New Yorkers drawing a line in the sand over congestion pricing

17 Aug 2023

BY JOHN DIAS, DAVE CARLIN

UPDATED ON: AUGUST 17, 2023 / 11:56 PM / CBS NEW YORK

Controversial congestion pricing took center stage again Thursday.

As the MTA inches closer to rolling it out, things are getting heated between those who support it and those who are against it.

There still isn’t a definitive timeline of when the tolling system will take effect, nor is it known what it will cost. But many New Yorkers are drawing a line in the sand, from politicians to taxicab drivers.

A rally in support of congestion pricing, attracting New Yorkers from all over, took place Thursday. There was discussion about positive impacts the future tolling system will have on the city.

“It will bring critical funding to the MTA and it will deliver faster buses, cleaner air, safer streets and better transit options for New Yorkers,” said Elizabeth Adams of Transportation Alternatives.

Public Advocate Jumaane Williams stressed the importance of protecting the environment and how charging drivers entering Manhattan’s Central Business District below 60th Street could help.

“Not only do we have to make sure that we have all the options we need in the city, but our planet is in jeopardy now,” Williams said. “The vast majority, vast, vast majority of people can take mass transit and we should encourage it.”

Those against congestion pricing were also out in force, including some who participated in a march to MTA headquarters, where a demonstration was held out front. The crowd chanted, “Exemptions now!”

Taxi and ride-share drivers are among those adamantly against the tolling plan.

“I am a medallion owner for 36 years. I should be retired by now. We’re losing so much,” said Dorothy LeConte, who drives a yellow cab in Brooklyn. “We are here to remind them for us not to pay because if we don’t protest, they’re going to forget about us.”

Arifa Tirmiza is an organizer with the Independent Drivers Guild — or IDG — which sponsored the demonstration.

“This is just unfair. This is just unfair,” Tirmiza said.

Tirmiza is a mother of seven who has been an Uber driver since 2016. She said people won’t take taxis if extra fees must be passed on to the riders.

“It cuts out money from my children and it takes out money from the food that I try to put on the table,” Tirmiza said.

At the earlier pro-congestion rally, a man wearing a “NYC Drivers Unite” t-shirt and an opponent of the tolls interrupted a college student talking about why the plan would help her in the Bronx. And at times it got physical with other people trying to stop him.

Meanwhile, City Hall is trying to understand the pros and cons of the tolling system, grilling MTA officials during an oversight hearing on Thursday and trying to establish a better timeline of when things will officially be up and running.

“The timeline is dictated by DOT permits so intimately involved and we’ve been sending out weekly lookahead to the communities so they know what’s coming,” one official said.

The city Taxi and Limousine Commission was invited to the hearing, but representatives didn’t show up.

The Traffic Mobility Review Board planned on meeting on Thursday afternoon to further discuss the exact cost of the congestion pricing tolls. However, sources say they’ll likely be between $9 and $23.

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