Congestion-pricing devices installed above traffic in Manhattan. The governor was...

Congestion-pricing devices installed above traffic in Manhattan. The governor was right to delay implementation, the author argues. Credit: Craig Ruttle

This guest essay reflects the views of David Mack, Nassau County's representative on the Metropolitan Transportation Authority board.

I applaud Gov. Kathy Hochul’s decision to delay the implementation of congestion pricing. For all the reasons she recounted in her statement, and more, it is simply not time to impose this type of tax on a region still recovering from the pandemic.

It does not mean that in the interim we have the luxury of ignoring the problems congestion pricing was designed to address. Manhattan streets are severely congested, affecting both the air quality and economic vitality of the city. The state, city, and their governmental agencies, working together, should develop policies that would help reduce traffic without imposing a hefty tax on their citizens.

Many studies have examined the growth of traffic in the city. One 2019 report cited explosive growth in the so-called for-hire vehicle (FHV) sector — from about 1.9 million trips in January 2015 to nearly 24 million trips citywide in March 2019 — as a main culprit in traffic congestion. The study recommends policies like restricting the number of FHV licenses and capping the time they spend cruising without passengers. The state and city should review this phenomenon closely, which only seems to worsen by the day. And with many lanes on many streets blocked by double-parked trucks making deliveries, it's time our urban planners and policymakers developed real solutions that address this problem.

Congestion pricing was expected to yield $1.5 billion in annual revenues to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, creating bonding proceeds of some $15 billion for the MTA’s five-year capital plan. This $15 billion would be part of an overall $55.8 billion 2020-2024 capital plan. The MTA painted a grim picture of the future infrastructure of its subways, buses and commuter rails without congestion pricing. I would go so far as to say the MTA engaged in scare tactics to sell congestion pricing. This was unfortunate and now forces the MTA to do some responsible planning as it addresses its five-year capital plan.

Without congestion pricing, the MTA will need to develop realistic and achievable priorities. Perhaps it needs to revisit the billions of dollars it plans to spend on so-called system expansion projects. Maybe we don’t have the luxury, as we recover from a pandemic, to spend billions of dollars expanding the Second Avenue Subway, planning Metro-North service to Penn Station, or building a light rail system between Queens and Brooklyn. Instead, we need to focus on the nuts and bolts of the system that keep it safe. We need to redouble our efforts to get the existing system operating at maximum safety and efficiency before expanding it — an expansion which would only serve to exacerbate operating deficits.

Finally, I would recommend that before the MTA adds billions in successive five-year capital plans, it focuses on how best to responsibly and efficiently spend the resources in its capital plans. Even without congestion pricing, the MTA has a solid $40-plus billion in its current capital plan. The fact is that the MTA has not demonstrated an ability to expend entire amounts of its five-year plans within the time frame of those plans.

This pause gives us an opportunity to regroup and rethink. The goals of reducing traffic congestion and promoting the environment do not have to be mutually exclusive with those of ensuring economic recovery and unburdening our taxpayers. The key is for all to approach the dialogue in a realistic and intelligent way, without demonizing anyone whose views might differ.

This guest essay reflects the views of David Mack, Nassau County's representative on the Metropolitan Transportation Authority board.

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