By Vincent Barone
In a rare joint effort, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio on Tuesday announced a 10-point plan to reorganize and fund the struggling Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
Many of the efforts outlined would depend on new legislation from state lawmakers, but Cuomo and de Blasio stressed that the MTA's financial and operational challenges must be addressed as soon as possible. The authority faces large capital and operating budget gaps -- even with more fare hikes expected to come this year. Cuomo said he hopes to secure all elements of the plan through the state budget, which is due April 1.
By reaching an agreement, de Blasio has finally come around to endorsing congestion pricing, which many have long viewed as a valuable traffic-busting and transit-funding policy. The mayor had previously expressed that the measure was unfair for certain drivers.
"Working New Yorkers struggle every day to get around our city," de Blasio said in a statement released Tuesday. "We cannot let another year pass without action that makes people's lives easier. This crisis runs deeper than ever before, and it's now clear there is no way to address it without congestion pricing and other dedicated revenue streams. The time to act is now."
The two support a congestion pricing vision Cuomo has laid out for private vehicles entering Manhattan below 61st Street.
The plan calls for variable tolls into Manhattan, at 60th Street and along the FDR Drive, to encourage off-peak trips and deliveries. It also includes toll exemptions for emergency vehicles and calls for further, vague exemptions or discounts for people with disabilities -- "hardship" exemptions de Blasio had sought.
They also endorsed pulling new MTA funding from portions of revenue generated from marijuana legalization in addition to the new internet sales tax on purchases in New York City. Cuomo had previously stated that congestion pricing was the best and only way to fund the MTA.
The revenue raised from congestion pricing, internet sales tax and marijuana legalization could bring $22 billion in bonds for MTA transit investments, according to the governor's office. Much of that money could help support the authority's next five-year capital plan for 2020 to 2024, which has been estimated to cost around $60 billion. New tolls for congestion pricing would be installed by the end of 2020.
The plan's proposal for reforming the authority hinges on restructuring its bureaucracy. The joint plan would be carried out by June to consolidate many aspects of the MTA's six separate entities that handle different services, including local subway and buses, the Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North.
"The antiquated structure will be fundamentally changed to centralize common functions among the six existing entities," the proposal said.
By June, the MTA authority will "streamline" each agency's construction management, legal, engineering, procurement, human resources and advertising efforts into a central operation, according to the plan.
Cuomo has recently been especially critical of the MTA -- an authority he effectively controls. He said during a radio appearance on WNYC Tuesday morning that the authority needed a better management structure to rein in costs.
"It's a 1960s-style holding company with a 1960s-style mentality," Cuomo said. "We have to consolidate the functions of the MTA; bring in a different culture; make the board functional and operational so that we know that we're getting efficiency from the riders' fare."
Advocates cheered the announcement. To refute critics of congestion pricing, Cuomo and proponents pointed to a 2017 study from the anti-poverty group Community Service Society of New York which found that only 4 percent of outer-borough residents drive to Manhattan for their jobs. Only 2 percent of the working poor in those areas would be subjected to a toll in Manhattan, the group found.
John Raskin, the executive director of the nonprofit Riders Alliance, said the onus was now on the State Senate and Assembly to enact the measures outlined in the plan.
"I think that the governor and mayor are helping form a consensus around a congestion pricing system that will make real progress toward fixing the subway," Raskin said. "But is also fair and sustainable and responsive to people's needs."
MTA acting Chairman Fernando Ferrer threw support behind the proposal. He warned that if the new revenue from congestion pricing doesn't come in, the authority would be forced to implement another, massive fare and toll hike to cover capital needs like maintenance and new projects.
"This proposal is a holistic cure for much of what ails the MTA, and I hope to see it enacted swiftly for the benefit of our 8.5 million daily customers," Ferrer said in a statement.