BREAKING: Mayor de Blasio Endorses Congestion Pricing as Part of Cuomo MTA Takeover

In happier times. File photo: Kevin P. Coughlin/Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo
In happier times. File photo: Kevin P. Coughlin/Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo

Mayor de Blasio is finally on board with Governor Cuomo’s push for congestion pricing — and he’s teaming up with the governor to boost what the two are pegging as a total reform of the MTA.

“This crisis runs deeper than ever before, and it’s now clear there is no way to address it without congestion pricing and other dedicated revenue streams. The time to act is now,” de Blasio said in a statement, sent minutes after he and Cuomo released a 10-point plan (below) to fund and fix the city’s broken transit system.

The funding plan outlined by Cuomo and de Blasio on Tuesday morning would set up congestion pricing by 2020, and supplement the $15 billion that would raise with a “new internet sales tax derived from sales in New York City,” something Brooklyn Assembly Member Bobby Carroll proposed earlier this month. The MTA faces major financial upheaval right now, in terms of both its $18-billion operating budget and its $40-billion-plus capital needs.

Tolls for driver entering Manhattan below 61th Street will vary by time of day, in part to encourage off-peak commercial deliveries, according to today’s announcement. It would also exempt the FDR Drive. Cuomo and de Blasio also outlined what they described as “limited” exemptions for emergency vehicles and select drivers.

Other highlights include using a tax on legal marijuana to fund transit and more emphasis on fare enforcement. (Opponents of the so-called pot tax, such as Council Member Rafael Espinal, have said revenue from the sale of recreational weed should benefit communities that have been most adversely affected by decades of marijuana prosecutions.)

In endorsing congestion pricing, de Blasio signed onto Cuomo’s plans for MTA governance reform, which include the creation of multiple new panels whose powers would supplant those of the MTA board.

The proposed reforms would also limit MTA subdivisions to their day-to-day operational responsibilities, sidelining New York City Transit President Andy Byford from the implementation of his own “Fast Forward” plan, according to John Kaehny of the government watchdog group Reinvent Albany.

“The job of president of New York City Transit is going to be vastly diminished [under this plan]. They will be in charge of operational planning and scheduling and maintenance,” Kaehny said. “That means they’re taking Fast Forward away from Byford and putting it in MTA headquarters.”

A united front from the governor and mayor gives congestion pricing an important boost as it faces negative headwinds from state legislators, who have shown an unwillingness to come up with their own governance and funding solutions. Many outer-borough and suburban legislators refuse to fully endorse congestion pricing, passing the buck to Cuomo to come up with a plan. Such opponents often claim that congestion pricing is a tax on outer-borough drivers, ignoring evidence that very few of their constituents regularly drive into the central business district — and that those who do tend to be wealthier than their transit-using neighbors.

At a happy hour panel hosted by Tri-State Transportation Campaign Monday night in Manhattan, freshman State Senator Alexandra Biaggi said a failure to pass congestion pricing would be a “failure for the entire city and state.”

“What is the alternative? Do we just hit a button and turn off all the trains and stop the buses?” Biaggi said. “It’s a total negligence of power if we don’t actually do something.”

The 10 points are actually 11 (we broke out one so it wouldn’t get lost, and edited slightly for length and clarity):

1. MTA will develop a reorganization plan to make the agency more efficient and effective. The antiquated structure will be fundamentally changed to centralize common functions among the six existing entities. Currently — New York City Transit Authority, LIRR, Metro-North, MTA Capital Construction, MTA Bus, SI Railway — operate as six separate entities. … All common functions such as construction management, legal, engineering, procurement, human resources, advertising etc. will be consolidated and streamlined in a central operation. … The restructuring plan will be completed by June of this year. The restructuring plan must be coupled with a change in culture, which will generate fresh ideas and new perspective from new and recently appointed senior and mid-level management recruited from the private sector and other cities and states.

2. The MTA Transformation Plan would include a congestion pricing financing model. Electronic tolling devices would be installed on the perimeter of the Central Business District defined as streets south of 61st St. in Manhattan. The FDR Drive will not be included in the Central Business District. … The system will be installed and operated pursuant to an MOU between the City of New York and the MTA for the purposes of ensuring the timely completion of the installation of congestion infrastructure in order to effectuate a congestion pricing plan, and recognizing the expertise of the TBTA for purposes of running and operating cashless tolling systems and city agencies for purposes of the use and impact of infrastructure installation on city streets. Tolls would be variable providing discounts for off-peak hour travel. Emergency vehicles will be exempt from congestion pricing tolls. Other exemptions or discounts will be provided to a limited group of vehicles entering the CBD including vehicles operated by or transporting people with disabilities and individuals who have an identifiable hardship or limited ability to access medical facilities in the CBD.

3. Congestion pricing tolls would be supplemented with state and city revenue from a fixed amount of the new internet sales tax derived from sales in New York City, with a growth factor, and a percentage of the State and City revenue from the cannabis excise tax. Congestion pricing revenue and these two taxes will be placed in a “lockbox” to provide a funding source necessary to ensure the capital needs of the MTA can be met, with priority given to the subway system, new signaling, new subway cars, track and car repair, accessibility, buses and bus system improvements and further investments in expanding transit availability to areas in the outer boroughs that have limited mass transit options. Tolls will be set … no later than December, 2020.

4. The MTA fares for public mass transportation must be controlled in future years through cost containment actions and improved management. The MTA should be able to operate with mass transit fare increases limited to inflationary increases of 2 percent per year.

5. All MTA Board appointments will be modified so that all terms end with the appointing elected official’s tenure.

6. Partnership between the state and city is necessary to combat fare evasion. We cannot have a voluntary fare system and still maintain a system that ensures operational stability. The state will work with the MTA, city and District Attorneys to develop an enforcement strategy, with both personnel and station design modifications that do not criminalize fare evasion but instead prevent fare evasion, sanction violators and increase enforcement.

7. The MTA will undergo an independent audit to determine their actual assets and liabilities.

8. The Capital Plan shall be reviewed by a committee of transportation, engineering and government experts who have no existing financial relationship with the MTA (The Regional Transit Committee, “RTC”). The Committee will have appointees by the Governor, Mayor, State Assembly and Senate, and organizations representing subway riders and driving commuters. The RTC will also review the toll and fare increases proposed by the MTA as necessary to fund the Capital Plan.

9. The MTA will have all major construction projects and planned projects pursued as “design build.” The MTA will do preliminary drawings only to the point necessary for bidding the project in a private sector competition based primarily on cost and timing of the project. Selections will be made with incentives and sanctions for performance. All major construction projects will be reviewed by construction and engineering experts who are not affiliated with the MTA or its consultants. The construction review team will be headed by the Deans of Cornell School of Engineering and Columbia School of Engineering to assure state of the art design and technology is being deployed.

10. The MTA will immediately expedite the completion of the Subway Action Plan including: signal repair; water management; station enhancements; rail welding; friction pad installation; increased refurbishment efforts; and other service improvements.

11. The Governor and Mayor will work closely with the Legislature to effectuate provisions in this framework.