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New York's governor puts the brakes on congestion pricing for NYC


For five years, New York City has been preparing to charge drivers that enter parts of Midtown and Lower Manhattan a $15 toll fee that would go toward improving mass transit. The cameras are installed. New signs were ready to post. But with just over three weeks before it was set to go into effect, the plan known as congestion pricing was halted by that state's governor. From Member Station WNYC in New York, here's Stephen Nessen.

STEPHEN NESSEN, BYLINE: In a video announcement, Governor Kathy Hochul says now is not a good time, with inflation, to add another cost to people's lives. She says she's worried about how it could impact the ongoing post-pandemic recovery in Manhattan.


KATHY HOCHUL: It puts a squeeze on the very people who make this city go - the teachers, first responders, small business workers, bodega owners.

NESSEN: Hochul says, because of them, she's pausing the plan.


HOCHUL: This decision is about doing what's right for the people who make our city thrive.

NESSEN: Other major cities - London, Singapore and Stockholm - have congestion pricing that charges drivers a fee to enter the busiest parts of town. New York would've been the first in this country to try it. It was expected to reduce traffic and raise money for the city's transit agency, the MTA - $1 billion a year. That would go toward modernizing the ancient signal system, buying new train cars and adding new elevators to stations. All of that is in jeopardy now. And for what? Fellow Democrats say it's purely political.


TONY SIMONE: I get politics. I get elections. But leaders stand by policies that work.

NESSEN: That's New York assembly member Tony Simone speaking at the Capitol. He's a Democrat who represents parts of Manhattan. He knows the plan isn't well-liked outside the city but says it was necessary to reduce the gridlock and bolster public transit.


SIMONE: Leaders take the brunt of the hit when things don't become popular.

NESSEN: But with several close congressional races in the Hudson Valley and on Long Island, where a loss to Democrats could flip the House, Hochul isn't taking any chances.


UNIDENTIFIED GROUP #1: (Chanting) Keep your promise, keep your promise.

NESSEN: Even if it infuriates transit advocates in Manhattan.


UNIDENTIFIED GROUP #1: (Chanting) Keep your promise, keep your promise.

NESSEN: Keep your promise, several dozen supporters of the tolling program yelled outside Hochul's office in Midtown. They waved signs that read I heart congestion pricing and don't derail riders. City council member Lincoln Restler calls the governor's move a betrayal.


LINCOLN RESTLER: And do not believe what she is saying that this is a delay. This is a plain and simple attempt to kill congestion pricing.


NESSEN: Transit leaders across the country were watching New York closely for inspiration. Now it's unclear if other cities will be willing to try and reduce traffic in downtown districts through tolling after seeing the potential political costs.

For NPR News, I'm Stephen Nessen in New York.

(SOUNDBITE OF AKALE WUBE'S "JOUR DE PLUIE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Stephen Nessen
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