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Widen input on NYC traffic and tolling plan

The Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge.

The Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge. Photo Credit: Charles Eckert

How do you “Fix NYC” without NYC?

The answer, quite simply, is you don’t.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s effort to create a congestion-pricing plan inched forward this month with the formation of an advisory panel. He touted a group called Fix NYC as filled with experts, local leaders, MTA representatives and “stakeholders.” But this group of 16 didn’t include any current NYC official, even though the city is the largest stakeholder. That wasn’t an auspicious start.

A plan to improve traffic flow and change driving behavior is essential. Proposals could include adding tolls to the now-free East River bridges, along with lower costs on other crossings; a fee for entering midtown Manhattan, particularly at peak hours; surcharges on for-hire vehicles; and allowing, for a fee, single-occupancy vehicles to use high-occupancy highway lanes. Such a plan could add $1.5 billion in annual revenue to the MTA’s coffers, reduce congestion and pollution, and make our day-to-day lives better.

But any congestion-pricing plan will meet resistance. A group of 16 with just one woman and no City Hall representation — crafting an answer to some of the city’s greatest challenges in private — seemed doomed to fail.

Since Cuomo’s announcement on Oct. 5, members of the panel have said they hope to meetings with NYC transportation officials and include them in the conversation. That should help, as NYC must be a partner. And state officials should allow public comment and plan for hearings once they have a plan to discuss. In cities where congestion pricing has worked, public outreach has been key.

Mayor Bill de Blasio thus far has broadly slapped down the idea, but in an interview earlier this month with this editorial board, he indicated a more nuanced view. He said he would consider congestion pricing as a way to fund the MTA if it “is somehow going to get political support and be fair.” So far, de Blasio said, the city hasn’t been consulted.

Implementing congestion pricing will be difficult, but with the right leadership and plan, it could happen. This critical public policy initiative can’t be allowed to break down as it travels the hostile highways between Albany and City Hall.

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