Watchdog Testimony in Support of Congestion Pricing


Testimony of Reinvent Albany Supporting  
MTA Central Business District Tolling Program

Good afternoon. 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 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. The MTA’s environmental assessment shows an important 15% to 20% reduction of motor vehicle traffic in the Central Business District, which will reduce delays to emergency and commercial vehicles and help MTA bus riders whose trips are the slowest in the nation

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. 

Furthermore, NYC congestion pricing will provide the MTA with a reliable, environmentally beneficial source of revenue that the metro region needs now to fix our buses, subways, and commuter rails. This is particularly crucial as the MTA has a looming operating budget crisis, and cannot afford to borrow any more from its own resources to fund its capital program, with the MTA’s debt load already at 20% of its operating budget.

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 “qualified vehicles transporting persons with disabilities.” Additionally, a separate tax credit was created for residents in the zone earning less than $60,000 annually. 

The Traffic Mobility Review Board and ultimately the MTA should not expand upon these exemptions. Toll exemptions and toll credits must be seen as fair and transparent, because granting exemptions to certain groups and not others will breed cynicism and undermine public support.  

The MTA’s environmental assessment has shown that the more exemptions are provided, the higher the toll is for the remaining drivers, which defeats the purpose of ensuring “fairness” in the tolls.

If government agencies are concerned that congestion pricing will make it harder to staff off-hour shifts, those agencies should reimburse the affected employees in the same way they already provide overnight and weekend payment differentials. It would be wrongheaded for transit riders and the MTA to absorb other state or city agency costs related to off-hour worker retention and recruitment. 

Congestion Pricing Funds Are Needed Now 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 June 2022 report, 2020-24 capital plan funding has come in at the slowest pace of the past 3 MTA capital plans. To date, halfway through the nominal dates of the plan, only $4.8 billion has been received, or 9% percent of the nearly $55 billion capital plan (see the July Capital Program Committee books). The MTA has already amended its 2020-2024 capital plan once to adjust for increased costs due to inflation, and further delays due to lack of funds will make it even more expensive to complete capital repairs. 

Thank you for your consideration.