By Paula Katinas
This week, congestion pricing gained momentum as six incoming members of the New York State Senate went on record as strongly supporting the proposal.
Democrat Queens State Sen.-elect Jessica Ramos joined Brooklyn Sens.-elect Andrew Gounardes (Bay Ridge-Southwest Brooklyn), Zellnor Myrie (Crown Heights-parts of Park Slope-Sunset Park) and Julia Salazar (Bushwick-parts of Williamsburg) in group of six that issued a joint statement on Wednesday calling for congestion pricing legislation.
"We support a comprehensive, robust, fair and sustainable funding plan for the MTA that includes congestion pricing at its core. Congestion pricing has the unique potential of raising over a billion dollars each year dedicated to transit. Without it we will not achieve the revenue necessary to achieve those goals,” the statement reads in part.
Congestion pricing, which would require state approval, involves charging motorists a toll to drive into Manhattan. The funds that are generated by the toll would be used to fix the city’s beleaguered transit system.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo supports congestion pricing, and the concept has been gaining traction since last month, when Democrats won the majority of seats in the state Senate that will begin its new session in January.
In their joint statement, the six new senators called on legislative leaders to make congestion pricing a top priority.
In addition to Gounardes, Myrie and Salazar, the statement was signed by Sens.-elect Alessandra Biaggi (Bronx-Westchester), Robert Jackson (Washington Heights-Inwood) and Jessica Ramos (Jackson Heights-Corona).
The vast majority of the city’s residents will not feel a financial pinch in having to pay the tolls, according to the soon-to-be senators. “Drivers who commute into Manhattan represent a small, comparatively wealthy portion of the public,” they wrote.
John Raskin, executive director of the transit advocacy group the Riders Alliance said it was important that the new members of the Senate are raising their voices on an important transportation issue.
“This statement matters because it's momentum for congestion pricing, from a group of newly elected progressive senators, who ran on a platform of fixing the broken subway system and who see why fixing the subway is a social justice issue. The subway has long symbolized Albany's failure, but with the governor's commitment to congestion pricing and new urgency in the legislature, we can finally raise the billions of dollars we need to turn transit around," Raskin said in a statement.
But not everyone is on board with the idea.
Queens Assemblymember David Weprin (D-Fresh Meadows-Richmond Hill) appeared at a press conference in Long Island City last week with City Councilmembers Barry Grodenchik (D-Douglaston-Floral Park) and I. Daneek Miller (Cambria Heights-Hollis-Jamaica) to denounce congestion pricing.
In a statement, Weprin raised concerns that a congestion tax would raise the cost of “doing business,” asserting that such a tax would raise the cost of consumer goods, limit competitive ability of local small businesses and “impose a monetary barrier to Manhattan for outer borough residents.”
But Gounardes said his decision to support congestion pricing was prompted in part by deteriorating service on bus and subway lines in his senate district.
“Our public transit system is in deep crisis. Compared to the only 3.6 percent of commuters in our district who drive into Manhattan regularly, tens of thousands of commuters in our district are being left behind by a failing transit system with little hope of improvement,” he told the Brooklyn Eagle via email.
Gounardes talked about the need for congestion pricing while he was campaigning for the Senate seat.
“Throughout my campaign, I expressed support for congestion pricing as a way to help fund the critical investments our public transit system needs, so long as the funds are dedicated solely to transit improvements and we simultaneously work to lower the tolls on outer-borough bridges, including the outrageous toll on the Verrazano Narrows Bridge,” he said.
Gounardes said he will also push for a rider representative to have a seat on the MTA board.