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Source: Andrew Cuomo considers congestion pricing for NYC

Rush-hour traffic outside New York City on May

Rush-hour traffic outside New York City on May 22, 2017. Credit: Uli Seit

ALBANY — Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is considering a “congestion pricing” plan for his 2018-19 state budget that would impose an added cost for cars, including “for-hire vehicles,” in New York City to improve air quality and to reduce traffic, an administration official said Tuesday.

“As part of the State of the State [address], we are exploring how to introduce and test different forms of congestion pricing, including potential fees,” the official said. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because Cuomo’s State of the State speech that precedes his budget presentation is still being crafted. The State of the State speech is delivered in January.

New York City would be the first U.S. city to have congestion pricing in a broad way, although many big cities have explored the idea for years. California uses it for two stretches of highways and Florida uses it for bridges. San Francisco is experimenting with congestion pricing in a limited area as part of a federal pilot program awarded last year with $11 million in federal funds.

Congestion pricing is established in several cities worldwide, including London, Singapore and Stockholm. The system curbs gridlock and reduces auto emissions, often using cameras to record license plate numbers used for billing the fees.

Cuomo is considering the idea after Mayor Bill de Blasio proposed a new tax on the wealthiest New Yorkers to pay for long-delayed and much-needed repair and maintenance on subways and the Long Island Rail Road. The idea from de Blasio, with whom Cuomo has long feuded, has some growing support among Democrats in Albany.

A decade ago, former Mayor Michael Bloomberg pushed for congestion pricing in New York City, but the bill was blocked in Albany.

The Assembly, then led by Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan), never brought the issue to the floor for a vote. Silver was often at odds with Bloomberg, an independent.

The Assembly is now led by Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx), who works much more closely with de Blasio.

The Bloomberg proposal would have charged drivers $8 at peak, high-traffic times to enter Manhattan in certain areas.

“This is potentially a profound environmental victory,” said Judith Enck, a visiting scholar at Elizabeth Haub School of Law at Pace University and the former U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regional administrator. “It’s long been recognized as effective. Having a city the size of New York City doing this would be a fantastic national model.”

Enck called congestion pricing “a very effective tool to reduce air pollution and, hopefully, provide a massive infusion of cash to fix the mass transit problems in New York City. The only thing I’m nervous about is I don’t want to put all the eggs in the congestion-pricing basket. Because if it doesn’t go, there still has to be additional funding for mass transit and real focus on maintenance.”

There was no immediate comment Tuesday from state legislative leaders.

The stiffest opposition to congestion pricing has been from the outer boroughs and from New Jersey, where the high-fee system was called elitist. Former Assemb. Ruben Diaz Jr., now the Bronx borough president, called congestion pricing “morally reprehensible and unconscionable” when Bloomberg proposed it in 2008.

Neither Diaz nor New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie immediately responded to requests for comment Tuesday. Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano and Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone also declined to comment.

“It’s absolutely unfair to the outer boroughs,” said state Conservative Party chairman Mike Long of Brooklyn.

The proposal faced strong opposition by outer borough and several Long Island and Westchester legislators a decade ago and it’s uncertain whether that opposition has changed.

De Blasio, speaking at a news conference in Brooklyn on Monday, where he announced a proposed tax increase for the city’s top earners to pay for subway repairs, said he had not heard about Cuomo’s renewed calls for congestion pricing.

“I haven’t seen that previously, so I don’t know what to make of it, honestly,” de Blasio said.

With Laura Figueroa

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