A years-in-the-making plan to toll motorists driving into the most congested parts of Manhattan as a way to ease traffic and raise billions for transit upgrades has stalled again — less than a month before its planned launch.

Gov. Kathy Hochul on Wednesday said she is indefinitely delaying the June 30 start of congestion pricing, which would have made New York the first city in North America to follow the lead of London, Stockholm and Singapore in tolling vehicles as a means of improving air quality.

Instead of placing once-daily tolls and what she called “undue strain” on those driving into the congestion zone south of 60th Street by the end of the month, Hochul said she will now work with city and federal officials to come up with ways to fill what the MTA had projected to be a $15 billion windfall for improvements to the transit system as a result of the fees.

“There never is only one path forward,” Hochul said in a pre-recorded video released at noon. “Together, I am confident we’ll be able to deliver the world class public transit that riders deserve, ensure a cleaner planet for future generations and continue to fuel the vitality and the comeback of NYC.”

The toll system and equipment needed to make congestion pricing operational, seen near Columbus Circle, Aug. 8, 2023. Credit: Jose Martinez/THE CITY

The governor’s 11th-hour shift outraged environmental and transit advocates who for years pushed for congestion pricing, which was approved by state lawmakers in 2019 before running into multiple roadblocks and court challenges. 

“It’s not like she’s been silent on congestion pricing,” Jaqi Cohen, director of climate and equity policy at the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, told THE CITY. “It’s just a complete betrayal on where she’s been, it’s a betrayal.”

Politico and The New York Times first reported on Hochul wavering on congestion pricing Tuesday evening. That reporting spurred outrage from proponents of the plan, leading up to a rally at Hochul’s Midtown office that started before she even made the official announcement.

“It’s just a complete betrayal on where she’s been, it’s a betrayal.”

Protestors stood outside the governor’s Third Avenue digs with signs that said “Gridlock Hochul” and chanted “Flip the switch!” — a reference to the scanners that need to be activated for motorists to be tolled.

“When your train doesn’t come on time, remember that [Hochul] had the chance to stand up for transit riders,” said Renae Reynolds, executive director of Tri-State Transportation Campaign. “If you are not going to stand up for transit riders now, when will you?”

The plan is designed to provide billions of dollars for transit improvements that include subway signal upgrades, the next phase of the Second Avenue Subway and new buses, subway cars and commuter rail trains.

‘Political Gunfire’

Danny Pearlstein, policy director for Riders Alliance, a transit advocacy group, said he had hoped that Hochul would be the first to drive under the license plate scanners that have gone up at gateways to the congestion zone. The MTA paid $507 million to TransCore, a Nashville company, to build out the tolling infrastructure on overhead signs, traffic poles or bridges.

He also cast Hochul alongside the governor of New Jersey, a former president of the United States and her predecessor in Albany as those who were critical to detouring congestion pricing.

“Jumping on the transit defund bandwagon at the 11th hour is a mistake, it’s the antithesis of leadership,” Pearlstein told THE CITY. “We expect her to make hard decisions, but the easiest is to follow in the footsteps of [N.J. Gov.] Phil Murphy, Donald Trump and Andrew Cuomo.”

“Jumping on the transit defund bandwagon at the 11th hour is a mistake, it’s the antithesis of leadership.”

Murphy and the state of New Jersey had been among the first to file a federal lawsuit over congestion pricing, while Trump had railed against the plan on his Truth social media platform in March, saying “Hopefully, it will soon be withdrawn.”

Even Cuomo — who as Hochul’s predecessor signed congestion pricing into law then resigned amid a string of sexual harassment allegations — in March had come out against the plan he once championed.

Union leader John Samuelsen, who last November resigned in protest from the Traffic Mobility Review Board after saying the MTA had “failed to meet the moment” by not boosting express bus service before launching congestion pricing, called Hochul’s pause of the plan “the most amateur of amateur moves.”

Transit advocates protested outside of Gov. Kathy Hochul’s Midtown office after she announced a delay in congestion pricing, June 5, 2024. Credit: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

Samuelsen has also repeatedly criticized Janno Lieber, the MTA chairperson and chief executive, over congestion pricing.

“It didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out there would be political repercussions for the Democrats across New York State,” he said. “As it relates to the MTA, [Hochul] has let Janno lead her around like a stooge and he’s led her uphill into political gunfire.”

“It didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out there would be political repercussions for the Democrats across New York State.”

The MTA did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but multiple sources told THE CITY that Lieber forwarded the early Politico and New York Times articles to the agency’s board members early Wednesday morning.

In her remarks, Hochul noted that circumstances have changed from when congestion pricing was first approved.

 “We must respond to the facts on the ground — not from the rhetoric from five years ago,” she said. “So after careful consideration, I have come to the difficult decision that implementing the planned congestion pricing system risks too many unintended consequences for New Yorkers at this time.” 

Hafaiz Hussain, a livery car driver from Queens who happened to be on the outskirts of the Midtown rally, didn’t share the sentiments of the pro-toll crowd.

“I don’t like congestion pricing. it’s going to hurt a lot of business. We are already paying tolls, on top of that, the amount for congestion pricing hurts people and their families,” said Hussain, 55. “I feel very happy that she stopped it today.”

Your support matters…

Independent journalism is under threat and overshadowed by heavily funded mainstream media.

You can help level the playing field. Become a member.

Your tax-deductible contribution keeps us digging beneath the headlines to give you thought-provoking, investigative reporting and analysis that unearths what's really happening- without compromise.

Give today to support our courageous, independent journalists.