Nearly three quarters of voting Long Islanders oppose the MTA’s congestion pricing plan, according to a recent poll, even as the transit authority’s leaders seek to assure Nassau and Suffolk residents that most of them stand to gain from the effort.
In the poll of 505 Long Island voters, 72% of respondents rejected the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s “Central Business District Tolling Program,” which will charge most vehicles up to $23 for driving below 60th Street in Manhattan. The plan, which the MTA hopes to put in effect in the spring, aims at reducing traffic congestion in the city while also generating about $1 billion in annual toll revenue.
Just 22% of respondents said they supported the plan, while another 8% didn’t know about it or did not answer.
Opposition to the plan was stronger among Republicans, with 84% of GOP voters rejecting congestion pricing, compared to 64% of Democratic voters.
MTA chairman and CEO Janno Lieber told a meeting of the Long Island Association last week that the congestion pricing issue “gets overemphasized in discussions,” especially given that only around 20% of the approximately 96,800 Nassau and Suffolk residents commuting into Manhattan do so by car.
“So you’re really not talking about something that is going to affect every individual,” Lieber said in the LIA speech Friday in Melville to Nassau and Suffolk business leaders.
“Most of the people who will benefit are the Long Islanders who take public transportation,” said Lieber, who noted that the revenue generated from the new tolls will go toward transit infrastructure investments. The LIRR stands to get 10% of the toll funds.
But Lieber’s assessment rang hollow with Robert Green, of East Meadow, who noted that even LIRR commuters will suffer from the congestion pricing plan, because it will result in fewer available parking spaces at already-stressed station lots.
Green said he was “not surprised” with the results of the poll, which show MTA leaders are “not on the same page” as their Long Island constituents.
“The poll shows that most people are against it and don’t think it’s going to help. If anything, it’s going to make matters worse,” said Green, who also doesn’t buy that the revenue generated from the new tolls will benefit Long Islanders.
“The MTA can’t manage the money that they’re getting," he said. "What makes them think if they get … more with congestion pricing, that they’re going to be able to manage it any better?”
In a statement Tuesday, MTA spokesperson Aaron Donovan said other countries’ experience with congestion pricing shows that favorability among motorists rises “when they see the benefits of" reduced traffic.
“Streets in congested Manhattan need to have fewer cars so fire trucks can get to fires, ambulances can get to critically ill patients, buses can move New Yorkers where they need to go, and even delivery trucks can operate,” Donovan said.
Freeport Mayor Robert Kennedy — an outspoken critic of congestion pricing — said many Long Islanders driving into Manhattan are trade workers — including plumbers, heating and cooling professionals, and electricians — who “can’t take the train.”
Kennedy, who owns HVAC company Winston Mechanical Corp., said the poll results, contrasted with MTA defense of the plan, indicate that transit officials are “very tone deaf.”
"People are moving out of the city, moving out of Nassau County, moving out of Suffolk County, moving out of the state. Why are they moving out? Because they’re so highly taxed," he said. "And you’re proposing another tax on these people, many … who need to drive into Manhattan."
Kennedy said he is holding out hope that the growing opposition to congestion pricing, including in the form of two federal lawsuits from New Jersey officials, “holds it up.”
At the Long Island Association meeting Friday, Lieber said that once MTA officials "get done clearing up the lawsuits from New Jersey," congestion pricing will benefit most Long Islanders, including those who will pay the new tolls.
"Even the people who drive … deserve to be able to not sit in traffic for two hours," Lieber said. "Your time has value."