NY/NJ: War of words over NYC’s congestion pricing pits transit CEO against lawmakers

May 24, 2024
Congestion pricing is scheduled to start on June 30, charging $15 to non-commercial passenger vehicles and $22.50 to those without E-ZPass to enter Manhattan south of 60 th Street.

The latest bi-state war of words continued between the MTA’s CEO and two congressmen who charged the transit agency boss doesn’t use it’s buses and trains, saying he instead opts for an agency vehicle that would be exempted from the $15 congestion pricing fee that will be charged to enter lower Manhattan.

U.S. Reps Josh Gottheimer, D-5th Dist., and Anthony D’Esposito from Long Island’s 4th district also announced proposed legislation to prohibit the MTA from using federal funds “to chauffeur” MTA CEO Janno Lieber” during a Thursday morning press conference.

“We got more evidence Janno is above it all, he doesn’t use his own mass transit… he uses a government vehicle to get around the city, the very things congestion pricing is trying and get off the road,” Gottheimer said. “A government vehicle won’t be subject to the congestion tax.”

While acknowledging there can be issues about security and accommodating Lieber’s protection detail, he noted that Mayor Eric Adams and New York Gov. Kathy Hochul have taken the subway or bus with their security details, Gottheimer said.

MTA officials refuted the charge, saying Lieber is not assigned an MTA vehicle and leaves security determinations to professionals at MTAPD.

“Janno Lieber rides the transit system every single day and everybody knows that, except for Gottheimer, a politician nobody’s ever seen on mass transit,” said John J. McCarthy, MTA Chief, Policy and External Relations.

In April, an MTA official chided Gottheimer for driving to a press conference he held outside MTA headquarters in Manhattan. In response, Gottheimer said he would have had to catch a 7:30 a.m. NJ Transit bus from Bergen County to make the mid-morning event.

“We spoke to people who made it clear he (Lieber) used a government auto to be ferried around New York and New Jersey,” Esposito said. “We’re talking about everyday New Yorkers and people from New Jersey who will pay this fee.”

Congestion pricing is scheduled to start on June 30, charging $15 to non-commercial passenger vehicles and $22.50 to those without E-ZPass to enter Manhattan south of 60Th Street. The program is designed to cut traffic volume, reduce congestion, air pollution and crashes, and raise $1 billion for major MTA projects.

“Gridlock Gottheimer stays in his traffic-congesting chauffeured car doing nothing to improve transit in New Jersey,” McCarthy said.

Lieber tapped his OMNY fare card 600 times over 12 months ending April 30, which works out to 13 trips on transit per work week, said Aaron Donovan, an MTA spokesperson.

A Gottheimer spokesman criticized the MTA response saying the agency “isn’t answering the actual question — does he or does he not ever use a taxpayer-funded car to get around?”

But the MTA also runs the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority, which has facilities that would require a vehicle to reach, agency officials said.

Both lawmakers highlighted a bipartisan letter they sent last month with other members of the New York and New Jersey Congressional Delegation asking the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee to probe MTA and its leadership. That potentially could include having Lieber testify.

Gottheimer pressed his point from April that the MTA still hasn’t provided the methodology and the math that led to the $15 rate. In January Gottheimer’s staff used Port Authority traffic volume and the proposed rate to calculate the MTA would make over $3 billion annually from congestion pricing, three times what New York state law calls for.

On Thursday, Gottheimer said he has gotten no response to a Freedom of Information Act request asking for the details except for a reply with links to recordings of congestion public hearings and documents that don’t show the math.

“We need honest, transparent answers from MTA leadership,” Gottheimer said.

While waiting for final federal approval of the rate structure, starting congestion pricing also depends on a federal judge’s ruling on a lawsuit brought by New Jersey that could block the start.

Our journalism needs your support. Please subscribe today to NJ.com.

Larry Higgs may be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on X @CommutingLarry

©2024 Advance Local Media LLC. Visit nj.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.