New Yorkers Sound Off: Why Go Ahead With Congestion Pricing When MTA Just Had $25 Billion Fall Into Its Lap?

Originally published in CBS New York

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — MTA officials on Tuesday defended the need to go ahead with congestion pricing, despite being awash in cash from the federal government.

As CBS2’s Marcia Kramer reported, many New Yorkers want to put the brakes on the idea.

To many commuters, it’s just plain fuzzy math. They want to know why the MTA needs to go ahead with congestion pricing when the money the agency has received from the feds in pandemic relief and infrastructure funds is like manna from heaven — nearly $25 billion that fell out of the sky and into their laps.

“I don’t think they should do that because this year they get a lot of money and last year they didn’t have much stuff to worry about. They should have a surplus,” Queens Village resident Cleveland Russell said.

“I don’t think so. It’s too much money as it is going to New York City, so to charge us just to drive into the city at certain hours, I think that’s robbery. They shouldn’t allow it to happen,” added Rilla Williams of West Hempstead.

“Don’t do it. Don’t charge any more than you’re already charging. It’s enough to trey and get people back into the city, to get the tourists to come again,” another woman said.

Commuters raised questions about the need to enact congestion pricing, the charging a hefty fee for anyone driving into Manhattan’s Central Business District below 60th Street. After all, the MTA just scored bigtime, getting over $10 billion from the new federal infrastructure bill signed into law by President Joe Biden, and that’s on top of the $14.5 billion the agency got in pandemic aid.

Kramer put the question to MTA Acting Chairman Janno Lieber — why do New Yorkers still have to pay?

“We need to be a model of climate change, not just for the world but for ourselves. We need air quality to be good so kids don’t get asthma. This is for us as much as it is money for the MTA,” Lieber said.

“You’ve been bandying about the possibility of a congestion pricing fee of between $23 and $35. Why do you have to charge so much?” Kramer asked.

“Marcia, you have to look at the numbers. A very small percentage of New Yorkers actually drive to work in the Manhattan Central Business District, and it’s disproportionally people who are better off. So, we just got to deal with the reality most New Yorkers are taking mass transit and the money that this will generate will benefit them,” Lieber said.

But local lawmakers say they intend to raise questions about the fees and whether discounts and other dispensations should be on the table.

“It’s really looking at the overall picture. Let’s see how much money we’re getting and let’s see if we can actually reduce those numbers,” state Sen. Anna Kaplan said.

“It’s a concern because I have constituents who have to go to the city for health care reasons. I think the conversations about discounts, we’re pushing to make sure that its accessible for those who are financially disincentivized,” Assemblywoman Michaelle Solages said.

The MTA is still in the process of holding public hearings on congestion pricing and will then do environmental impact studies in the dozens of communities affected by the plan.

It is not expected to go into effect until well after next year’s gubernatorial election.