New York suspends Manhattan congestion pricing plan

NEW YORK (Xinhua), June 5 – New York Governor Kathy Hochul announced on Wednesday that she would not be implementing the controversial Manhattan congestion pricing scheme.

Discussions about the economic and political implications of tolling have erupted since the decision was made, as New York prepares for elections in 2024.

Hochul said that she delayed the implementation of congestion pricing due to her concerns over the rising cost of living in New York and the economic recovery of New York from the COVID-19 Pandemic. She noted that Manhattan’s office attendance hasn’t yet recovered to its pre-pandemic level, and the borough still faces a commercial vacancy of over 20 percent.

Hochul stated that he could not “add another burden” to New Yorkers, especially those in the middle class or working class.

The Manhattan congestion pricing scheme was introduced and approved for the first time in 2019 during the administration of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. The plan was to create a tolling scheme for vehicles entering Manhattan’s most congested areas, mostly south of 60th Street during peak hours. This initiative was part a larger effort to reduce congestion, decrease pollution and generate revenue for improvements to public transit infrastructure.

New Jersey, however, has filed a lawsuit in 2023 against the U.S. Transportation Department for its approval to the toll. New Jersey’s administration argued that a comprehensive environmental impact assessment of the plan should be conducted by the federal government.

The reactions to the suspension have been mixed. New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy expressed his gratitude to Hochul for pausing congestion pricing. Murphy stated that, “Despite our differences of opinion on congestion pricing, we always shared a vision of growing our regional economies, investing in infrastructure and protecting our environment on both sides Hudson River, as well as creating high-paying jobs.”

Some environmental and mass transit advocates who supported the plan because of its potential to reduce pollution and traffic congestion have expressed disappointment. Lisa Daglian said, “It is terrible news for transit users in the entire area.”

It appears that the 2024 elections are also influencing the decision to stop Manhattan congestion pricing. The congestion pricing plan that involves a 15 U.S.-dollar toll on vehicles entering Midtown Manhattan has been met with significant opposition. This is especially true from residents of the suburbs and outer boroughs who see it as an unnecessary financial burden. Republicans have seized on this opposition to make the toll a major issue in the 2020 elections.

The Republican strategists view the cost as a chance to criticize Democrats, who are adding financial pressure to voters in an era of economic challenges like inflation. They will highlight the cost in their campaigns, hoping to win voter support and to put Democrats on defense.

Hochul’s decision not to implement the plan could be a strategy to minimize potential political damage, and to address concerns of voters ahead of the elections.

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