Photo shows new tolling equipment installed over Madison Avenue on the Upper East Side
Flip-flopping once again, Gov. Kathy Hochul has hit the brakes on the MTA's Congestion Pricing cash grab, indefinitely pausing the new tax | Upper East Site

Gov. Hochul ‘Indefinitely Pauses’ Congestion Pricing Tax Citing Affordability 🆓

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By Jose Martinez, THE CITY

A years-in-the-making plan to toll motorists driving into the most congested parts of Manhattan as a way to ease traffic and raise billions for transit upgrades has stalled again — less than a month before its planned launch.

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Gov. Kathy Hochul on Wednesday said she is indefinitely delaying the June 30 start of congestion pricing, which would have made New York the first city in North America to follow the lead of London, Stockholm and Singapore in tolling vehicles as a means of improving air quality.

Photo shows a woman at a podium with an American and New York State flag behind her.
Gov. Kathy Hochul announced the “indefinite pause” in an unlisted YouTube video where she couldn’t be questioned by reporters | Gov. Kathy Hochul’s Office

Instead of placing once-daily tolls and what she called “undue strain” on those driving into the congestion zone south of 60th Street by the end of the month, Hochul said she will now work with city and federal officials to come up with ways to fill what the MTA had projected to be a $15 billion windfall for improvements to the transit system as a result of the fees.

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ALSO READ | Petition to ‘Repeal & Defeat Congestion Pricing’ Launched by Fed-Up Upper East Siders

“There never is only one path forward,” Hochul said in a pre-recorded video released at noon. “Together, I am confident we’ll be able to deliver the world class public transit that riders deserve, ensure a cleaner planet for future generations and continue to fuel the vitality and the comeback of NYC.”

The governor’s 11th-hour shift outraged environmental and transit advocates who for years pushed for congestion pricing, which was approved by state lawmakers in 2019 before running into multiple roadblocks and court challenges. 

Money pit MTA installs 'Congestion Pricing' Toll cameras, sensors on the Upper East Side | Upper East Site
The MTA wasted half a billion dollars installing the tolling infrastructure | Upper East Site

“It’s not like she’s been silent on congestion pricing,” Jaqi Cohen, director of climate and equity policy at the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, told THE CITY. “It’s just a complete betrayal on where she’s been, it’s a betrayal.”

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Politico and The New York Times first reported on Hochul wavering on congestion pricing Tuesday evening. That reporting spurred outrage from proponents of the plan, leading up to a rally at Hochul’s Midtown office that started before she even made the official announcement.

The plan is designed to provide billions of dollars for transit improvements that include subway signal upgrades, the next phase of the Second Avenue Subway and new buses, subway cars and commuter rail trains.

‘Political Gunfire’

Danny Pearlstein, policy director for Riders Alliance, a transit advocacy group, said he had hoped that Hochul would be the first to drive under the license plate scanners that have gone up at gateways to the congestion zone. The MTA paid $507 million to TransCore, a Nashville company, to build out the tolling infrastructure on overhead signs, traffic poles or bridges.

He also cast Hochul alongside the governor of New Jersey, a former president of the United States and her predecessor in Albany as those who were critical to detouring congestion pricing.

Tolling equipment has been spotted on four Upper East Side avenues between East 60th and 61st Streets | Upper East Site
The MTA’s tolling equipment has been installed between East 60th and 61st Streets | Upper East Site

“Jumping on the transit defund bandwagon at the 11th hour is a mistake, it’s the antithesis of leadership,” Pearlstein told THE CITY. “We expect her to make hard decisions, but the easiest is to follow in the footsteps of [N.J. Gov.] Phil Murphy, Donald Trump and Andrew Cuomo.”

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Murphy and the state of New Jersey had been among the first to file a federal lawsuit over congestion pricing, while Trump had railed against the plan on his Truth social media platform in March, saying “Hopefully, it will soon be withdrawn.”

Even Cuomo — who as Hochul’s predecessor signed congestion pricing into law then resigned amid a string of sexual harassment allegations — in March had come out against the plan he once championed.

Transit advocates protested outside of Gov. Kathy Hochul’s Midtown office after she announced a delay in congestion pricing, June 5, 2024.
Transit advocates protested outside of Gov. Kathy Hochul’s Midtown office after she announced a delay in congestion pricing, June 5, 2024 | Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

Union leader John Samuelsen, who last November resigned in protest from the Traffic Mobility Review Board after saying the MTA had “failed to meet the moment” by not boosting express bus service before launching congestion pricing, called Hochul’s pause of the plan “the most amateur of amateur moves.”

ALSO READ | Congestion Pricing is a Regressive Tax that Leaves Disabled New Yorkers Behind

Samuelsen has also repeatedly criticized Janno Lieber, the MTA chairperson and chief executive, over congestion pricing.

“It didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out there would be political repercussions for the Democrats across New York State,” he said. “As it relates to the MTA, [Hochul] has let Janno lead her around like a stooge and he’s led her uphill into political gunfire.”

The tolling equipment contains four cameras to read license plates (two in each direction) and E-ZPass scanners | Upper East Site
The $15 ‘Congestion Pricing’ toll was set to go into effect on June 30th before the governor’s announcement | Upper East Site

The MTA did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but multiple sources told THE CITY that Lieber forwarded the early Politico and New York Times articles to the agency’s board members on Wednesday morning.

In her remarks, Hochul noted that circumstances have changed from when congestion pricing was first approved.

 “We must respond to the facts on the ground — not from the rhetoric from five years ago,” she said. “So after careful consideration, I have come to the difficult decision that implementing the planned congestion pricing system risks too many unintended consequences for New Yorkers at this time.” 

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