NY: Firefighters latest group to ask MTA for NYC congestion pricing exemptions

March 4, 2024
Uniformed Firefighters Association president Andrew Ansbro says the fee would be fee would be an unfair burden on firefighters who don’t know where they and their equipment would be needed each day.

On-the-job firefighters using their personal vehicles to move equipment around the city shouldn’t be charged under the state’s plan to toll motorists entering Midtown and lower Manhattan, representatives of FDNY unions said Friday.

“On every single day, 2,300 firefighters go to work in New York City,” Uniformed Firefighters Association president Andrew Ansbro said at a public comment session held at MTA headquarters. “When they get to their firehouse, they may be reassigned to another firehouse based on staffing needs — it happens probably a couple hundred times a day.”

Those firefighters then use their personal vehicles to move up to 80 pounds of equipment to their assigned location, Ansbro added.

“Our members would be crossing in and out of the congestion zone as they go from one firehouse to the next,” he said.

Ansbro was one of several firefighters who addressed the MTA at the second of four public comment sessions aimed at refining the agency’s plan to charge motorists under the state’s congestion pricing plan.

The current version of the plan would see a base toll of $15 levied once a day on cars and other small vehicles entering Manhattan at 60th St. and below.

That fee would be an unfair burden on firefighters who don’t know where they and their equipment would be needed each day, Ansbro argued.

“I don’t think anyone here thinks it’s safe for a New York City firefighter to carry that bag from the firehouse down to the subway, in the subway, up and out — an hour-and-a-half Crossfit session — and then show up at a firehouse and be expected to fight a fire at full capacity,” he said.

“The best tool on a fire truck is a well-rested firefighter.”

Jim Brosi, head of the Uniformed Fire Officers Association, agreed.

“This is a very unique department that has some very stringent requirements on how we transport personal protective gear,” he said. “We are required to use our personal car or public transportation.

“It is unrealistic that we should be expected to walk several city blocks before traveling two, three or four flights down below grade,” Brosi continued. “To then come back out of that hole and then be asked to perform firefighting duties immediately upon arrival at a firehouse is unrealistic.”

The MTA — along with the Traffic Mobility Review Board, the body that suggested the current tolling plan — has generally pushed back against requests for exemptions by public servants and others commuting by car.

But MTA chair Janno Lieber said Friday he was “sympathetic” to the firefighters’ arguments.

“They’re not asking for special treatment because they commute with their cars,” Lieber told reporters. “When they’re called upon to actually turn their personal vehicle into a city vehicle for the transportation of gear, that ought to be thought through.”

Still, Lieber stopped short of backing an exemption, saying the city should bear the cost instead of smoke-eaters themselves.

“We’re still in discussions with the city about [municipal] work vehicles and how to define them,” Lieber said.

“I think this is a classic situation where the employer is asking an employee to turn [a] personal vehicle into a work vehicle,” he said. “Normally, when an employer says you’ve got to travel a certain way to carry equipment or to carry material, they compensate you for the cost of that.”

Congestion pricing is expected to raise $1 billion per year in revenue towards the MTA’s capital budget.

The controversial policy is on schedule to be put into effect in June, pending legal challenges from the state of New Jersey and several groups of New York City residents.

The MTA said 72 people spoke at Friday’s hearing. Counting the 89 people who spoke at the first congestion pricing, the MTA said, it had heard from a total of 161 speakers about the issue. Two more hearings are planned, both on Monday.

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