MTA chairman and CEO Janno Lieber in March, after the...

MTA chairman and CEO Janno Lieber in March, after the MTA Board passed congestion pricing. Credit: Craig Ruttle

The head of the MTA on Monday said the transit agency is “not giving up on congestion pricing,” even as it takes steps to “shrink” its capital budget now that Gov. Kathy Hochul has indefinitely shelved the tolling plan.

Metropolitan Transportation Authority chairman and CEO Janno Lieber, making his first public remarks since Hochul’s decision Wednesday to nix congestion pricing, took a diplomatic tone, saying while the last week has been “incredibly difficult,” Hochul still deserves “kudos” for her past support for the transit system.

“As much as I want to understand, our job at the MTA is not to be political analysts,” Lieber told reporters at the MTA’s lower Manhattan headquarters. “The governor plays on a statewide and national field. And sometimes that means we don’t look at things exactly the same.”

Congestion pricing, which would have charged most vehicles $15 for driving below 60th Street in Manhattan, was set to take effect on June 30. But Hochul on Wednesday called for an indefinite “pause” on the plan, citing affordability concerns among New Yorkers.

While coming short of criticizing her decision, Lieber made it clear it would have a significant impact on the MTA, and the $15 billion it was expecting to raise from congestion pricing revenue to fund several infrastructure investments.

Without the money, the MTA is now working to “reprioritize, re-sequence and shrink” its current five-year, $55 billion capital program, with an emphasis on maintaining, rather than expanding, the transit system.

“This is the basic stuff to make sure the system doesn’t fall apart,” Lieber said, adding the MTA will give special priority to station accessibility projects and to trying to keep federal funding that may be at risk without matching state dollars.

“It may feel right now like things are a little crazy and even like there’s a crisis, but we need to stay focused,” Lieber said.

In contrast to Lieber’s dire portrayal, Hochul, speaking in the Bronx Monday morning, downplayed the significance of her decision on the MTA’s finances.

“To assume that the only funding source had to be congestion pricing shows a lack of imagination,” Hochul said, adding that she remains committed to keeping the MTA’s Capital Program on track using “alternative funding.”

Hochul has not identified where the money would come from, and failed in efforts to get the State Legislature to approve a payroll tax increase during the final hours of its session Friday evening.

Even with Hochul’s assurances, Lieber said the MTA “simply cannot award contracts without dedicated funding in place.”

Despite speculation the MTA might move ahead with congestion pricing, which was adopted as state law in 2019, without Hochul’s blessing, Lieber made it clear the agency required a final “sign off” by the state Department of Transportation.

“The governor’s been very upfront about the fact that that ain’t coming at this time,” Lieber said. “Therefore, we’re stuck.”

Lieber also dispelled speculation he was considering resigning over his fallout with Hochul.

“It’s not in my nature to walk away or quit,” Lieber said. “We at the MTA are not giving up on congestion pricing. Not at all.”

Asked about the future of the tolling infrastructure installed around Manhattan, Lieber said: “TBD”

Watching on as Lieber made his remarks, Lisa Daglian, executive director of the MTA Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee, which supports congestion pricing, welcomed his optimism and diplomacy.

“I thought he was so much more professional than I would have been,” Daglian said.

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