teachers filed a joint suit in January.

It is unclear how long the governor plans to halt the long-awaited congestion pricing plan or how the MTA will account for the loss of expected funding from the program.

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