Award–winning journalist Andrea Bernstein is the Metro Editor for WNYC News. She has previously served as Political Director, Director of Transportation Nation, and Senior Reporter.
(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation) A private, non-profit group has been organizing to bring congestion pricing to New York City. Environmentalist Alex Matthiessen, the former Hudson Riverkeeper and a former Clinton administration aide, has founded the Sustainable Transportation Campaign, a group devoted to seeking a regular, recurring funding stream for mass transit in the New York City region. For the past six months, Mattheissen has been quietly meeting with potential supporters. Still, there is no formal budget, list of supporters, or definite state proposal on congestion pricing.
The last time New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg pushed congestion pricing, it foundered in the state legislature. A plan once championed by the socialist former Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, as a way to transfer wealth from well-to-do to not-so-wealthy transit riders, became seen as billionaire Mayor Michael Bloomberg's scheme to keep middle-class workers out of Manhattan once it jumped across the pond.
Now, Mattheissen is spearheading a non-governmental approach. Supporters of congestion pricing hope that can separate the issue from Mayor Bloomberg's political fortunes.
Still, Bloomberg doesn't seem quite willing to stay above the fray. At a press conference today, he joked with reporters, "My God! How did they think of that?" before adding: "If they're working on it, I happen to think it makes some sense, but I'm going to stay out of it. We've done everything we can. We had an idea. We did all the work to implement it and explain it to people. But unfortunately it was like jumping 95 % across the Grand Canyon -- it didn't work."
Other groups who have supported congestion pricing in the past say they are still behind the concept, but are waiting to see a specific proposal from Mattheissen. Kathryn Wylde, president of the Partnership for New York City, said she believes relieving congestion is a key priority for business in New York, but said there's no proposal to support. The Working Families Party said they also were waiting for a specific plan, but they hadn't signed off on anything.
Governor Cuomo expressed skepticism during the campaign about congestion pricing. Speaking in Poughkeepsie last week, he said a payroll tax passed last year to fund the MTA was "erroneous" and he was open to a "better way" to fund the MTA -- but he didn't say what that would be.
Manhattan State Senator Daniel Squadron supports the idea of congestion pricing and is floating the idea in Albany, though neither legislative leader has come out in favor of it.
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