Town of Hempstead sues MTA over congestion pricing plan

Town of Hempstead sues MTA over congestion pricing plan
Hempstead Town Supervisor Don Clavin speaks at a press conference Thursday. (Screencap by Taylor Herzlich)

The Town of Hempstead filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday in an effort to halt the MTA’s incoming New York City congestion pricing model, making Hempstead the first Long Island town to initiate a legal action against the plan.

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

“This money grab, and it is nothing more than a money grab that is being done by the MTA, has really no impact or improvement on the services for anybody except for the pockets that are constantly drawn out by the MTA,” Hempstead Town Supervisor Don Clavin said at a press conference Thursday. “That is why we have hired attorneys and we are going to federal court…to seek an injunction to stop this program.”

An MTA executive compared Long Island officials’ protests against the congestion pricing plan to their previous opposition against the Third Track.

The Third Track was part of a disruptive, yearslong Main Line Expansion Project that added a 9.8-mile railway line stretching from Floral Park to Hicksville.

“This lawsuit is coming from the people that were against Main Line Third Track. Think about that,” LIRR President Rob Free told Blank Slate Media in a statement. “I think everyone would agree Main Line Third Track was a resounding success. We are getting kudos from customers: satisfaction is up, reliability is up – 96.8% on-time performance – so I would say this is an investment in Long Island’s future.”

The proposed congestion pricing plan is the first of its kind nationally. A majority of the MTA board voted to greenlight the program in March. The only board member to vote no was Nassau County board member David Mack, according to NBC New York.

Mack has spurred controversy over his continued access to a program that provided free E-ZPasses to all MTA board members – a program that ended five years ago. But Mack and two other board members were grandfathered in to the program, allowing him to hold onto his free rides, according to Newsday, despite the real estate mogul and philanthropist likely having no concrete need for the perk.

Despite Mack’s vote, the congestion pricing plan is set to move forward.

Taxi drivers will be exempt from the new tolls, though they will be surcharged $1.25 per ride and Uber, Lyft and other ride-share drivers will be surcharged $2.50 per ride.

Proponents of the plan argue that it will reduce traffic and generate much-needed revenue for the MTA. Opponents like Clavin, who called the MTA the “money throw away department,” described the tolls as a cash grab and say they are unfair to residents who work and seek healthcare services in the city.

“We’ve heard the argument over and over and over again. Congestion pricing is gonna serve a plethora of issues. It’s going to reduce traffic. It’s not. It’s going to encourage individuals to utilize mass transit. It’s not,” Rep. Anthony D’Esposito (R-Island Park) said at a press conference Thursday. “People are scared to utilize public transportation. That’s why no one’s riding the subways or the buses.”

While the Town of Hempstead lawsuit is the first suit filed by a Long Island municipality against the MTA’s new plan, it comes 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.

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