Congestion-pricing devices installed above traffic in Manhattan. By proposing a business...

Congestion-pricing devices installed above traffic in Manhattan. By proposing a business tax to replace congestion pricing, which was stalled, Hochul is hurting small businesses twice over, the author writes. Credit: Craig Ruttle

This guest essay reflects the views of Nick Sifuentes, former executive director of Tri-State Transportation Campaign and deputy director of the Riders Alliance.

The next time you feel unsafe on the subway, blame Gov. Kathy Hochul.

The next time your Metro-North or Long Island Rail Road train is delayed and you miss a medical appointment or are late to work, blame Hochul.

The governor's about-face on congestion pricing was an insult to the millions of New Yorkers who supported the policy during 2017’s “Summer of Hell.” Residents recall the endless commuter rail delays and subway breakdowns, and daily media reports of riders stuck underground for hours on sweltering trains.

But as in 2017, we can win again — if New Yorkers speak up and show up, if we hold our leaders accountable for the status quo of gridlock, overcrowded commuter rail, and unsafe subways.

Our crisis now is different from our crisis then. Instead of hourslong delays, commuters are concerned about becoming the subject of the next “passenger struck by train” alert. Combine that fear with rush-hour wait times that are still too long, buses inching through gridlocked streets, and Metro-North service struggling to keep up with record demand, and you have a recipe for another emergency.

Substantive fixes for transit safety — platform barriers, more secure turnstile entries, additional help points and cameras — could have been paid for using revenues from congestion pricing.

And though the Metropolitan Transportation Authority has made significant progress — breakdowns stranding thousands of commuters for hours are a thing of the past, installation of modernized signals and the rollout of new train cars proceeds apace, and the agency recently committed to a Riders Alliance campaign to provide subway and bus service every six minutes — much work remains, which congestion pricing was set to pay for. Our 120-year-old transit system demands constant upkeep and updating to prevent disruption and delays. This is especially true for suburban commuter lines: The LIRR and Metro-North were poised to receive 20% of congestion pricing revenue (despite serving 6% of total transit system users), which would pay for new railcars and the modernized signals and tracks that speed up trains.

By proposing a business tax to replace congestion pricing, Hochul is hurting small businesses twice over. Subway riders, not drivers, are the biggest contributors to business in midtown Manhattan. A Community Service Society study found that of people who commute into the tolling zone, only 4% do so by car, with 57% taking mass transit. The impact of Hochul’s decision is clear: A tiny minority of people who prefer to drive into the most transit-rich place in the United States will get away scot-free, and the rest of us will pay.

Congestion pricing would take an estimated 153,000 cars off our city streets, speeding bus commutes and easing gridlock. Most importantly, it would benefit public health: When Stockholm implemented congestion pricing, the number of children admitted to hospitals with asthma was reduced by half.

We won this once, and we can do it again if New Yorkers speak up — not just now, but over and over. The next time your train is delayed, or you feel unsafe underground, call your governor. She needs to hear from you. When I was deputy director of the Riders Alliance during the Summer of Hell, thousands of New Yorkers on the streets and on social media called on Gov. Andrew Cuomo to solve our subway crisis. I hope we don’t have another Summer of Hell this year, but dooming congestion pricing ensures that soon we will.

This guest essay reflects the views of Nick Sifuentes, former executive director of Tri-State Transportation Campaign and deputy director of the Riders Alliance.

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