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Diverse group of NYC activists press state to pass congestion pricing

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Housing, transit, anti-poverty, and racial justice advocates have come together in support of congestion pricing

As conditions on the subway continue to show why first-time gubernatorial candidate Cynthia Nixon was able to get 34 percent of the vote against Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a new coalition has come together to demand the state pass a congestion pricing bill and fund Andy Byford’s Fast Forward plan in the name of environmental and anti-poverty activism. (Speaking of which, the projected high temperature on Thursday is 80 degrees … and it’s October.)

The “Fix The Subway Coalition,” a multifaceted group of activist organizations that want the state to step up and, uh, fix the subway, held a kickoff rally in Union Square, during which members of the coalition explained why they were demanding congestion pricing. (Subway delays did keep a pair of speakers from even showing up on time.)

Besides transit-focused organizations like the Riders Alliance and the Straphangers Campaign, the coalition includes groups with varying organizing focuses, including New York Communities for Change, Environmental Advocates of New York, the Legal Aid Society, environmental/labor organization ALIGN NY, and Latino community organization UPROSE.

Riders Alliance spokesperson Danny Pearlstein told Curbed that “as the subway has melted down, all of these groups have come to the conclusion that we need to band together and do more to get it fixed.” Future actions will include rallies and lobbying elected officials directly, all in an attempt to get a congestion pricing plan into next year’s state budget.

The press release announcing the coalition highlighted the anti-poverty elements of the congestion pricing push, namely that data from the Tri-State Transportation Committee suggested only four percent of outer-borough drivers would wind up driving into the congestion charge zone in Manhattan. A Community Service Society study also suggested that the toll would only hit two percent of working poor drivers.

Those data points and the presence of organizations dedicated to advocating for low-income communities will no doubt stand in contrast to the criticism that congestion pricing is a tax scheme to benefit Manhattanites and Mayor de Blasio’s repeated waffling on the issue over what he says are issues that turn it into a regressive tax.

NYCC spokesperson Zachary Lenter told Curbed that an actually functioning mass transit system “will improve the lives of low income New Yorkers and provide accessibility to all parts of the city.” In addition, he said the organizations feels congestion pricing is “a progressive tax that allows New York to raise up to $1.7 billion from wealthier commuters than relying on raising fares that regressively places the burden on low-income New Yorkers.”