West Siders Fret Over Congestion Pricing, Ask for More Housing Protections at Town Hall

By Michael McDowell

Upper West Siders aren’t sold on congestion pricing, are eager to see misbehaving cyclists ticketed, and remain very concerned about the increasing scarcity of affordable housing in the neighborhood. These were the big takeaways from a lively—and at times, unruly—standing-room-only town hall hosted by Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal and Comptroller Scott Stringer at John Jay College earlier this month. Issues addressed ranged from a neglected dog run to the importance of impeachment.

In opening remarks, Rosenthal highlighted a number of recent legislative successes in Albany.

“We reformed the criminal justice system by ending cash bail for approximately 90 percent of all offenses. We also reformed discovery and speedy trial, which makes justice more available to everyone. We banned plastic carryout bags, and increased funding for education by more than a billion dollars, which is a big sum, although it does fall short of the amount that’s owed to public school students, but we live to fight another day. We made historic commitments to election reform by including $24.7 million in funding to implement early voting, same day voter registration, 16-and 17-year-old pre-voter registration, and other reforms that will make voting easier and more accessible to all New Yorkers.”

Last November, the Upper West Side played host to a chaotic Election Day featuring long lines and general misery in rainy weather. Scanner outages and other issues were reported across the city.

But, as if she could sense the apparent sentiment of many in the audience, Rosenthal delivered a lengthy explanation of the reasoning behind congestion pricing, a new fee meant to raise money to fix the subway by charging people who drive in Manhattan below 60th Street.

Clearly, not everyone was convinced. “I want to talk about congestion pricing,” began numerous constituents, in the Q&A.

Stringer stepped in.

“We must save the subway. We are losing hundreds of millions of dollars, billions of dollars, to train delays and the collapse of the system. We now have to come up with $60 billion dollars to implement Andy Byford’s Fast Forward plan, so we have to take bold action to raise $60 billion dollars, and congestion pricing is just one step.”

Details of the plan have yet to be agreed upon, especially as to who will be exempt from the toll, which will impact those traveling below 60th Street (an inducement, perhaps, never to leave the Upper West Side—as if such a thing were necessary).

“Just because we have congestion pricing does not mean it should not be something we cannot mold to meet the needs of the disability community, the senior community, the people who teach our kids. This is all going to be talked about and debated for some time,” Stringer added.

Who will be exempt from the toll?

People who live in the zone that make less than $60,000 will be exempt—or receive a tax credit, Rosenthal stated, noting that the regime would commence in 2021 at the earliest. And the wealthy will pay their fare share, she assured.

Why were details not spelled out in the budget?

“We are legislators, we are not transportation experts…That is why we have a [Traffic Mobility Review Board],” Rosenthal said. The Board will develop the details of the congestion pricing plan.

Transit, it appears, is on the minds of many West Siders.

What is being done to protect pedestrians from bicyclists, one person asked?

“There are different attitudes and different resources. First, there are some protected bike lanes and the bicyclists should be staying in those lanes and going the proper way,” Rosenthal said, to howls and general cacophony.

“We also need enforcement,” she continued.

Murmurs of approval.

“Deputy Inspector Timothy Malin, of the 20th Precinct, is here, and he will be happy to talk to you. We’ve talked a lot about enforcement: when [NYPD does] a week of enforcement, it helps for a period of time, but there needs to be a lot more education. Bicycles are here to stay and we all need to live together.”

Dissent!

“I would suggest that not one more penny be spent on bike lanes until enforcement is taken care of,” said a man, to applause.

A savvy operator stepped up to the microphone.

“I have two small requests. Could somebody please tell somebody at the MTA that bus drivers should pull to the curb, and announce all stops, which they fail to do. I come from the era of trolley cars, and the reason why we got rid of trolley cars is that they couldn’t pull to the curb—and a lot of times, if you’re not in a familiar neighborhood, you pass your stop,” she said.

“And one more little request: if somebody has the opportunity to speak to somebody who is close to Nancy Pelosi, please tell her that Trump is very worth impeaching. If he’s not worth impeaching, who is? Just an impeachment in the House, and it would be the first line in his obituary!”

John Jay College nearly descended into total disorder.

“It’s great to be back on the West Side!” Stringer laughed. “The good news is, we take care of everything, so we’ve got Jerry Nadler on the Judiciary Committee.”

Closer to home, affordable housing remains a matter of grave concern, and both Rosenthal and Stringer emphasized their commitment to protecting low-income tenants and solving the city’s housing crisis.

“I was motivated to get into politics and community issues because my landlord illegally and unsuccessfully tried to evict me and my grandmother from our rent-controlled apartment that we shared. I know what it’s like to be a harassed tenant, I know what it’s like to ask for repairs that never happen, and I decided to dedicate my career to standing with other tenants and at the same time, people who don’t have power, which is the vast majority of us,” Rosenthal said.

“I worry very much that our city is becoming a place for the very, very wealthy, with enclaves for the very, very poor, and that we’re losing this aspirational middle class,” Stringer said. “Enough is enough, we need a new housing plan for New York…I now have two kids, a seven-year-old, Max, and a five-and-a-half-year-old, and I worry about them. I do not want to see this generation of New Yorkers pushed out. I am not raising these children to move to Idaho or Iowa.”

The two are working on a bill regarding Senior Citizen Rent Increase Exemption (SCRIE) and Disability Rent Increase Exemption (DRIE).

A woman in the audience was on the verge of tears.

“I don’t want to lose the home I’ve had for 53 years. I’m rent controlled. I just got a $65-dollar-a-month fuel pass-along, and a 7.5 percent [rent increase]. I am spending social security and my pension on rent, I don’t want to give up my home, I don’t want to move to Iowa or Kansas,” she said.

“For many years I’ve carried a bill to change the way rent-controlled increases are levied,” Rosenthal said. “This bill, which is part of the package of bills that we’re going to pass into law this year, will take the average of the last five year increase that rent- stabilized tenants get. So in the past five years it’s been a 1.5 percent increase, and that’s what your increase will be, while keeping in place the protections you have. And for rent control, the landlord actually has to have no violations to ask for that increase. The number of units are dwindling, there’s maybe 22,000 apartments left, and it’s the right thing to do. It would also eliminate fuel pass-alongs.”

A fight over housing laws is on the horizon in Albany, and New Yorkers may soon gain transformative tenant protection laws — even, according to Rosenthal, the right of every tenant to renew a lease. She indicated that Cuomo seems poised to agree to a package of significant reforms.

How about the neighborhood stories we know and love?

Both electeds are aware of the long-awaited—and still, apparently, pending—renovation of the Bull Moose Dog Run, in Theodore Roosevelt Park adjacent the Museum of Natural History.

And Rosenthal had a few choice words for the developers of 200 Amsterdam.

“It was treachery on the part of the developer, who combined different tax lots to make it one zoning lot, which really should not be allowed…The problem is, no stop work order, so it keeps going up. It’s a real issue, and we’re working on it,” she said.

The rest? Single-payer health care, proxy access—an innovative boardroom accountability campaign Stringer has pioneered—keyless building entry and tenant privacy rights, the disturbing retail vacancy issue, menstrual equity, and a new bill to raise the smoking age to 21, which Rosenthal believes will be signed into law.

It’s all happening on the West Side.

NEWS | 37 comments | permalink
    1. Scott says:

      Congestion pricing is just a cost shift to drivers to make up for the decriminalization of fare jumping. Politically it will work because no one likes drivers. But let’s call this what it is.

      I’m also disturbed that there was no mention of parking permits.

      • Sid says:

        Scott, where do you get this stuff from? Fare jumping was never decriminalized, in fact they have double downed on enforcement of it. Congestion Pricing goals are two-fold: increase revenue to the MTA, and decrease car traffic/congestion on our streets.

        • Scott says:

          Fake news Sid is out & about on a Friday afternoon.

          From a Cy Vance press release 7/31/18:

          “On February 1, 2018, D.A. Vance ended the criminal prosecution of subway fare evasion (known as “turnstile-jumping”), except in limited cases where there is a demonstrated public safety reason to prosecute the offense. In 2017, the D.A.’s Office prosecuted more than 8,000 fare evasion cases. In 2018, following the first six months of the D.A.’s “decline-to-prosecute” policy, Manhattan fare evasion prosecutions are down -96.4%. The D.A.’s policy also contributed to a 90% reduction in arrests for fare evasion in Manhattan. According to the NYPD, transit crime is down -4.51% citywide in 2018.”

          Maybe you can point to some evidence that those numbers are wrong and you are right.

          • RK says:

            Fare enough (see what I did there) but congestion pricing has nothing to do with fare evasion, other than they’re both part of the MTA’s expansive budget. Congestion pricing will provide a steady revenue stream of billions of dollars going forward to modernize the subway infrastructure. Reducing fare evasion is a drop in the ocean.

            So your facts are correct but the argument you use them for appears to be your wild conjecture.

          • Sid says:

            That isn’t decriminalization though. People still get fined and sometimes arrested for this crime. If anything’s it’s a boon for taxpayers who don’t have to pay the bill to imprison someone for a non-violent crime.

    2. JeffS says:

      Menstrual equity? Would someone knowledgeable on the subject please explain? Thanks in advance.

    3. Roger S. says:

      We do need parking permits for residents north of 60th street so the parking spots are not taken up by people avoiding the congestion parking fees.

      • Woody says:

        Drivers are not going to leave their cars north of 60th St and then pay either round-trip mass transit or taxi/FHV vehicles fares to get deep into the zone. The goal is to keep the cars further away from the zone, not at the edge. You have to understand driver mentality.

        I’m tired of hearing about the justifications for building service workers getting exemptions. They should have to deal with it like the rest of the people who travel to work.

    4. Ken says:

      Pedestrians, especially seniors, are a thousand times more likely to be killed or seriously injured on our streets by a car or truck than by a cyclist, and yet this is what people who attend such forums choose to complain about. It’s sort of like complaining about the common cold in the midst of a cholera epidemic. Go figure.

      • Sid says:

        Completely agree Ken. 64 people have been killed on NYC streets since 2019 began. The last death caused by a cyclist was 5 years ago. This fascination with policing cyclists is ridiculous. Everyone needs to follow the rules of the road, and of course some cyclists are terrible, and so are some drivers. However lives are routinely cut short and people are maimed hundred times over by drivers.

    5. Nina Duchaine says:

      The MTA is losing millions of dollars annually because of union rules. It takes 50% more union employees to do work than in ANY other county.
      Why is everyone afraid to take on the unions?
      It is the only way that the subway system will be save.
      I am not opposed to congestion pricing.

      • RK says:

        The MTA needs billions of dollars, not millions. The union regulations are problematic to the outside observer, but not to the members of the union. And the answer to your question is: Politics.
        A richer source of money could be creating real accountability for capital projects so that they don’t cost 4x as much as anywhere else in the developed world, including cities with infrastructures much older and trickier than ours. At least our streets run straight so creating a tunnel underneath it is straightforward. Not so for London, Paris, Rome…. Yet their costs, with all of their labor protections, is drastically lower than NYC’s.

    6. Robert Sheridan says:

      This is a Totally Bogus excuse for Politicians to be reaching in our pockets once again.

      You can go back over the last decade and more and this same reason for raising taxes, fees, whatever has ben similarly to “save the subways.

      Same nonsense as the Lottery is “for education”

      Money is Money (“fungible”) and they don’t put it in a segregated account – they simply want to get their hands on it and pure taxing has reached the limit.

      We wouldn’t have this problem if Cuomo hadn’t raided MTA $ for other pet projects. Now we are expected to pay. This is just the beginning.

      Soon will be expanded north – 96th Street and further. Simply another way for parasitic pols to pick our pockets.

      First they start small – income tax, sales tax – with great “reasons” then once in, keep increasing and expanding.

      Stop Congestion Fees now or rue the day.

      • Becca says:

        It’s not my pockets, I don’t have a car. But I do ride in buses and cabs stuck in giant traffic jams full of private cars and I am all for picking their pockets. Viva Congestion Pricing!

        • dannyboy says:

          Please note that CONGESTION Pricing is no longer promoted to reduce congestion. The New Spin is:

          “Rosenthal delivered a lengthy explanation of the reasoning behind congestion pricing, a new fee meant to raise money to fix the subway by charging people who drive in Manhattan below 60th Street.”

          “Stringer stepped in.’We must save the subway. We are losing hundreds of millions of dollars, billions of dollars, to train delays and the collapse of the system. We now have to come up with $60 billion dollars to implement Andy Byford’s Fast Forward plan, so we have to take bold action to raise $60 billion dollars, and congestion pricing is just one step.’”

          Aren’t you getting tired of the Political Propaganda?

          And, if you are OK with eating political propaganda, doesn’t it bother you to be treated like a bait-and-switch target?

          • Becca says:

            They have always said it was twofold, to reduce traffic and get money for the subways. She is stating one of the reasons that’s always been stated. No bait and switch.

            Not to mention, I don’t care what the marketing is. Experts say it will reduce traffic and that is, to me, other than the loss of all the stores, the single biggest “lifestyle” issue in NYC today. That is, not life or death, just draining your psyche every single day. It worked in London and I can’t wait to try it here.

            • dannyboy says:

              Becca, then why is it not promoted as “TRANSIT IMPROVEMENT and Congestion Pricing”

              I get that you are getting what you want by the reduction of cars, but sometimes the common good needs priority.

          • RK says:

            Wait, what?

            First, bait and switch is when one thing is advertised and another is offered at greater expense. That’s not what’s happening here.

            The congestion plan just ratified has evolved from the same plan that Bloomberg put in motion and was defeated by Albany pols. What’s changed is the political reality of constituents demanding an improvement in subway infrastructure, which is a compatible benefit of congestion pricing, and a target for its revenue instead of just reducing city taxes or whatever. Cuomo never spoke against congestion pricing in the past, he just pointed out that it was politically untenable.

            So think of it as a political twofer, not a bait-and-switch.

            If you have issues with the congestion plan, or its implementation driving modernization of the subway infrastructure for the next century, then say that.

            But don’t call political foul. There are no refs, so there are no fouls in politics. In this case, the motivation is for the good of the city.

            • dannyboy says:

              “If you have issues with the congestion plan, or its implementation driving modernization of the subway infrastructure for the next century, then say that.” I DO NOT, BUT FOR SOME REASON YOU FEEL THAT THE ENDS JUSTIFY THE MEANS, SO FORGET TRUTHFULNESS. I JUST DON’T ACCEPT FALSEHOODS AS EASILY AS YOU.

              “But don’t call political foul. There are no refs, so there are no fouls in politics.” AND NOT ONLY DO YOU ACCEPT THAT THERE IS NO HONESTY, BUT YOU DEFEND IT.

        • sam says:

          The “private cars” causing the congestion are mainly Uber and other private ride companies. Perhaps if instead of taking taxis, you and others used mass transit in midtown, there wouldn’t be a traffic issue…

        • B.B. says:

          You do realize that since freight railroads left NYC nearly everything comes into Manhattan via truck.

          All sorts of businesses are simply going to do what they have done in past when faced with a tax/price increase; bundle it into whatever rates they charge customers.

          Just because you live on UWS it may not mean you’ll be immune to any of these price changes or surcharges. Even if you don’t purchase something directly from someone or thing that is charged CP fee, it still may hit as others are hit with higher prices and pass that increase along.

    7. MTA says:

      All of this banter about transportation in this city and nobody wants to do a thing about MTA workers who clear nearly $350K in wages. Talk about criminal!

    8. Robert Sheridan says:

      Government contributed largely unnecessarily to congestion by reducing major avenues by 1-2 car lanes with bike lanes plus pedestrian malls in Times Square, elsewhere. Now these guys plan to close 14th Street for 18 months while working on L-line. This will back up traffic 20 blocks around.

      Having knowingly created/added to congestion immensely, these Rocket Scientists now want us to pay for their “managing” it.

      One more Grifter Pol Scam!

      .

      • Jay says:

        It’s been proven time after time that bike lanes and pedestrian plazas do not increase congestion.

    9. Lincoln10023 says:

      To Linda Rosenthal and other elected officials, if legislators are not transportation experts, then how could you vote for something that was not fully developed and vetted so that your constituents concerns regarding Congestion Pricing were heard? You gave up your negotiating leverage to this new Transportation Board once you voted to adopt the skeleton Congestion Pricing legislation in the Budget bill. Shouldn’t you have held out for some guarantees for your residents, especially those living within a half mile north of the congestion zone like other elected officials did for their constituents, i.e. Why is it that Bronx residents will soon not have to pay to cross the Henry Hudson Bridge? Why is it that Queens residents will soon not have to pay to cross the Cross Bay Bridge in the Rockaways? Why will cars going eastbound through the Holland and Lincoln Tunnels from New Jersey and maybe the George Washington Bridge (i.e. New Jersey residents) have a credit applied against their Congestion Fee while Upper West Side Residents needing to go to NJ via one of those tunnels or Bridge will have to pay to enter the Congestion Zone with not an offsetting credit to the Congestion Fee? These details affecting Upper West Side residents have been discussed endlessly throughout the debate and IGNORED! Ms. Rosenthal and other Manhattan elected officials, PLEASE ACT NOW on our behalf! If this program is enacted along the lines of what the Governor originally proposed in the Budget, then Manhattan residents will be the ONLY City residents to have to pay a fee/toll to enter their own Boro! Please don’t let this happen!

    10. Isabella says:

      Manhattan is becoming unlivable for all but the ultra wealthy… 😐

      • Luv-It-Or-Leave-It says:

        “Manhattan is becoming unlivable for all but the ultra wealthy”

        REALLY???

        Then WHO are all those wonderfully-ordinary, ethnically,racially,age-diverse souls shopping in TJ’s & Fairway, strolling on Broadway, filling the seats in the AMC on W. 68th, etc.?

        Generally-speaking, its best to avoid generalizations…esp. those merely delusions.

    11. Billy Amato says:

      Congestion pricing is a big farce for New York State and NYC… it will never work but what will work is legalizing marijuana and taxing the billionaires!
      ** Not one state in the United States has congestion pricing.

    12. Sam says:

      Question about this (new) Congestion Pricing Plan…..I feel incredibly stupid & silly for asking this, but I can’t find an answer. Once this new Congestion Pricing Plan begins would one be charged for taking a Taxi from a location on the UWS to a destination in midtown (below 60th)? I know cabs just got a $2.50 Congestion Surcharge, but can’t figure out if there will be additional fees coming from this 60th Street Congestion Plan. Thanks!

      • B.B. says:

        At this point no one knows all the details of what shape and form CP will take. Until the newly created MTA CP board hashes things out and releases how things will roll we all are in the dark.

        In aid of protecting themselves Albany pushed start of CP until after the 2020 elections. Democrats are especially worried about districts in Long Island and Westchester. They’ve handed state GOP a nice big club to beat democrats over head with, and worry that angry voters in such districts might vote republican.

        Everyone and their mother is lining up for exemptions from CP. Taxis, livery car drivers, residents/business owners, employees, and others south of 60th street for a start.

        There are three major hospital systems below 60th street (NYU, Mount Sinai Beth Israel, and NYP Beekman) all employing a good number of doctors and nurses who drive into Manhattan. The United Nations is also below 60th street, as is the Broadway theatre district.

        Over past decade or so there has been an enormous change in Manhattan south of 34th street. Far West Side, Hudson Yards, Tribeca, SoHo, West Village, Greenwich Village, East Village, Lower East Side, Financial District, Chelsea, etc… all have seen steady rise in populations and fast becoming the new “in” places to live. You are going to charge all those residents and or their guests $11 one way or another go get back to their homes if they come from uptown?

    13. Jim says:

      Uber and all TNC’s are pulling Billions out of mass transit. They;re being allowed to offer artificially cheap rides subsidized by venture capital. Cuomo was instrumental in making sure they could flood the city with 170,00+ cars. Yellow taxis are currently at roughly 11,000 since 2,000 cabs are off the road due to bankruptcies. Yet they;re paying $2.50 plus the preexisting .80 per trip toward ‘congestion.’ Medallion numbers are literally based on CONGESTION STUDIES. Taxis MUST be in the CBD as often as possible to eek out a living. That will never change, nor should it. They literally paid millions for unlimited street hail rights.

    14. Stef Lev says:

      The time to gain insights from “the experts” should precede voting on a bill. Legislators hold hearings before passing legislation, in order to review and refine the bill prior to voting. There has been 5 years of plans underway to have gained insight.

      As our legislative representative, shouldn’t Linda Rosenthal have asked for answers to know what the “experts” know before she voted?

    15. Andrew says:

      next: swiping a card to enter onto a NYC sidewalk…..?

      • dannyboy says:

        The decline of the Common Good has accelerated. Now we set out to spoil the commons.

        Coined by ecologist Garrett Hardin in 1968, the “tragedy of the commons” is the overconsumption of a shared resource by individuals who are acting out of self-interest rather than attending to the long-term interests of the group. Hardin used the metaphor of a shared area of pasture land to illustrate his theory.

    16. B.B. says:

      I’ll say it again; Mrs. Rosenthal doesn’t know what she’s talking about regarding rent control.

      Starting in 1953 and again in 1962 into 1968 rent control was gradually ended. No new units were created, and in 1969 RS laws were enacted which covered buildings built after the 1947 cutoff of rent control.

      State had to end rent control because of a severe housing shortage and no one was building new units. Why would anyone bother building new apartments when the government was going to regulate rents, returns and so forth. By the late 1960’s rents had begun rising so to do “something” RS was introduced as rent control light.

      Rent controlled apartments are occupied by a tenant continuously prior to July 1, 1971 in a building built before February 1, 1947. In some cases a successor to original tenant is living in that RC apartment, but otherwise upon demise or removal the RC apartment becomes either RS or market rate.

      Simply put time and attrition have removed most RC apartments, not necessarily any bad actions by landlords.

      Someone who moved into a RC apartment in their 20’s back in 1947 would be > 90 now if they are still living. Those who moved in at same age but in 1960’s are in their 60’s or 70’s at least. Exactly the demographic you see standing with Mrs. Rosenthal asking for “relief”.

      Rent controlled apartments generally do not have leases. The fuel surcharge pass along (which can go up or down depending upon market conditions), is to ensure a LL receives funding to pay for fuel.

      In a building with a mixture of RS, RC and market rate tenants fuel is part of the numbers crunched to give the annual increases for one or two year leases. Market rate tenants should be self explanatory.

      Mrs. Rosenthal’s plans would not only limit rent increases for RC units, but also deprive LL of recouping fuel costs. Since heat/hot water must be provided someone will have to subsidize that difference. Namely RS and market rate tenants of same building.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rent_control_in_New_York

    17. B.B. says:

      Congestion pricing has NOTHING to do with reducing vehicular traffic per se; rather the law is specifically and uniquely designed to raise funds for the bottomless money pit aka the MTA. This is clearly stated in the law as it was written.

      State anticipates revenue of at least one billion per year. That sum would be used to float bonds with an anticipated return of 15 billion dollars.

      As with all taxes (which is exactly what CP is) if revenue does not meet expectations the plan won’t work as intended. Thus we come back to the whole idea of reducing congestion in Manhattan.

      If traffic going below 60th street falls off a cliff that would be great for the tree huggers and other anti motor vehicle people. But would be a disaster for the congestion pricing scheme in terms of raising revenue for MTA. When revenue projections aren’t what they should then those bonds wont bring in expected returns. Investors simply won’t pay rates state wants based upon the numbers they are seeing. So instead of 15 billion you might get ten, eight or even five.

      In an odd and perverse way state is counting on perhaps a small reduction in vehicular traffic below 60th street, but not so great it messes with their rosy revenue projections.