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Kiss Those New Subway Cars Goodbye Now That Hochul’s Paused Congestion Pricing

Better trains, signals that work, and new subway lines are now likely to get canceled thanks to Hochul's last-minute congestion pricing "pause."

(MTA New York City Transit / Marc A. Hermann)

For years, transit advocates have been eagerly awaiting the MTA's new capital plan, the list of projects the MTA would fund through the rest of this decade. That's because the plan would be the first one with congestion pricing in place, meaning that the MTA would finally have a reliable, steady source of revenue that it could then take out bonds with, increasing its ability to spend. (Previously, the MTA's own budget was so beholden to Albany backroom deals that it was impossible for its leadership to get a general sense of how much money it could reasonably spend, leading to the agency racked up an enormous amount of debt.) 

According to the MTA's own 20-year needs assessment from last year, which is meant to steer the MTA's decision-making process for the capital plan, the MTA desperately needs to purchase new subway cars (the oldest in the system are more than 40 years old), replace hundreds of miles of track that are currently equipped with century-old signaling technology (which would allow trains to run more quickly), and also add hundreds of elevators to the system to increase accessibility. On top of those fairly basic upgrades, are two new additions to the system—the extension of the Second Avenue subway line to East Harlem, and the new Interborough Express, a light rail that would connect most of the east-west subway lines (17 in all) in Brooklyn and Queens.

So what's going to happen to all of these necessary improvements now that Kathy Hochul has indefinitely "paused" congestion pricing, whose funding she also haphazardly tried to replace entirely on Friday before the legislature split town for the year? 

According to a press statement from the MTA's chief financial officer and its general counsel, released late on Friday night after Hochul's bizarre New Jersey-centric press conference, things are looking financially grim for the MTA—it now will have to alter its current 2020-2024 capital plan, just to make ends meet. One would have to assume that prospects would likewise be grim for the 2025-2029 capital plan that is supposed to be voted on this year. 

"The MTA cannot award contracts that do not have a committed, identified funding source," the pair wrote, adding that the MTA will need to "reorganize the program to prioritize the most basic and urgent needs." They singled out electric buses, new signals, and accessibility projects as projects that are likely to be shelved now that the system cannot rely on congestion pricing as a revenue stream. 

In other words, you can kiss shiny new subway cars, new train lines, and subway signals built after World War II goodbye. 

In the same release, the two wrote that while the MTA is ready to implement congestion pricing, it cannot do so without the consent of the governor—something that is most likely now going to be the subject of legal action, as several lawmakers think the MTA has every right to just move ahead with the program

As the smoke (from idling cars) clears, Hochul's motivation for killing congestion pricing appears to be solely to help Democrats fend off bad polling in suburban areas ahead of this year's general election, something that most likely will not sway voters whose antipathy towards the policy was already baked in after years of planning. And while the rest of us spend another Monday riding the trains and buses that are the lifeblood and economic engine of the city and that are now facing deep peril, Hochul will be getting ready for a fundraiser being thrown for her by a car dealer association in Whitestone. Vroom vroom, cough cough. 

Some links to read while stuck in a crumbling subway tunnel as a century-old signal fails: 

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