It has been a long, winding road this last year for Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s congestion pricing plan. After passing numerous speed bumps on its way to Albany, the plan has been halted yet again by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.
With a midnight deadline set by the Department of Transportation to pass the plan or forgo $354 million in federal funds, Silver announced this afternoon that there would be no vote on the mayor’s proposal. Congestion pricing, at least for the time being, has reached a dead end.
After the City Council supported the mayor’s plan on March 31 by an unusually close vote of 30 to 20, the question all week was whether it would gain the necessary support from Silver and Assembly Democrats, who put a hold on it last summer. That reluctance never broke.
"The conference has decided that they are not prepared to do congestion pricing," Silver told reporters in Albany, according to The Associated Press. "Many members just don't believe in the concept. Many think this proposal is flawed. It will not be on the floor of the Assembly.”
This leaves the proposal’s many supporters, and even some of its critics, preparing for the next step. Though many did not support one or another aspect of the plan to charge cars $8 and trucks $21 to enter Manhattan south of 60th Street during the weekday, those critics insisted throughout that they were not opposed to ending congestion or improving the environment.
“The people that opposed this plan can’t go off and gloat and the people that supported it can’t go off and sulk,” Councilmember Lew Fidler, who falls into the former group, said. “We can’t turn our backs on each other. We have to find a fair and equitable solution.”
Those who supported the plan sounded a solemn note but promised to persevere. “I don’t think anything will be as immediate or effective as congestion pricing, but I have a laundry list of ideas,” Straphanger’s Campaign attorney Gene Russianoff said.
Kathryn Wilde, president of the Partnership for New York City, which released a report saying congestion cost the city $15 billion a year, said there was no better alternative for reducing congestion and funding public transportation. “It may not be today,” she said, “but congestion pricing is the ultimate answer to both problems and that will become clear eventually, as it has in other world cities.”
The mayor’s plan had gained the support of Governor David Paterson and the leader of the Republican-led Senate, Joseph Bruno, though there were rumors that the plan was also due to fail in that house if it came to a vote. Still, it was ultimately Silver who brought down Bloomberg, much as he had with plans for a West Side stadium for the Olympics and the Jets.
“The city never responded to our requests for meetings or information or anything,” Assemblymember Richard Brodsky said. Brodsky, a member of the state’s Congestion Mitigation Commission, said 80 percent of his democratic colleagues did not support the plan. The mayor has yet to respond to the Assembly’s decision.
Russianoff said that despite the defeat of the proposal and the loss of the federal money, a new plan must be taken up, as on the West Side. “Too much work, and too much good work, has been done,” he said. “Traffic is often treated by New Yorkers like the weather. We have to change that. They have a future, and that future is without congestion.”