NYC transit advocates, officials consider legal action to resume congestion pricing

June 13, 2024

Pro-congestion pricing rally held outside of 1 Centre Street on June 12. Photo courtesy of New York City Comptroller on Flickr

A coalition of legal experts and transit advocates is considering legal action to resume congestion pricing. New York City Comptroller Brad Lander on Wednesday announced plans to explore “all legal avenues” to restart the program, which Gov. Kathy Hochul shut down last week less than a month before it was scheduled to start. The coalition is made up of legal professionals and potential plaintiffs, including residents and business owners within the central business district, MTA board members, and New Yorkers with disabilities.

Photo by Raidarmax on Wikimedia

Congestion pricing, originally expected to begin on June 30, would have charged drivers $15 to enter Manhattan below 60th Street with the goal of reducing traffic, making streets safer, and air cleaner, all while bringing in $1 billion a year to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority for system repairs and infrastructure projects. For many years, transit and environmental activists have been pushing for the policy, which would have been the first of its kind in the country.

Last week, Hochul said “circumstances have changed” since the program’s approval in 2019, citing economic impacts from the pandemic, and announced she would halt the program “indefinitely.” State lawmakers rejected Hochul’s proposal to increase a payroll mobility tax on businesses and the legislative session ended without a replacement for the $1 billion in annual revenue expected from congestion pricing.

In response, the MTA said it would shrink and reorganize its 2020-2024 Capital Program, which funds new trains and buses, accessibility improvements, and signal modernization projects.

Lander on Wednesday called the governor’s decision to pause the program “potentially illegal.”

“This sudden and potentially illegal reversal wronged a host of New Yorkers, who have a right to what was long promised to all of New York—a world-class mass transit system that works for all,” Lander said in a statement.

“This broad coalition of legal experts and potential plaintiffs will act to ensure the swift and inevitable implementation of congestion pricing—even if it means taking their cases to court. We’re here to steer our shared future back on track.”

Lander and his team are considering filing lawsuits based on several laws including the 2019 statute passed by the legislature and signed by former Gov. Andrew Cuomo that says the MTA “shall” implement the congestion pricing program. Others include the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, which says the governor and state agencies are required to work toward statewide greenhouse gas emissions reduction goals, and the 2021 Green Amendment, which grants all residents the right to clean air, clean water, and a clean environment.

Lander also said delaying congestion pricing delays transit accessibility improvements and cited the 2022 settlement with disability advocates in which the MTA agreed to make nearly all stations accessible to people with disabilities by 2055.

“Governor Hochul does not have the power to indefinitely postpone the congestion pricing program,” Michael B. Gerrard, a law professor at Columbia Law School, said. “The 2019 statute gives the MTA the mandatory duty to implement congestion pricing. It is illegal for the Governor to unilaterally cancel it.”

Gerrard told Politico he expects to file at least one lawsuit this month.”

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