Lawsuit being threatened over congestion pricing

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(The Center Square) — New York City Comptroller Brad Lander is threatening legal action if the state doesn’t implement the now-discontinued congestion pricing toll plan by its original June 30 deadline.

Speaking at a news conference on Wednesday with supporters of the project, Lander said Gov. Kathy Hochul’s decision to halt the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s project “harms New York City’s goals of reducing emission and improving air quality” and leaves a $15 billion hole in the MTA’s Capital Program. He said funding is essential to update and modernize the MTA’s transit system.

“This sudden and potentially illegal reversal wronged a host of New Yorkers, who have a right to what was long promised to all of New York — a world-class mass transit system that works for all,” he said in remarks.

Lander, a Democrat, said he has assembled a “broad coalition of legal experts and potential plaintiffs” who are willing to act “to ensure the swift and inevitable implementation of congestion pricing — even if it means taking their cases to court.”

Any legal challenge would likely be based on several existing laws, including requirements to upgrade the transit system to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act and New York state’s 2021 Green Amendment, which amended the state’s constitution to enshrine the right to clean air and water, Lander said.

Environmental and transit advocacy groups are among those backing Lander’s threats of a lawsuit, arguing that Hochul didn’t have the legal authority to halt the project.

Sara Lind, co-executive director at Open Plans, a New York City neighborhood advocacy group, called Hochul’s decision to halt congestion pricing only weeks before it starts “is not only craven, dangerous, and shortsighted — it’s illegal.”

“Congestion pricing is the law, passed explicitly to save New Yorkers from debilitating congestion, traffic violence, transit inaccessibility, and climate disaster,” she said. “By pulling the plug, Governor Hochul has turned her back on millions of New Yorkers and set the city on a crash course.”

Last week, Hochul reversed course on congestion pricing, announcing that she has directed the MTA to “indefinitely” pause the program, which was set to go into effect on June 30. Hochul said she still supports the program’s “goals” to reduce traffic and pollution, but she said New Yorkers “are getting hammered on cost, and they, and the economic vitality of our city, must be protected.”

Under the program, motorists would be charged an additional $15 to enter Manhattan at 61st Street and below, while trucks could be charged between $24 and $36, depending on their size. Ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft would pay a $2.50 surcharge. The only exemptions from the new toll charges would be for school and commuter buses and government vehicles, according to the MTA.

The move had support from top Democrats like New York City Mayor Eric Adams — Hochul — both of whom argued the first-in-the-nation program would reduce traffic, congestion and tailpipe pollution while raising billions of dollars to support the city’s public transit system.

But the new plan has been hit with several legal challenges, including one by New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, who has called the new tolling charges a “cash grab” that would hurt New Jersey commuters.

Adams hasn’t threatened to take any legal action to override Hochul’s move but wants the state to come up with money to plug the revenue shortfall from axing the new tolling program.

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