A screen shot of Gov. Kathy Hochul's YouTube video released...

A screen shot of Gov. Kathy Hochul's YouTube video released Wednesday announcing her decision to indefinitely postpone congestion pricing.

Gov. Kathy Hochul's decision to throw seven years of work out the car window just 25 days before congestion pricing was supposed to start sent a shock wave of uncertainty and chaos through political and transit circles, leaving only wreckage behind.

In the short-term, it's a political disaster. Key voices on all sides, including one-time allies, are lambasting the governor. Soon, it's going to become a governing disaster as seeds of distrust grow and as Hochul's ability to lead, build relationships and courageously “stand up against the tide,” as she once put it, erodes further.

The ramifications could be massive. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority might not be able to meet its riders' needs if it lacks the revenue for repairs and improvements. Congestion pricing may have become a casualty of the political climate, but everyone — MTA chief executive Janno Lieber, the MTA board, the unions, the ongoing legal battles, and most importantly, the riders and residents — will be impacted.

They're all asking the same question: Now what?

The answer, so far, is silence.

The plan to toll Manhattan's central business district would have provided the MTA with $15 billion for five years of capital funding, with 10% going to the Long Island Rail Road for repair work, accessibility, upgraded platforms and stations, or even big-ticket items like electrification.

Behind closed doors, MTA executives, board members, union leaders and others are scrambling, furiously discussing whether there's a way to save the toll and, if not, what Hochul's decision to indefinitely pause it will mean — for the MTA, its current capital program and future capital work, the unions and the riders.

Some have suggested the MTA board could overrule Hochul; all but one board member voted for congestion pricing in March. Meanwhile, one funding alternative, an MTA payroll tax increase, appears to be dead in Albany. Hochul was still searching for funds Thursday, though nowhere near $15 billion.

Then there's the alarming climate and environmental impact, which one activist called “incalculable.” Not only for New York City, which now won't see a meaningful reduction in traffic and pollution, but for other cities and states that might have followed New York's lead.

Even as activists protest, Lieber and most of the MTA board have been uncharacteristically quiet. A few MTA board members emerged publicly after Hochul's announcement to again support congestion pricing. Among them, Midori Valdivia has been especially outspoken, saying the board, not Hochul, should have ultimate say. Other board members were also critical, albeit privately.

“We have no direction from the governor,” one MTA board member said Thursday. “This has put the MTA, its board members and its staff in a seemingly unsolvable situation.”

The same could be true for the unions who play a critical role. With multiple LIRR unions in contract negotiations, the lack of congestion pricing — and the potential effects on the MTA's capital work — likely change the state of play.

More immediately, the future of ongoing litigation meant to stop congestion pricing altogether is also unclear. Does the “pause” also halt the lawsuits, or could Hochul's words instead help make the anti-congestion pricing case? And does the firm with the contract to operate the tolling infrastructure still collect its money?

Lieber's future, too, remains uncertain. Why would he stay if the governor he once called “MTA riders' best friend” is no longer in their corner — or his?

Damage has been done — but there's more damage to come. Ultimately, Hochul may be driving a train without any track beneath it. 

Columnist Randi F. Marshall's opinions are her own.


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