NY: NYC Comptroller Brad Lander to join advocates in planned congestion pricing suit

June 14, 2024
The coalition — which includes transit advocacy organizations like Transportation Alternatives, Riders Alliance, Open Plans and the National Resources Defense Council, as well as business leaders from the Partnership for New York City — has not yet filed any legal action.

NEW YORK — New York City Comptroller Brad Lander and a coalition of advocates and business leaders said Wednesday they were preparing to sue Gov. Kathy Hochul’s administration to enact congestion pricing despite Hochul’s “indefinite pause” of the program.

The coalition — which includes transit advocacy organizations like Transportation Alternatives, Riders Alliance, Open Plans and the National Resources Defense Council, as well as business leaders from the Partnership for New York City — has not yet filed any legal action.

But attorney Michael Gerrard, a professor at Columbia Law School, said at a presser in lower Manhattan Wednesday that the group expects to file at least one suit within “a couple of weeks.”

The state’s congestion pricing plan — on which some $15 billion in MTA funding relied — was set to go into effect June 30. MTA chairman Janno Lieber said Monday that the cameras meant to enforce the erstwhile toll were indeed already operating and tracking traffic.

The toll was written into New York law in 2019, when legislators said the MTA board “shall” implement congestion pricing as part of a bid to fund the agency.

But Hochul upended that plan — which had taken five years of planning and federal authorizations and was facing at least eight separate legal challenges — when she announced last week that she had directed the MTA “to indefinitely pause the program.”

The shock announcement, just three weeks before the plan was to be put in place, upended the MTA’s budget and left the agency’s ability to do even basic repairs in question.

Proposals to replace the lost congestion pricing money with a payroll tax or take money from the state’s general fund fell flat among lawmakers in Albany last week.

“Gov. Hochul has already violated the law,” Gerrard said. “We could sue right away. But we want to see what the other agencies do so that we have our case fully together.”

Lander said the group would wait to see if other potential efforts to reinstate the toll were effective — but that if congestion pricing were not in effect come June 30, “We are ready and able to take the state to court.”

Lander said the coalition — which is still seeking plaintiffs for a potential suit — would wait at least until the MTA board’s next meeting to file.

“The governor’s pause is not yet definitive,” Lander said. “The MTA board is set to meet on June 26, and we’ll need to wait and see what they do.”

Andrew Albert, a non-voting member of the MTA board, said Hochul’s flip-flop on congestion pricing left the transit agency in dire financial straits.

“This cannot be allowed,” he said.

“I don’t know if the MTA board will vote at this meeting on the 26th to confirm their support for congestion pricing,” Albert continued. “But we have a fiduciary responsibility to make sure that everything is good with the MTA, and I expect that my fellow board members will be doing just that.

It remains an open question what power that board — bound by law to implement congestion pricing — has to enact a program the governor has made clear she will not back.

The state Department of Transportation — one of the three so-called “project sponsors,” along with the MTA and the NYC Transportation Department — must sign off on a federal agreement that would allow tolling on the roads, a sign-off Hochul is expected to block.

Asked to respond to the threat of legal action Wednesday, Hochul spokesman Avi Small said he could not comment on “pending or hypothetical litigation.”

“Like the majority of New Yorkers, Governor Hochul believes this is not the right time to implement congestion pricing,” he added in a statement.

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(With Josephine Stratman.)

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