Congestion pricing: Mayor Adams says he’s ‘with the governor’ on pause of Manhattan toll plan

Mayor Eric Adams fiercely defended Gov. Kathy Hochul’s decision to pause congestion pricing indeifinitely last week. Tuesday, June 11, 2024.
Credit: Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office.

Mayor Eric Adams said Tuesday he’s firmly behind Gov. Kathy Hochul and her sudden pause of the state’s congestion pricing program last week amid an ongoing onslaught of criticism from proponents of the Manhattan toll plan.

During his weekly news conference, Hizzoner told reporters he has an “excellent relationship” with Hochul as he defended her move to halt the program, which would charge a $15 toll to most New Yorkers entering Manhattan below 60th Street.

“I’m with the governor, I’m not a fair-weather friend, I am a friend,” the mayor said. “We need to trust her leadership, trust her leadership. She has really knocked it out of the park. First female governor in the history of New York is showing what true leadership is about.”

Hochul ordered congestion pricing halted last week, just three weeks before it was set to take effect on June 30, citing the additional economic burden paying the toll would put on already struggling New Yorkers. The program was projected to raise $1 billion annually for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority — revenue it planned to use to secure $15 billion in municipal jobs to finance several of its capital projects.

Hochul attempted to get the state legislature to sign off on one of several alternative funding streams for the transit agency after her announcement last week, but lawmakers rejected both of her proposals as the legislative session ended for the year on June 8. One would have seen an increase in the payroll mobility tax for businesses in the five boroughs; the other involved dipping into the state’s general fund.

The mayor said Tuesday that Hochul gave him a heads-up about her thinking on congestion pricing two weeks before her surprise announcement.

“When she made the final determination, we spoke that evening and I said ‘Governor, whatever I can do to assist? These are difficult times and difficult challenges,’” he said. Mayor Adams, however, did not explain whether Hochul answered with any request for assistance from the city.

‘A challenging moment’

Riders Alliance, a public transportation advocacy group, blasted Adams’ defense of Hochul in a Tuesday statement.

“If Mayor Adams wants to assist his friend Gov. Hochul, he should advise her to reverse course,” said Danny Pearlstein, the group’s communications director. “While loyalty is important, the mayor doesn’t only have the governor to think of, he has nearly nine million constituents looking to him for leadership in a challenging moment.”

Although Adams has publicly said he supports congestion pricing, he has always added the caveat that “we have to get it right.” He explained that means reducing the toll’s impact on low-income New Yorkers and protecting outer-borough communities from the pollution that will come with increased traffic displaced from Manhattan.

But some senior officials in Adams’ administration — including Deputy Mayor Meera Joshi and Department of City Planning Commissioner Dan Garodnick — have bucked the mayor with strong statements in support of congestion pricing since the governor’s decision became public. 

Joshi reportedly said at an event for the transit advocacy group Transportation Alternatives last week that congestion pricing “needs to happen, it needs to happen in NYC, it needs to happen now,” according to an attendee. Garodnick, in a social media post, sounded the alarm about the massive hole pausing congestion pricing could blow in the MTA’s capital program.

Both Joshi and Garodnick serve as Adams’ appointees to the MTA Board.

While the mayor insisted that he welcomes those who work for him to speak their minds, even if they disagree with him, he said they must ultimately defer to his judgment.

“These are very passionate issues, I don’t want robots in my administration, I want people to be able to respectfully share their thoughts and their opinions,” Adams said. “They’re an opinionated group, but they will all tell you the same thing: ‘We may have an opinion, thousands of opinions, but there’s one mayor. And at the end of the day after we finish all of our opinions, we are going to look to the mayor for guidance.’”