Assembly Member Dan Quart Wants Full-Scale Congestion Pricing, No Exemptions

Exemptions "defeat the purpose of congestion pricing," Quart says.

Photo: NYS Assembly
Photo: NYS Assembly

Assembly Member Dan Quart, who represents the Upper East Side and East Midtown, doesn’t tiptoe around the issue of congestion pricing.

While other Manhattan representatives hem and haw, seeking exemptions from a congestion fee for their constituents, Quart is straightforward: He wants congestion pricing to relieve the crushing burden of traffic in his district. Despite the fact that a higher share of commuters in his district would pay the proposed congestion fee than any other district in the city (still just 10 percent), Quart insists there should be no exemptions.

Streetsblog spoke to Quart yesterday and he made it clear he wants the real thing. Below is our Q&A lightly edited for length.

You were a supporter of the Move New York pricing plan when it was introduced in Albany two years ago. Do you still support congestion pricing? Why?

I’ve always supported congestion pricing, and I support it now. I think it’s, on the whole, a good policy for the overwhelming majority of my constituents and the city of New York.

What’s your take on the congestion pricing recommendations put forward by Governor Cuomo’s FixNYC panel?

I have to study those in greater detail, the actual proposals, but nothing less than a full-scale Move New York-type plan, with actual congestion pricing, would be satisfactory for me.

How do you define “actual congestion pricing”?

Without getting into the mechanics of what the governor might want, or any specific plan, or anything that’s in the 21- or 30-day amendments to budget, it’s really about coming forward with a robust congestion pricing plan that tolls all of the bridges, and that has a charge to anyone driving into the Central Business District on certain hours Monday through Friday, or even possibly on the weekend. So I think it’s important to talk about what the right policy is, rather than just the mechanics.

We’ve heard a lot of talk about carveouts for specific groups. Are there any proposals that you would see as harmful to your goals for a congestion pricing plan?

I don’t support carveouts for any affected group or any affected entity. I think that defeats the purpose of congestion pricing, which is not solely or even primarily about funding. It’s about what’s the right policy for the city of New York to reduce congestion and make conditions more drive-able and more walkable for people throughout Manhattan, in the Central Business District. That should be the primary focus.

What do you hear from your constituents on this?

I think the majority of my constituents who take the train or bus each and every day are likely, and I think, anecdotally, supportive of congestion pricing. Certainly, there’s some constituents who aren’t, but I think the majority of my constituents take a train or bus to work and understand how impossible it is to get around Midtown Manhattan, and also how under-funded the MTA is, and congestion pricing will go a long way to helping in both regards.

The budget is due in three weeks, but the governor has yet to put forward a specific plan or proposal for congestion pricing. How urgent of a priority is it for you that this get done this year? Are you concerned that it won’t?

It’s a top priority, and yes I’m concerned about [that]. There are ways, through taxation, to find the necessary funds to address the track and signal work that needs to be done, that hasn’t been done in the last half-decade, but we’ll be back dealing with these same problems the next year and the year after if we don’t have a dedicated source of revenue. Congestion pricing would be that dedicated source of revenue, while also having benefits beyond just funding, including some reductions of congestion within the Central Business District, and many positive environmental changes.

How do you envision you and your colleagues in Albany moving this forward in the coming months?

Well, there are a wide range of opinions — of people who are supportive, of people who are open to the idea, and people who are adamantly against. To tell you anything [else] would not be truthful, there’s not great unanimity in support of any one of those ideas. To me, we need to push forward with congestion pricing because it’s the best solution, I think, really the only long-term solution to a multitude of problems in transportation in the city.

You’ve support congestion pricing for a long time. Have you felt the needle moving among your colleagues who’ve been more skeptical or even outright oppositional?

I’ve seen some reduction of skepticism. I think there is some awareness of the analysis of numbers that even in Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, and other districts outside of Manhattan, the overwhelming majority of their constituents take a bus or train into the Central Business District, they do not drive a car. So I think there’s a greater awareness of that today. I’m not sure that’s translated into people willing to vote a different way. I hope it does, but can’t say for sure just yet.

Do you think Governor Cuomo is serious about making it happen this year?

[Chuckles.] I certainly hope he is.