BROOKLYN, N.Y. — Democratic candidate for New York City mayor Eric Adams says he wants to make sure congestion pricing in Manhattan doesn’t unfairly penalize low-income New Yorkers for simply living their lives.
As New York City reopens post-pandemic and the MTA begins to see a steady uptick in its ridership, the state’s congestion pricing plan was brought back into the spotlight this week.
Congestion pricing — a tolling system that aims to decrease traffic in Manhattan while increasing mass transit funding — was approved by the New York State Legislature two years ago, but it has yet to be put in place due to federal delays under the Trump administration as well as the COVID-19 pandemic.
In March, President Joe Biden’s administration finally gave the MTA the go-ahead to resume preparations for congestion pricing, but little headway has been made since then.
Mayor Bill de Blasio on Tuesday renewed his call for the state to implement congestion pricing, citing reports about increasing traffic congestion in the city and the need for funding to support MTA infrastructure improvements as more New Yorkers head back to work on subways and buses.
However, the term-limited mayor will leave office at the end of the year, likely punting the completion of congestion pricing to the next mayor of New York City.
While the state approved an outline of what congestion pricing will look like, many of the details — how much tolls will cost and who should be exempt, among them — will be decided with input from the mayor’s office.
Adams told PIX on Politics host Dan Mannarino if he’s elected mayor in November’s general election, his top priority would be ensuring the most vulnerable New Yorkers are not negatively impacted.
“We should, No. 1, make sure that we are not harming low-income New Yorkers that must go into Manhattan,” Adams said. “Such as … for chemo treatment. You’re not doing it because it’s a luxury. The goal is to get the vehicles off the road where people are using it as a luxury, not necessity.”
Under the congestion pricing plan passed by the state Legislature, drivers who enter Manhattan below 60th Street will be tolled, with the exception of the West Side Highway, FDR Drive and Battery Park underpass. Motorists can only be charged once a day and emergency vehicles and vehicles transporting disabled persons will be exempt from the charge.
Other exemptions or credits have been proposed, including for certain people who live in or just on the border of the congestion pricing zone.
A Transportation Mobility Board made up of five MTA-appointed members and one mayor-appointed member, will ultimately make those decisions.
When asked how he would implement an exemptions list within the congestion pricing model, Adams said the answer lies in technology.
“You capture the license plate. ‘Is this person listed as one [who] is exempt from having to pay congestion pricing?’ Then we don’t charge them,” he said. “The technology is here where you can actually identify who is exempt or who is not exempt.”
Republican candidate for mayor Curtis Sliwa told PIX11 News he’s opposed to congestion pricing.
“This is just another tax, another fee, another fine on hard working people coming from the outer boroughs and the tri-state area into Manhattan,” he said. “Obviously it’s a state-mandated issue because we don’t have home-rule, but I would fight the governor and fight the state Legislature because it is the MTA, a state agency, and they want the dollars to subsidize themselves.”
If he’s elected mayor, Sliwa said he wouldn’t consider supporting congestion pricing until the subways are made safer for riders.
“It’s not even considered until you eliminate the crime; until you make the rides safe, secure, on time without homeless people and emotionally disturbed persons living in the subway,” he said.
Adams, meanwhile, said he’s confident the time for congestion pricing has come.
“I think it’s going to happen. We have the right White House, we have a governor and mayor who agree that we need to put it in place, and we have a great City Council that understands it,” he said. “We need to have a lockbox. That money must go into our public transportation system so that we can have a first-rate public transportation system.”
Check back on Sunday morning for Dan Mannarino’s full interview with Adams covering a wide range of topics, including the COVID-19 pandemic, where he would live if he’s elected mayor, and his fondness for bubble baths.
This story comprises reporting from PIX11’s Greg Mocker.