The regressive, inefficient debt scheme known as congestion pricing has struggled to come to fruition despite passage in the New York Legislature back in 2019. Fortunately for commerce in New York City the delayed implementation will be extended.
First, the Trump administration refused to green light the project, now the MTA announced that the environmental review process that the Biden administration approved will take about sixteen months. Given the collaboration needed between the MTA, City DOT, State DOT, as well as the Federal Highway Administration, sixteen months really isn’t a ‘ridiculous’ timeline despite complaints from Mayor de Blasio and transportation advocates. Though if they need something to be upset about the issues with cashless tolling such as a lack of due process, suspended registrations, and extortionary fines on small tolls (without payment plans) still persist since Governor Cuomo has twice vetoed the Toll Payer Protection Act.
Speaking of Governor Cuomo, his resignation sets the stage for incoming Governor Kathy Hochul to make her own mark and her own list of priorities. Now that congestion pricing, and the MTA in general is in her hands it will be interesting to see where she goes. To that end, her spokeswoman gave the following statement to the New York Times; “Lieutenant Governor Hochul has supported congestion pricing in the past, but the pace and timing is something she will need to evaluate further given the constantly changing impact of Covid-19 on commuters”.
The pragmatic assessment by Hochul highlights a few key issues. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) is a boondoggle of debt, mismanagement, and hypocrisy. The MTA’s outstanding long-term debt has tripled in the last two decades and the percentage of revenue it must put toward those debts has also grown dramatically. During the past decade, the MTA generally spent about 16 percent of its operating revenue on debt payments, but by 2024 debt service will devour 23 percent of revenues. Debt service is projected to reach $3.8 billion by 2028, which is $1.1 billion or 42 percent more than in 2020. Further, the entire business model of transporting as many people as possible to a central business core is antiquated due to changing work habits brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic. Not to mention the fact that the MTA as well as the New York State Thruway already raised tolls over the past year. These tolls fall disproportionately on commercial vehicles. Trucks are the engine which drives our economy, not a cash cow for the MTA. To assess new fees on those who operate trucks simply to generate money to subsidize the unaccountable, mismanaged MTA, will not address congestion and merely kicks the can down the road. We must end the MTA’s borrow, spend, whine, repeat cycle. Instead of looking to squeeze more revenue out of trucking, we should be fixing the MTA, expanding mass transit in a way that makes sense for the post pandemic world, and improving infrastructure to ease congestion, growing the local economy and discussing how to fairly pay for it all.