Congestion pricing ‘ready to go forward’ in State Assembly

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo appears to have secured enough support from lawmakers to pass a congestion pricing proposal in the upcoming state budget.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said Monday his chamber was “ready to go forward” on the policy to toll drivers entering midtown Manhattan as part of a $175 billion budget due next month —  although some key details remain up in the air.

"We’re at the point where the Assembly members understand the need to fund the MTA. We still have some details to work out, but I would say the Assembly is ready to go forward on congestion pricing,” said Heastie. “I wouldn’t say that if I didn’t think I had the votes."

With the Assembly now on board, the state is poised to move forward with a plan to  charge drivers a toll in an attempt to reduce traffic in Manhattan’s core while securing badly needed revenue for the MTA to carry out improvements in subway and bus service, as well as accessibility initiatives.

The lingering details are significant, though. Heastie said concerns include "carve-outs" for certain commuters, like avoiding a double toll on select bridges, and addressing inequities for transit deserts in the outer boroughs, and in Long Island and Westchester. But Heastie warned that such funding diversions would be limited, saying, “the more you carve out, the less you have in revenue.”

The State Senate, also controlled by Democrats, has already passed a budget plan that includes support for congestion pricing. Patrick Muncie, a spokesman for Cuomo, said his office is “working with both houses on specific bill language to address legitimate concerns.”

Rebecca Bailin, of the Riders Alliance, an advocacy group that has aggressively pushed for congestion pricing, said she is “optimistic” despite a lack of final details.

“It looks like, we’re hearing clearly, all three parties — the Senate, Assembly and governor — are on board,” said Bailin. “We think that it’s clear that Albany has been finally hearing the voices of transit riders who have been fighting to funding much-needed improvements.”

Cuomo’s budget proposal outlines a broad plan to institute tolls beginning in 2021 for private vehicles entering Manhattan below 61st Street. The FDR Drive would be excluded.

The plan would  seek to net $1 billion annually for the MTA  but exact tolling rates, and how the state would adjust tolls depending on the time of day, are still unclear. A six-person MTA panel would determine those specifics. Last month, Mayor Bill de Blasio endorsed congestion pricing as part of a 10-point plan he and Cuomo unveiled to fund and reform the MTA.