Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s declaration that the “time has come” for charging drivers to enter Midtown and lower Manhattan has left private-sector friends and foes of congestion pricing “anxiously awaiting” a fully developed plan. The governor made the statement during an interview with The New York Times, suggesting that revenues raised could fund the atrophied subway system. Cuomo offered only the haziest details of his vision, saying his office would revisit and revise the proposal former-Mayor Michael Bloomberg laid out a decade ago.

Bloomberg’s proposal called for vehicles entering a “congestion zone” below 60th Street between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. to pay an $8 fee for the day, with truck drivers coughing up $21. The plan, supported by the Partnership for New York City, won narrow approval in the City Council and the endorsement of then-Gov. David Paterson, but foundered in the state Assembly, where legislators condemned it as an “elitist” effort to benefit Manhattanites at the expense of the outer boroughs. Opposition also came from operators of Manhattan parking garages, who feared a loss of business.

Cuomo also revealed that he had piloted a program to encourage trucks to make deliveries outside normal work hours by reducing tolls at night.

Supporters of congestion pricing in recent years have coalesced around a plan created by Move New York, a coalition of environmental, labor and business interests. Its design would impose tolls on the Brooklyn, Manhattan, Williamsburg and Queensboro bridges while reducing them on seven crossings beyond the central business district, including the Verrazano-Narrows and others under Metropolitan Transportation Authority control.

Insiders have called congestion pricing a “heavy lift” and doubted that even the governor possesses the muscle to pass it. Much of the dominant Democratic caucus in the Assembly hails from car-driving communities in Brooklyn, the Bronx and Queens, that helped kill Bloomberg’s plan eight years ago.

The next session of the state Legislature will begin in January, a year when all Albany lawmakers, Cuomo included, face re-election. Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said the idea would be “on the table” when his chamber reconvenes.

Cuomo revived congestion pricing as an alternative to Mayor Bill de Blasio’s proposal to fund subway improvements by increasing the city income tax on individuals earning $500,000 or more and on households making more than $1 million. Such proposals are broadly popular among the Democratic base, whose votes the governor needs to improve on his underwhelming performance in the 2014 primary. But unlike Cuomo’s floating of congestion pricing, the mayor’s tax hike was greeted by immediate opposition from business leaders, budget hawks and Republicans who control the state Senate.

Should Cuomo’s traffic plan fizzle, insiders say he could face pressure from his own party to embrace de Blasio’s tax on the wealthy, handing a political win to his bitterest rival.

Source: Crain’s New York Business


Article by Michele Norton
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