MTA Chief Links Congestion Pricing to Fare Hike… or Not



MTA Chief Lee Sander told CBS reporter Marcia Kramer on Wednesday that the passage of Mayor Bloomberg's congestion pricing pilot project may help stave off a fare hike.

"The straphanger in my judgment will have to play a role, but if Wall Street turns around and congestion pricing is passed then maybe we can give the straphanger a break," Sander said. "We'll see."

While a Wall Street turn-around and the passage of congestion pricing are a couple of very big if's, Sander's comment was notable enough that Transportation Alternatives saw fit to issue a press release.

"Sooner or later, New Yorkers will have a choice to make between increasing MTA fares and implementing congestion pricing fees," Executive Director Paul Steely White, said. "Unfortunately, 'none of the above' is not a realistic, long-term option."

Congestion pricing advocates were buoyed by Sander's comment as it represented the first time that the MTA has suggested openness to the idea of using congestion pricing funds to prevent or delay a transit fare hike. Up to now, discussions of these policy initiatives have proceeded along completely separate tracks.

The linkage is potentially significant. A July Quinnipiac Poll showed that New York City voters oppose congestion pricing 52 - 41 percent, but would support the measure 58 - 36 percent if congestion pricing fees were used to prevent hikes in mass transit fares and bridge and tunnel tolls. In other words, the MTA's willingness to put fare hikes on hold during a congestion pricing pilot project may be a key to Mayor Bloomberg's traffic mitigation plan gaining approval.

MTA Press Secretary Jeremy Soffin, however, says no such trade-off is in the works. "The MTA strongly supports congestion pricing both to limit congestion and help fund the transit system's capital needs. Congestion pricing revenues would still be a couple of years off, and were never considered as a substitute for the proposed cost-of-living fare and toll increase."

[Insert Debbie Downer sound effect.] 

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On Saturday, November 17, the MTA will be hosting a "public engagement workshop" to discuss the proposed fare and toll hikes. This unprecedented, interactive public input format is being designed "to provide the MTA with informed, meaningful input about which options you prefer and your priorities for the future of the MTA," according to an agency spokesperson.