By Naeisha Rose
A congested field of Democrats vying for public advocate has called for an additional surcharge on drivers who commute into Manhattan, leaving the lone Republican in the race as the only candidate who opposes the toll hike.
Each public advocate candidate except for Queens Councilmember Eric Ulrich said they support congestion pricing at two separate forums Thursday, the same day that Gov. Andrew Cuomo urged the state legislature to pass the higher toll on bridges and tunnels into Manhattan.
“It’s a great way to lower congestion, lower pollution and make sure that New Yorkers are finding alternative ways to getting around the city,” said Brooklyn Councilmember Rafael Espinal at a forum hosted by the CUNY Newmark School of Journalism. “It’s a revenue generator that could fix overall infrastructure … but we need to make sure it’s implemented in a way that benefits all New Yorkers.”
Bronx Assemblymember Michael Blake also said he supports the higher toll.
“I think that congestion pricing needs to occur, but we need to be more attentive to the impact on outer boroughs,” said. “We are trying to generate revenue for the city, especially around transportation.”
Blake estimated that congestion pricing would affect “three percent of residents in the outer boroughs,” a statistic that overstates figures from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, which Cuomo cited in a statement supporting congestion pricing.
Roughly 1.3 percent of Brooklyn residents, 2.2 percent of Queens commuters, 1.9 percent of Bronx residents and 2.3 percent of Staten Island residents commute to Manhattan by car, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2012-2016 Five-Year Estimate.
"The MTA has been plagued by organizational dysfunction and disinvestment for decades, and we need better management and more money to turn it around," Cuomo said in a statement. "Congestion pricing is the only logical and realistic option to fund the MTA's capital needs.”
Cuomo said revenue generated from congestion pricing would prevent the MTA from hiking fares by up to 30 percent.
City Councilmember Ydanis Rodriguez, chairman of the council’s Transportation Committee, said he supports congestion pricing — as long as the money is reinvested into New York City’s transit system.
“I am very clear, any congestion plan that we bring to the city of New York should also reinvest some of those $1.3 billion,” Rodriguez said. “There should be some relief for people who live in the surrounding area and invest some of the money into areas important to those communities for transportation.”
Queens Assemblymember Ron Kim told the Eagle that he too supports congestion pricing.
“I support congestion pricing and will use the bully pulpit of the office of public advocate to build public support around the issue,” Kim said.
Speaking at another candidate forum Thursday evening, Ulrich broke from the pack, saying he opposed congestion pricing.
“I think it’s a tax on the outer borough. It’s gonna hurt working and middle class families and small business in Brooklyn and Queens and Staten Island,” Ulrich said. “So no I don’t support congestion pricing and I don’t think it’s a silver bullet fix or a one-shot fix.”