Watchdog Testimony in Support of Congestion Pricing


Testimony of Reinvent Albany at
MTA Central Business District Tolling Program Meeting
Thursday, September 23, 2021

Good evening. I am Rachael Fauss, Senior Research Analyst for Reinvent Albany. We advocate for more transparent and accountable New York government, including for authorities like the MTA.

Reinvent Albany strongly supports timely implementation of congestion pricing because it is the law, and has been shown globally to reduce motor vehicle congestion, air pollution and travel time for public transit. As a big bonus, NYC congestion pricing will provide the MTA with a reliable, environmentally beneficial source of revenue that the metro region needs now to fix our subways, buses, and commuter rails.

Implementing congestion pricing is not a discretionary act of the MTA: Congestion pricing was enacted into law by our elected representatives in the State Legislature and signed by the Governor in 2019 with the support of the NYC Council, the business community, transit experts and environmental advocates.

By law, congestion pricing must raise $15 billion for the MTA’s 2020-24 capital plan, 80 percent of which will fund New York City Transit, with 10 percent each to the Long Island Rail Road and Metro North Railroad.

Exemptions Must Be Limited to Those in Law
The law also allows certain exemptions to tolls, such as for emergency vehicles and “vehicles transporting persons with disabilities.” Additionally, a separate tax credit was created for residents in the congestion pricing zone earning less than $60,000 annually.

It is important that any tolling proposal adopted by the MTA not expand upon these exemptions. Decisions around exemptions must be seen as fair and transparent, because granting exemptions to certain groups and not others could breed cynicism about quid pro quos related to the interest groups that are the most politically powerful.

Congestion Pricing Funds Are Needed ASAP for 2020-24 Capital Plan
Congestion pricing funds are the single largest component of the MTA’s 2020-24 capital program. As noted in our August 2021 report, 2020-24 capital plan funding has come in at the slowest pace of the past 3 MTA capital plans. To date, only $3.6 billion has been received, or 6.6% percent of the nearly $55 billion capital plan (see the MTA’s September 2021 Capital Program Oversight Committee book). If the MTA wants to make meaningful progress on its capital program, it needs congestion pricing to be implemented as soon as possible.

Advisory Process Must be Transparent, With Documents Proactively Disclosed
The MTA must also be transparent about the process for soliciting input through its formal advisory boards and working groups for the congestion pricing program. Outreach to Environmental Justice communities is important and we understand that the federal government has requested the MTA to be diligent with its outreach. This does not preclude the MTA from ensuring that all materials provided as part of advisory processes, including agendas and any data or other information provided for meetings, are proactively released to the public. These documents are subject to the Freedom of Information Law – including any data produced by consultants – and there should be no use of “draft” reports to exempt this information from being made public. The MTA should therefore get ahead of these types of FOIL requests by putting this information online proactively.

Thank you for your consideration.