Mayor Bill de Blasio urged the state government and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to move quickly on implementing congestion pricing in Manhattan in an effort to raise billions of dollars needed to repair and modernize the subway system.
“The subways are what make the entire metropolitan area work,” he said at a Thursday news conference. “If we don't do it, something much worse will happen, which is the subways corrode, and the entire metropolitan area economy starts to corrode.”
The city has little official power over the MTA, but de Blasio said his news conference was meant to convey the needs of New Yorkers for a dependable subway as the city’s economy reopens fully.
“When the city speaks up and says, ‘We got to do something for millions of people who got to use the subway every day,’ I think that does have a big impact,” he said.
De Blasio called on the state to expedite the planning process and implement congestion pricing by the end of next year.
“By June, all of the work should be done, and shovels should go in the ground by July,” he said.
De Blasio suggested that the MTA add the city’s finance commissioner, Sherif Soliman, to the Traffic Mobility Review Board, which the state created to oversee congestion pricing. The MTA has not yet convened the board, according to de Blasio, who said it is "absolutely crucial to getting this going."
Congestion pricing -- automatically charging certain vehicles for entering high traffic areas of the borough -- would bring in about $15 billion over five years, about 30% of the MTA’s capital spending plan, according to Tom Wright, the head of the Regional Plan Association, who spoke at the news conference.
The system would provide the MTA with a large revenue source, which has taken on even more importance as ridership levels remain low in the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic. Subway, bus and commuter rail traffic in some recent days has been down by more than half when compared to the same day before the pandemic, according to MTA tallies.
De Blasio cited both increasing traffic in the city and persistent issues on the subway as the impetus for his push on congestion pricing.
According to Traffic Index, an open-source review of city traffic data, Manhattan has seen rising traffic since January, with traffic in June surpassing levels in the city during the winter preceding the pandemic shutdown, but not surpassing the intensity of the 2019 summer months.
Last week saw heavy rain flood several stations in northern Manhattan. The MTA also canceled 10,800 trips on the system in June, de Blasio said. The agency has blamed staffing shortages for the canceled trips.
In a statement, Ken Lovett, a senior advisor to the MTA’s leader, said the administration of former President Donald Trump delayed the planned implementation of congestion pricing, before the Biden administration directed the agency to begin an environmental assessment in March.
“Since then, we have been in deep, detailed and productive discussions with the Federal Highway Administration over exactly what that entails,” the statement read. “We will move forward on a timeline that meets all requirements set out for us."
De Blasio cited the readiness of the Biden administration to expedite funding requests to implement the system.
“It’s time for the state to get in gear, get congestion pricing done, because we have a federal partner,” he said.