Reinvent Albany strongly supports timely implementation of congestion pricing because it will provide the MTA with a reliable, environmentally beneficial source of revenue. Congestion Pricing was enacted into law through the 2019 state budget as Central Business District (CBD) tolling and is expected to net $1B in revenue annually, allowing for $15B worth of bonding for MTA capital projects.
Congestion tolls are to be collected by the MTA and placed into a “lockbox” and will not be subject to the state budget’s annual appropriation process. MTA dedicated funds which are appropriated such as the Metro Mass Transportation Operating Assistance (MMTOA) fund have been the subject of past raids by the Governor. Reinvent Albany strongly supports ensuring that all MTA dedicated revenues are protected from raids by the Governor and Legislature, and congestion pricing funds are importantly protected in multiple ways.
The state budget’s adoption of congestion pricing allows for certain exemptions to tolls, such as for emergency vehicles and “qualified vehicles” transporting persons with disabilities. Any formal congestion pricing tolls adopted by the MTA should not expand upon these exemptions. Specific tolls are to be recommended to the MTA Board by a Traffic Mobility Review Board (TMRB).
Congestion pricing was intended to take effect in January 2021. As of December 2020, the federal government has not provided clarity to the MTA regarding the environmental review process that it must undertake: either an environmental assessment (EA) or a longer environmental impact statement process (EIS). While it waits for clarity on whether it must conduct an EA or EIS, the MTA must check off all the boxes it can on items it controls, such as preparing all necessary internal documents and reviews, and appointing the TMRB. Timely implementation of congestion pricing will be crucial to shore up its revenues as the MTA faces the largest deficit in its history of nearly $16B through 2024.
See also our op-ed in Gotham Gazette which provides an explainer about the 2019 state budget’s inclusion of congestion pricing.