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New York City congestion pricing plan was good. Hochul is off base


As a young person, I find it disappointing that people in power are yet again putting climate change on the backburner in the hopes of scoring political points.

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One of the many reasons I decided to move to New York City was to avoid driving. Sometimes I miss it; most of the time, I don’t. I’m not alone: The majority of people in New York City do not own cars.

Nonetheless, 700,000 vehicles enter the city’s business district in Manhattan daily.

At the end of June, the city was supposed to implement a congestion pricing plan to charge commuters $15 a day to drive into the area below 60th Street. It was a decision mandated by state law in 2019. Last week, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul put an indefinite pause on that plan, citing the economy.

“Circumstances have changed and we must respond to the facts on the ground – not from the rhetoric from five years ago,” Hochul said.

Unfortunately, the project’s pause is a mistake, and will create more headaches the longer it’s stalled.

Hochul’s lack of courage is just another example of the Democratic Party refusing to implement progressive policies. She’s pausing the program in favor of appeasing drivers, some of whom don’t even live in her state, and it’s disappointing for those of us who want to see actual changes before it’s too late.

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Driving in New York City means lots of cars, lots of congestion

There are nearly 1 million people who commute to New York City from the Hudson Valley, Long Island and other parts of the state every day. An additional 1.6 million people go to work across boroughs. 

Congestion pricing would have encouraged more carpooling and public transit usage and cut down on the number of cars in Manhattan on a daily basis. 

For some people, the switch would have been more difficult: Transit options vary wildly even between boroughs, with fewer subway lines in Queens and the Bronx; Staten Island only has one rail option.

On the other hand, the New York subway system is one of the largest in the world with about 470 stations

There are also plenty of transit options for folks coming in from other areas. There’s the Long Island Rail Road, the Port Authority Trans-Hudson (PATH) train, the Metro-North Railroad, 14 Amtrak routes and at least three major commercial bus systems in the surrounding area.

I’m aware that many people don’t have a choice in whether or not to commute; it’s one reason I feel strongly about the need for a robust public transit system. It’s also not true that driving is the only way to commute into the city. The problem is that these systems need money to be improved upon – something that, long term, could have been generated by congestion pricing.

The cost of lost cash

Congestion pricing was also going to benefit the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) by bringing in at least $1 billion in revenue annually

That money was supposed to pay for the extension of a subway line, a project that would add subway stations, new electric buses, and renovations to multiple stations to make them compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

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This is money that the MTA desperately needs. After her decision, Hochul initially pushed for a tax hike behind closed doors. State lawmakers rejected the idea but are now looking at providing $1 billion to the MTA, without saying where the money would come from.

Seems like something that could have been generated with a new toll – oh wait, that was the original plan.

Air quality, climate change action take a back seat

The financial losses aren’t the only way New Yorkers are worse off without congestion pricing. Fewer cars on the road would have had impacts on pollution in the city.

The plan was supposed to mean an estimated 120,000 fewer cars on the road, which in turn would improve air quality in three boroughs. 

New York City planned to reduce greenhouse emissions 85% by 2050. Congestion pricing would have helped us achieve that goal. As a young person, I find it disappointing that people in power are yet again putting climate change on the backburner in the hopes of scoring political points.

Congestion pricing isn’t perfect; there’s a reason multiple lawsuits were filed to stop its implementation. Even so, it would have huge benefits for the city, and would bring us up to speed with cities like London, Stockholm and Singapore. 

The plan to push it off indefinitely will only delay something that must happen for us to take control of the climate crisis and improve our transit systems. It may not be good news for drivers, but the net benefits for commuters are hard to ignore. Hochul made the wrong choice.

Follow USA TODAY elections columnist Sara Pequeño on X, formerly Twitter, @sara__pequeno and Facebook facebook.com/PequenoWrites.

Anna Harden

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