Gov. Kathy Hochul halts NYC congestion pricing in dramatic about-face

NEW YORK — In an abrupt about-face, Gov Hochul directed the MTA to abandon congestion pricing Wednesday, less than four weeks before it was set to begin on June 30.

“After careful consideration I have come to the difficult decision that implementing the planned congestion pricing system risks too many unintended consequences for New Yorkers at this time,” Hochul said in a pre-taped announcement released by her office.

“For that reason I have directed the MTA to indefinitely pause the program,” she said.

The announcement — seen by some as politically expedient — was an unexpected turn from a governor who, less than six months ago, had publicly regarded the policy as legacy-defining.

“From time to time, leaders are called upon to envision a better future, be bold in the implementation and execution, and be undaunted by the opposition,” Hochul said in December at a rally of congestion pricing advocates following a federal sign-off on the plan.

“That’s how you secure progress,” she said at the time. “That’s what today is all about.”

The congestion pricing plan, which would have charged a base toll of $15 a day to any cars entering Midtown and lower Manhattan, was set to go into effect on June 30.

The MTA expected to raise $1 billion in revenue from the toll annually, and bond against that money for billions to fund large-scale capital projects to improve the city’s mass transit systems.

Before Wednesday’s shock announcement, sources told the Daily News that Hochul’s team has in recent days been floating the idea of a delay to Albany lawmakers, telling them a postponement could happen as long as the state can secure “another revenue stream” — specifically an increase in the MTA payroll tax.

“The argument has been that if she can go to the MTA board and say, ‘Hey, don’t worry about the money, because I got it,’ they would delay it,” one source said.

Another source said Hochul has voiced frustration for months that the congestion pricing plan was a relic of ex-Gov. Andrew Cuomo — and that she never felt it was structured correctly.

“She finally got sick of it and decided blowing it up is easier,” the source said.

The governor’s change comes after a trip to Washington, D.C. earlier this week.

A source close to the Biden administration confirmed Hochul spoke to President Biden and senior White House officials about a congestion pricing delay in the past few days.

Another source close to House Democratic leadership said Hochul has received advice about a delay from Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, as well.

There are several House races in New York, especially on Long Island, that are ripe for Republican pickups in November’s election, and congestion pricing is seen as a political vulnerability, according to that source.

“Congestion pricing is political suicide,” the person said.

Sources within the MTA expressed frustration over the announcement, though a spokesperson for the transit agency did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Transit advocates slammed the governor for the decision Wednesday, and said the city’s commuting class would bear the ill effects.

“Progress delayed is projects denied, and riders derailed,” Lisa Daglian, head of the Permanent Citizen’s Advisory Council to the MTA, said in a statement.

“This is horrible news for transit riders: we’re looking at a Summer of Hell as a way of life,” she added. “Nothing gets cheaper the longer you wait.”

Betsy Plum, head of Riders Alliance, said the governor was counting the wrong votes in her political calculus.

“New York City public transit riders gave Governor Hochul her margin of victory in the 2022 election,” Plum said. “Congestion pricing is the only public policy that can make our subway more reliable and accessible, speed up slow bus service, and help clear the air as wildfire smoke thickens — Governor Hochul must turn it on June 30 as planned.”

Mayor Adams, asked about Hochul’s move to delay during an unrelated press conference on Staten Island, said he has “communicated with the governor for the last few days,” adding he is “really pleased that the two of us have been able to align on so many issues.”

“We have to get it right,” said Adams, who has for months voiced skepticism about aspects of the congestion pricing plan. “We have to make sure that it’s not a dual burden on everyday New Yorkers, we have to make sure that it’s not going to impact our recovery.

“And I think that if we can do it and how we do it correctly, I’m all for it,” he added. “We have to get it right, this is a major shift in our city, and it must be done correctly.”

The expected revenues from congestion pricing was bound by law to fund the MTA’s current list of capital projects.

Earlier this year, MTA’s construction and development wing issued a moratorium on new contract solicitations, citing uncertainty as to when toll money would begin coming in.

Signaling improvements on the Fulton St. section of the A and C trains have already been pushed back until later this year over congestion pricing woes.

Other yet-to-be-awarded contracts reliant on congestion cash include modern signaling on the B, D, F and M trains, as well as the purchase of 250 electric buses.

The 2024 capital program also includes not-yet-awarded earmarks for new rolling stock on subway and commuter rail.

“I think this kills [congestion pricing] until after November,” said John Samuelsen, international head of the Transport Workers Union and an opponent of the congestion pricing plan.

Samuelsen, an early supporter of the program, was a member of the board that proposed the tolling structure before resigning the same day the board issued its recommendations.

Samuelsen has called for additional express bus routes and other service increases ahead of any tolling program, though MTA brass has said current bus service should suffice.

The union leader has called the congestion pricing plan unfair to working class New Yorkers.

“This is [MTA chairman] Janno Lieber’s ‘let the outer boroughs eat cake’ moment,” he said. The Governor’s decision to back the plan was “a total abrogation of Hochul’s responsibility to working class New Yorkers,” he said.