Hollywood these days is suffering from reboot fever. Spider-Man, now a part of the all-encompassing Marvel Cinematic Universe, witnessed its third stab at the webbed avenger in 15 years while the all-female Ghostbusters drew headlines last year. By some accounts, there are over 120 reboots in the works. New York, now a city to be left out of the latest trends, wants to join in, and the reboot may just be a traffic pricing plan.
When last we left congestion pricing, so many years ago, the City Council had approved Mayor Bloomberg’s request but it died a closed-door death in the New York State Assembly when the now-disgraced Sheldon Silver killed it. This move was a blow to home rule and a blow to an effort to rationalize East River tolls and reduce the ill effects of congestion pricing. It killed a potential steady stream of income for transit investments and killed the productivity gains that would come with limited single-occupancy vehicle traffic in the busiest parts of Manhattan.
Now, as the mayor and the governor square off over transit funding, some form of a traffic pricing plan seems to be back on the table. It’s a reboot, baby, and this time, our mayor is the villain (or perhaps just playing one).
The story broke last week when Gov. Andrew Cuomo said congestion pricing is “an idea whose time has come.” He didn’t say too much more than that, and in the week since the story first broke, he’s been silent on details despite some back-slapping at the future Moynihan Station a few days ago. The Times had a little bit more on the lack of details and politics:
“Congestion pricing is an idea whose time has come,” Mr. Cuomo said. He declined to provide specifics about how the plan would work and what it would charge, but said that he had been meeting with “interested parties” for months and that the plan would probably be substantially different from Mr. Bloomberg’s proposal.
“We have been going through the problems with the old plan and trying to come up with an updated and frankly better congestion pricing plan,” Mr. Cuomo said. A key priority is making it as palatable as possible to commuters from the suburbs and boroughs outside Manhattan without undercutting the primary goals: providing a dedicated funding stream for the transit system, while reducing traffic squeezing onto some of the country’s most gridlocked streets.
…Unlike a tax on wealthy New Yorkers, which would be limited in scope and affect a relatively small number of people, congestion pricing would have a far broader impact on people inside and outside the city. After Mr. Cuomo’s past skepticism that state lawmakers would support congestion pricing, his willingness now to support the idea may improve its fortunes in Albany.
Without any details of what kind of plan Cuomo is supporting, it’s hard to assess this move, and it’s even tougher to see through the politics of it. Mayor de Blasio, forever willing to give up leading on key transportation issues, has repeatedly said that congestion pricing is dead on arrival in Albany, and although some transit advocates think this is a maneuver to draw Cuomo’s hand in pushing congestion pricing as an opposite reaction to de Blasio, the mayor continued to speak ill of any traffic pricing plan this week. In fact, he and I. Dankee Miller, one of the worst City Council members on progressive transit issues, spoke out against Cuomo’s idea last week. The Times’ editorial board likes it in theory but Staten Island too is skeptical. (Some villains always show up for the reboots after all.)
As we speculate about Cuomo’s ideas for congestion pricing and what comes next, Streetsblog, in response to Mayor de Blasio’s complaints about unfairness and “penalizing” the Outer Boroughs — has written a thoughtful defense of the Move New York plan. This plan would rationalize tolls across all river crossings into Manhattan and provide money for transit upkeep while reducing congestion.
The real wild card here though is Cuomo. We don’t know what he wants to do, and his plans have always been, well, his. He’s proposed half-baked plans for Penn Station, a backwards AirTrain for Laguardia and an overpriced Penn Station Access. He hasn’t shown a willingness to let experts help guide him to the best decisions, and everyone seems to be holding their breaths on congestion pricing. New York has an opportunity to get this right, but we can’t let it slip away. While congestion pricing won’t solve every transportation ill, it’s piece in a larger puzzle of solutions that will. It’s up to Cuomo to lead properly, and so far, he has a very mixed record on that very topic. But stay tuned. This reboot hasn’t played itself out yet, and as the 2018 gubernatorial campaign inches into view, this won’t be the last we hear of it.