First there was the Subway Action Plan, then there was Fast Forward—and now, courtesy of Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio, there’s a new 10-point proposal, outlining ways that the state and the city plan to, as they put it, “transform and fund the MTA.”
“Fund” is the key word here: For the first time, both Cuomo and de Blasio have thrown their support behind congestion pricing as a source of revenue for the agency. As recently as a few weeks ago, the mayor again rebuked congestion pricing as a funding source, claiming that he had “not yet seen a plan that I could support.” But it appears he’s changed his tune—slightly, anyway, since he still says a millionaire’s tax is “the best, most sustainable revenue source for the transit improvements our city needs.”
“[T]he time to act is running out, and among all alternatives, congestion pricing has the greatest prospects for immediate success. In light of this reality, it is my hope that critics of congestion pricing will join me in acknowledging its necessity.”
How it’ll work: Electronic tolling (with discounts in effect during off-peak hours) will go into effect in a central business district south of 61st Street, and excluding the FDR Drive; there will be some exemptions, including for people with disabilities, emergency vehicles, and more. The revenue from those tolls would then be put into a lockbox, ensuring that it would only be used to fund the MTA. The latest that a plan could be rolled out would be 2020.
The congestion pricing proposal is just one funding source acknowledged in the proposal; they also call for directing revenue from “the new internet sales tax derived from sales in New York City, with a growth factor, and a percentage of the State and City revenue from the cannabis excise tax.” (Weed for rails: it’s a thing!)
While the advancement of congestion pricing as a funding source is a big part of this proposal, it is but one of ten points—and many of the rest involve reforming the MTA, an agency that’s infamous for mismanagement, inefficiency, and the layers of red tape involved in its decision-making. To that end, the plan calls for a restructuring of the agency—to be completed by June of this year—that would streamline the MTA’s operations and centralize its management of the six different transit systems (subways, buses, and commuter rail) under its purview.
“We’re trying to fix a problem,” Cuomo said on The Brian Lehrer Show earlier today.
Other ways the plan seeks to cut down on inefficiency are by requiring that design-build be used for all future capital construction projects; having the MTA undergo a financial audit, to be completed by next January; and having the MTA’s capital plan reviewed by an independent committee, made up of appointees representing various city and state stakeholders.
Considering the MTA’s financial situation—the agency has some of the highest operating costs when compared to other transit systems, is deeply in debt, and needs billions of dollars to implement crucial repairs—and the general dilapidation of the subway system, these actions could lead to real change.
But that’s assuming, of course, that they’re carried out without the inefficiency that the MTA has become known for. Some of these measures, meanwhile, will require approval from the state legislature—namely a congestion pricing plan, and the legalization of marijuana (thus allowing revenue from its sales to fund the subways). With a little more than a month until the state budget is due to be approved, the clock is ticking.
“When the governor and mayor put out a plan together, it means real momentum toward enacting congestion pricing to fix the subway,” John Raskin of the Riders’ Alliance said in a statement. “The transit crisis is urgent and it won’t go away without billions of dollars to upgrade equipment and modernize the transit system. The governor and the mayor are on board; transit riders are looking to our representatives in the state legislature to do their part.”