Calm down, the MTA won’t collapse without congestion pricing

Gov. Hochul’s cancellation of congestion pricing weeks before its start has thrown the state-run Metropolitan Transportation Authority into a crisis that requires an immediate solution: She must either reverse course or enact a huge new tax.

Or so the transit advocates would have you think.

Nope — there is no immediate crisis. Let’s relax and actually do this right for once.

Governor Hochul cancelled the congestion pricing plan mere weeks before it went into effect. Getty Images

The governor’s announcement last Wednesday has whipped the transit-advocacy community and progressive lawmakers into a lather.

It’s a “betrayal,” says Streetsblog. She’s “defunding transit improvements,” says Riders Alliance.

They’re holding “emergency rallies,” calling her Gridlock Kathy, and threatening to hang every single future subway disruption around her neck (never mind subway delays have already risen this year). She will “not know peace,” Riders Alliance threatened.

When the governor’s office floated an idea to replace congestion-pricing funds with another tax — increasing an existing MTA tax on downstate payrolls — suddenly, last week, socialists in the Legislature found they were staunch Reaganite anti-taxers.

Advocates have threatened lawsuits that could force congestion pricing to happen, emboldened by loose rhetoric: “Killing the MTA’s toll program breaks state law,” blared one headline.

Um, no.

The 2019 law directed the MTA to create a congestion-toll plan, with the opposite of a deadline: the MTA couldn’t start the program “earlier than December 31, 2020.”

The debate surrounding congestion pricing has proved divisive. Christopher Sadowski

That could have meant January 1, 2021, or June 30, 2024, the date the MTA had announced, or April 2, 2082.

Yes, in March, the board voted to “authorize and direct” the MTA’s managers to “take such steps as may be necessary” to implement the program.

One of those steps was to secure final state and federal approval, after the toll schedule was published. That state approval hasn’t happened, and the MTA board can do nothing about it.

Sure, the board can quit . . . allowing the governor to appoint a new board.

OK, but doesn’t the MTA face a massive immediate crisis, requiring it to cancel projects, from the next few stops of the Second Avenue Subway to modernizing subway signals?


The MTA is in the final year of a five-year infrastructure-investment program, one whose total cost is $55.4 billion. Through April, it expended just $21.2 billion.

That doesn’t include congestion pricing money, which was supposed to bring in $15 billion — by borrowing for decades against the program’s $1 billion annual revenues.

But the MTA has other options.

For example, it long ago said it would borrow $17.4 billion against other sources of revenue — and it’s borrowed only $6.3 billion of that amount.

In addition, the state long ago promised $3.1 billion in direct funding, outside of congestion pricing — and it’s only delivered $511 million of it.

The MTA is in the fifth and final year of its multi-billion dollar infrastructure plan. Christopher Sadowski

Will the MTA face a crisis soonish, if it doesn’t cut costs or replace congestion-pricing revenues? Sure.

But the next couple months are not going to make or break the expansion of  the Second Avenue Subway, or send the rest of the system into (more) delays and disruptions.

So there is time for lawmakers to do what they’ve never done, from signing the congestion-pricing law with zero scrutiny of the details in 2019, to awarding the agency $1.5 billion in annual tax revenues a decade previously in a late-night “emergency.”

And by the way: Even if congestion pricing went ahead, the MTA must start a whole new capital program next year.

That’s right: it needs another revenue stream.  

Here’s an idea: The governor can call a legislative session in the fall.

Lawmakers can hold hearings: How can the MTA cut costs? (Hint: It spends $1.1 billion on overtime every year because of inefficient work rules.)

The MTA is losing nearly $700 million annually in farebeating, because progressive lawmakers don’t want to enforce laws.

Governor Kathy Hochul could re-assess the congestion pricing and revisit the issue.

And yes, the MTA could raise funds, and cut traffic, at the same time.

For example, the MTA could use the toll infrastructure it put up — at a cost of $500 million — to charge trucks a congestion charge — maybe $10 instead of the planned $26 to $36.

The fee could apply only at peak hours, such as the morning rush, encouraging businesses to schedule deliveries earlier or later.

There are lots of things we can do to raise money, to cut costs and to reduce traffic, if we’re not in a fake crisis.

The congestion pricing program Hochul cancelled was ill-fated from the start.

Get over it, take a breath, and do something else.

Nicole Gelinas is a contributing editor to the Manhattan Institute’s City Journal.

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