By: Hal C Clarke
The head of the Transportation Workers Union, John Samuelsen, has strongly criticized Janno Lieber, the Chairman of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), for what he perceives as a focus on revenue generation over improving air quality and reducing traffic congestion through the city’s congestion-pricing scheme.
Samuelsen, who is also a member of the Traffic Mobility Review Board responsible for setting congestion pricing fees and exemptions, accused Lieber of treating the scheme as a “thinly veiled” cash cow for the MTA.
Samuelsen expressed concerns that Lieber’s primary emphasis appears to be on generating revenue from the new tolling system, rather than implementing measures to reduce traffic congestion. He argued that Lieber has not taken logical steps to incentivize those who currently drive to switch to public transit for their daily commute.
The congestion-pricing scheme, approved by the Biden administration in June, is set to begin in May. It will impose tolls on drivers entering Manhattan below 60th Street, with fees potentially reaching up to $23.
Samuelsen raised questions about why the MTA is not concurrently expanding subway and bus services to encourage new riders to choose public transit. He dismissed Lieber’s explanation during a recent MTA board meeting that ridership has not yet returned to pre-pandemic levels and can accommodate more passengers without increasing service levels.
Samuelsen contended that the MTA is not making a genuine effort to entice drivers, who can afford the tolls, to abandon their cars in favor of public transit. He argued that simply declaring there is room in the transit system and urging people to switch is not a sufficient strategy.
Samuelsen’s criticisms echo concerns expressed by many politicians from the outer boroughs who fear that their streets could become congested with motorists seeking to avoid the congestion pricing tolls, ultimately benefiting the MTA’s finances.
Representative Nicole Malliotakis (R-SI/Brooklyn) suggested that the MTA should focus on making public transit safer, increasing the presence of law enforcement, and penalizing turnstile jumping as ways to encourage more New Yorkers to ride public transit.
Meanwhile, Staten Island Borough President Vito Fossella said in July he’ll also sue to block the plan.
Fossella told The NY Post he’s reaching out to other outer-borough politicians opposed to the toll system who would likely join the legal fight against it.
The plan is a loser for Staten Island residents because more traffic will be redirected into the borough to avoid the Manhattan toll, Fossella claimed.
“Not only will it be a financial burden, but air quality and traffic will get worse on Staten Island. Who wants that?” the borough president told The Post.
Janno Lieber defended the MTA’s position by stating that ridership has not yet returned to pre-pandemic levels, and the system can easily accommodate more passengers, including those who may switch to transit after congestion pricing is implemented.
NYC Transit President Richard Davey dismissed Samuelsen’s criticism as a “stretch” and pointed out that ridership has decreased by 2 million trips per day, indicating that the system has the capacity to handle a significant increase in passengers.
An MTA spokeswoman emphasized that revenue generation is a crucial aspect of the congestion pricing plan, as state legislation mandates generating $15 billion to fund the agency’s $52 billion capital plan. This financial aspect is seen as vital to support necessary improvements and infrastructure projects within the transportation system.