State Senate Deputy Majority Leader Mike Gianaris speaks during a...

State Senate Deputy Majority Leader Mike Gianaris speaks during a press conference in Garden City on Nov. 18, 2020. Credit: Barry Sloan

ALBANY — A bill introduced in the State Legislature this week aims to reduce traffic in New York City by investing $90 million in the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s bus system and fare-free bus pilot.
The
proposed legislation, known as the “Get Congestion Pricing Right Act,” introduced by Senate Deputy Majority Leader Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria), states that encouraging public transportation as an alternative is key to successfully implementing the congestion pricing plan. But that alternative, particularly bus service, needs to be “more frequent, reliable, and affordable,” according to the bill language.
“What we’ve seen in the jurisdictions that have congestion pricing is that the ones that are more successful make significant investments in public transit, particularly buses, in the ramp up to their version of congestion pricing going into effect,” Gianaris told Newsday. “We’re trying to improve the bus service so that as we segue more people out of personal vehicles, we give them another option.”

The proposed legislation is modeled on London, which invested in bus systems before implementing its successful congestion pricing plan in 2003, according to the bill.
Gianaris said the bill has a good amount of support from members of his conference and he hopes the proposal is included in the state budget, which is due by April 1. Assemb. Zohran K. Mamdani (D-Astoria) is sponsoring the bill in the Assembly.
The MTA’s congestion pricing plan, which could be implemented as soon as late May, aims to reduce traffic in New York City. The plan, which is expected to generate $1 billion annually in toll revenue, would charge most vehicles $15 for driving below 60th Street in Manhattan.
The proposed legislation would direct the MTA to allocate $45 million in state funds to its bus system to increase frequency and reliability by targeting feeder routes to subway stations, express buses into the central business district, and local and select buses. The investments would need to be implemented by the first day congestion pricing takes effect, according to the bill. The MTA would be required to report publicly on the investments and evaluate the outcomes for each route.
The measure comes as the MTA looks to redesign and modernize its bus network, as well as replace its fleet with zero-emission vehicles by 2040.
The bill also would require the MTA to allocate $45 million in state funds to expand its fare-free bus program in New York City for one year, with at least 15 new fare-free bus routes. The fare-free bus pilot allows passengers to ride for free on certain routes while the MTA studies how the service affects ridership, equity and fare evasion, according to the agency’s website.

MTA chairman and CEO Janno Lieber told reporters earlier this month following a news conference on the need for investment in bus services, "The things that are killing bus service in New York are congestion and a shortage of interventions that let the buses move. I'm talking about bus lanes and other interventions." Lieber said he supports faster and more frequent bus service.

The proposed legislation was lauded by rider and transit advocacy groups.
“Getting congestion pricing right means taking this opportunity to deliver better bus service for millions of New Yorkers,” Riders Alliance digital strategist Derrick Holmes said in an emailed statement.
Jaqi Cohen, director of the climate and equity policy at the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, a transit advocacy group, agreed the state should invest in better and more frequent bus service.'

“New York City has the largest bus network in America, but our buses are some of the slowest,” she told Newsday, adding that some buses in Manhattan only go 3 to 4 mph. “Anything we can do to increase frequency and relatability ahead of congestion pricing going into effect will benefit the program both in the short term and the long term.”

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