NY Looks at Drivers for Money to Fix City Subways

MANHATTAN (CN) – Coming together on an issue that has long divided the two politicos, Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Tuesday that congestion pricing and a weed tax will be the key to solving New York City’s subway crisis.

“Working New Yorkers struggle every day to get around our city,” de Blasio said in a statement Tuesday. “We cannot let another year pass without action that makes people’s lives easier. This crisis runs deeper than ever before, and it’s now clear there is no way to address it without congestion pricing and other dedicated revenue streams. The time to act is now.”

Though congestion pricing has long been advocated by the governor, its adoption today marks policy shift for the mayor, who previously has backed a Millionaires Tax to fund Metropolitan Transportation Authority reforms. 

De Blasio said today a Millionaires Tax may still be the best way to raise funds for the MTA, but that “time to act is running out,” and congestion pricing is the alternative with most promise.

Tuesday’s joint announcement of the 10-point plan follows a state Senate hearing exactly a week ago in which MTA executives described, in part, how congestion pricing would take shape.

It would require an extra fee from drivers entering Manhattan’s central business district, defined as below 61st Street. London and two cities in Sweden already have congestion-pricing programs in place, as part of an effort to raise money while reducing traffic and carbon emissions.

At last week’s hearing, MTA President Patrick Foye said he “fervently” hoped the Legislature would approve a congestion-pricing plan “this session,” though he and his colleagues could offer few details, including how much drivers could expect to pay.

Tuesday’s proposal includes certain variables for congestion pricing, for example discounts during non-peak hours and exemptions for emergency vehicles, as well as exemptions or discounts for vehicles “operated by or transporting people with disabilities and individuals who have an identifiable hardship or limited ability to access medical facilities in the CBD [Central Business District].”

Cuomo and de Blasio are also calling for an independent audit of the MTA. At last week’s Senate hearing, MTA executives warned the state senators that if they did not act on congestion pricing, commuters could see fares rise up to 30 percent by 2024. 

Tuesday’s announcement says the agency should be able to get by on just 2 percent annual fare increases for inflation. The new plan also includes a new commitment to enforcing fare-evasion rules, as well as a “restructuring” of the MTA, by June of this year, through consolidation and streamlining. 

The plan calls as well for the MTA to “immediately expedite the completion of the Subway Action Plan,” which includes signal repair, water management, rail welding, station enhancements and other features.  

Another source of revenue mentioned in the 10-point plant is an internet sales tax. As for the weed tax, marijuana is not yet legal in New York, but Cuomo and de Blasio have both said they are on board to legalize the drug “once and for all,” as Cuomo said in December.

Their MTA plan calls as well for members of the MTA Board to leave office at the same time as the political officials who appointed them.

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