The score after the first public meeting on congestion pricing was: most for, some against and lots of people on both sides wanting exemptions from the tolls that likely will be charged to drive a motor vehicle into Midtown and Downtown Manhattan some time in 2023.
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority and the state and city Departments of Transportation have been hosting public input sessions for the last week, with each one catering to different geographic area.
The first was Sept. 23, focusing on environmental issues in Queens and the other outer boroughs.
The plan’s two aims are to cut traffic and pollution in Manhattan; and secure another dedicated source of funding for mass transit. The latter is projected as raising $1 billion a year, which would be used to secure $15 billion in borrowing.
State officials have said the law passed in 2019 says that the dedicated money cannot be used for anything but the MTA — a promise that has been made with other sources of revenue in the past.
The Manhattan Central Business District, its boundaries long a subject of speculation, was defined as 60th Street and points south. The fee would not apply to drivers exclusively using the FDR Drive or Joe DiMaggio/West Side Highway (Route 9A) and the Battery Park underpass, where they connect.
A PowerPoint presentation at the start of the outer boroughs meeting said depending on the size of a given vehicle, peak hour tolls could be between $9 and $23 per trip for E-ZPass users and $14 to $35 for those paying by mail.
Officials are promising that each vehicle would be charged only once per day.
Most of the participants in the first two hours were pro-congestion pricing, though even some of them wanted their own carve-outs for motorcycles or the disabled or city residents.
Among Queens residents who spoke, the majority again were in favor of the proposal, though opponents also were represented in the borough.
Assemblyman David Weprin (D-Fresh Meadows), a vociferous opponent, called the current incarnation a Manhattan-centric, one-size-fits-all plan.
“Communities in East Queens, Central Brooklyn and parts of the Bronx are transit deserts,” Weprin said. “People have to take two buses before they can reach the subway. For many, their trip into Manhattan can take nearly two hours. Taxing working families who use a car to avoid a long, tiring commute will only add additional expenses to budgets that are already too tight.”
He said the plan also would impact the disabled who cannot use public transit and the elderly who need to get to a medical appointment fast.
“Furthermore, the MTA is set to receive $10.5 billion federal dollars. What is the MTA doing with that money?”
Weprin also said the state would be better focused on fixing the MTA, which he called “notorious for mismanaging funds. We shouldn’t have to subsidize their wasteful practices.”
“There are other ways to generate revenue such as ending the stipulated fine program, restoring a commuter tax, or increasing fees on app-based for-hire vehicles,” he said.
But he remained among the minority among Queens voices in the first two hours.
Queens native Thomas Hujiz said he had to commute to Manhattan for school and work.
“Never once did I think it would be a good idea to take a car,” he said. Hujiz and others also called on Gov. Hochul to resist calls for carve-outs for various groups.
Danielle Brecker of Dutch Kills said combined results of reducing pollution and raising money to modernize the subways are vital, particularly given concerns about climate change.
“Ida was not the first storm to flood, overwhelm and shutter our subway system,” she said. “But it must be the last.”
Sheila Shapiro, a member of the Forest Hills Green Team also said it will be important to get predictable, reliable source of capital money for the MTA.
Charlie Raffanello of Queens was among many saying motorcyclists deserve at least a discount if not an exemption, saying they take up less parking space, save wear and tear on the pavement because of their lighter weight and get between 50 and 70 miles per gallon.
“We’re also licensed, insured and accountable for our actions,” he said.
A number of speakers also urged officials to come up with a way to circumvent the federally mandated 16-month environmental study process, though none offered specific suggestions as to how to do so legally.
Queens resident Phil Koenigsberg, however, said the plan as proposed is not satisfactory for himself and other residents with disabilities who have to drive to medical appointments in Manhattan because they cannot take mass transit.
“Unfortunately, there are many people in the outer boroughs who must drive,” Koenigsberg said. “This would be an unreasonable surcharge on top of tolls and parking.”
He suggested reinstatement of the commuter tax as an MTA revenue source.
Mario Asaro, a retired Queens school teacher, said all city residents should not be taxed for wanting to enjoy the benefits of Manhattan.
“We pay our taxes” he said. “It is elitist, immoral and just wrong.’
A Bronx resident brought up that when the existing proposal was first introduced, one of the selling points was that there would be accompanying bridge and tunnel toll reductions for outer borough crossings, though that was not addressed by the MTA in the first two hours of the meeting.
Harold Moskowitz, who said he has a service business, suggested that planners and Manhattan residents who support the proposal are not looking far enough down the road.
“I can’t come to you on a bicycle, because I have 60 pounds of tools, plus materials,” he said. “When your pipes break or your walls leak, who’s going to fix it?”
He said every service or delivery vehicle will come with costs passed on to the consumer.
“And how are you going to get food on this island?” he asked. “It comes in 18-wheelers.”
For low income residents, there also is take of a tax credit, though it is unclear at this point what percentage of an individual resident’s costs for congestion pricing would be reimbursed.
“Under the MTA Reform and Traffic Mobility Act enacted by the State in April 2019 to authorize the Central Business District Tolling Program, those whose primary residence is within the Central Business District in Manhattan (60th Street and below) and whose adjusted gross income is less than $60,000 would receive a New York State tax credit for CBD tolls paid,” said Ken Lovett, senior advisor to the chairman & CEO of the MTA in an email.
“The tax credit does not apply to tolls paid by a business, only by an individual as a personal expense,” Lovett added. “New York State Department of Taxation and Finance will develop how the tax credit is administered.”
Another outer borough meeting will take lace tonight, Sept. 30, beginning at 6 p.m.
Those who wish to register to speak at that or any of the remaining meetings can do so by visiting the Central Business District Tolling Program’s web portal at new.mta.info/project/CBDTP or by calling (646) 252-6777.