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Opinion

Albany must help fix the subway

Our transportation system is a mess.

State lawmakers need to consider ways to improve

State lawmakers need to consider ways to improve the subway and bus systems when they get back to Albany this month. Photo Credit: Charles Eckert

Just ask any of the 4.3 million people who ride the NYC subway: Our transportation system is a mess. The world’s greatest city is no longer capable of reliably transporting its commuting public. But help might now be on the way via two innovative proposals.

The first is Fast Forward, an ambitious plan to modernize NYC’s subway and bus system. It was developed by New York City Transit under the leadership of president Andy Byford, who is credited with resurrecting the London and Toronto systems.

The second is congestion pricing, a plan that would help tame traffic and generate funding for Fast Forward. The idea is simple: charge cars and trucks traveling south of 60th Street in Manhattan $5.76 in each direction. By harmonizing tolls across all entry points, we can speed up traffic, improve air quality, and raise billions to fix our broken transit system.

Under leading proposals, the charges would vary, meaning drivers would see higher tolls at rush hour, and lower tolls — a couple of bucks — at night and on weekends. Tolls would be capped at one round-trip per day and would not be charged on those using the East River bridges to access FDR Drive heading north.

In addition to upgrading our system, a chunk of the money would pay for new service in so-called transit deserts — those parts of the city and suburbs, which have been underserved for too long.

Congestion pricing works. Other metropolitan cities have used it with great success. Stockholm and London reduced traffic by 22 percent and 15 percent, respectively, and the drop in pollution cut Stockholm’s asthma rates by 50 percent. The experiences in those cities show that once the system is in place, the public supports congestion pricing. In Stockholm, where there was significant initial opposition, public support jumped to nearly 70 percent once the plan was implemented.

But if New Yorkers are serious about fixing our subways, we need to get serious about the cost. The Fast Forward plan will an estimated $40 billion to $60 billion over 10 years. Throw in the capital budgets that enable the MTA to simply maintain the system we have and the number climbs to more than $100 billion.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has said he wants to pass a comprehensive subway funding plan with congestion pricing as its cornerstone. But he’ll need the State Legislature to get it done. Lawmakers returning to Albany this month have two choices: Get on board with congestion pricing, or be held accountable for failing to fix the transit system.

New Yorkers can no longer allow naysayers and hand-wringers in Albany to stymie action on this crisis. The time for non-viable funding solutions, or complaints about a small but vocal fraction of constituents being asked to pay their fair share, is over.

Your constituents count on you to provide the leadership needed to get New Yorkers moving again.

Alex Matthiessen is the campaign spokesman for Fix Our Transit, a coalition that advocates for congestion pricing to help fix mass transit.

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