Congestion Pricing Meetings Come Amid Multiple Lawsuits
An upcoming public meeting hosted by State Senator Brian Kavanagh and State Assembly member Grace Lee will offer Lower Manhattan residents the opportunity to comment on plans for congestion pricing, while also putting questions to officials from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), the agency that will implement the program.
Supporters of congestion pricing say the plan, which is slated to impose tolls of up to $15 for driving into Manhattan south of 60th Street (the FDR Drive and Route 9A/West Street are excluded), will reduce traffic congestion, decrease air pollution, and raise billions of dollars for desperately needed capital improvements to mass transit. Critics condemn the plan as a revenue grab that saddles residents and business trapped within the toll zone with an unfair financial burden.
The congestion pricing information session for Lower Manhattan residents is scheduled for next Thursday, February 15, from 6pm to 8:30pm at the Tribeca Performing Arts Center (199 Chambers Street, part of Borough of Manhattan Community College). Registration for this event closes tomorrow (Friday, February 9). To RSVP, click here.
The MTA also plans to host four public meetings to hear comments and answers questions at its headquarters (Two Broadway, near Bowling Green), on February 29 starting at 6pm, March 1 at 10am, and March 4 at 10am and 6pm. To register for any of these sessions, which will be conducted in-person and via Zoom, click here.
Beyond these meetings, the MTA is accepting public comment online through March 11. To submit a comment, please email email@example.com.
All of these discussions come amid gathering opposition to congestion pricing, which is scheduled to begin levying tolls as early as this June. In November, Battery Park City residents Elizabeth Chan and Tamara Hoffman filed suit against multiple government agencies that approved the plan, alleging that they had violated federal law by skirting the requirement for a full environmental impact statement (EIS), under the chimera of a “finding of no significant impact” (FONSI). This stratagem enabled transportation officials to comply only with the lower bar of an environmental assessment.
A separate lawsuit, filed in January by a new group calling itself New Yorkers Against Congestion Pricing Tax (NYACPT) also seeks to compel the agencies supporting congestion pricing to submit to the process of compiling a full EIS. Chinatown resident and NYACPT president Susan Lee says, “many residents are of fixed, low, and moderate income. They will have to pay this tax to perform their jobs, to run errands, or for doctor visits that are reliant on a vehicle. Because of this regressive tax, many seniors in the area will face further isolation.”
“Throughout the city,” she continues, “there is deep mistrust of the MTA’s fiscal stewardship. Calls for an in-depth audit have been ignored. There are already additional taxes to fund the MTA included in our utility bills and in taxi rides. New York State and City legislators have not instituted any accountability measures on how MTA uses these income streams.”
These legal actions are joined a third federal lawsuit, filed on January 4 in Brooklyn, by the United Federation of Teachers union in partnership with Staten Island Borough President Borough President Vito Fossella, raising similar arguments about the need for a full EIS. On February 5, this litigation was joined by the New York City Municipal Labor Committee, which represents more than 400,000 New York public employees.
A fourth lawsuit, filed last July by New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy and updated on January 15, originally relied on the EIS arguments outlined above, but now includes allegations that congestion pricing would discriminate against drivers from New Jersey (because they would pay higher tolls than New Yorkers) and that the plan violates the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution, by amounting to a de facto form of interstate protectionism.