Congestion pricing on pause, for now; Town of Hempstead officials react to governor’s decision


Town of Hempstead officials claimed victory last week after Gov. Kathy Hochul put an indefinite pause on a congestion-pricing plan that was set to go into effect on June 30.

The plan aimed to reduce traffic and travel time, create safer streets and cleaner air, reduce emissions and overall improve the quality of life in New York City — but the cost was high. It sought to tax car drivers $15 to enter Manhattan below 60th street, and charge truck drivers anywhere from $24 to $36, depending on the size of the vehicle. The toll would have also applied to motorcycles, taxis and ride-share vehicles.

The plan was first discussed in June of last year, and Hochul faced immediate pushback across the tri-state region from representatives, who expressed concern about the burden the high costs could place on travelers.

“Let’s be real — a $15 charge may not mean a lot to someone who has the means, but it can break the budget of a working- or middle-class household,” Hochul said in announcing a pause in the plan on June 5. “It puts the squeeze on the very people who make this city go: the teachers, first responders, small business workers, bodega owners. And given these financial pressures, I cannot add another burden to working- and middle-class New Yorkers — or create another obstacle to continued recovery.”

Hempstead Town officials, who openly disagreed with the pricing plan, said while the victory is great for now, it is only temporary.

“Yesterday, we saw the governor finally acquiesce to the will of residents throughout Long Island and the tri-state region in pausing congestion pricing, not eliminating it,” Hempstead Town Supervisor Don Clavin said at a news conference on June 6. “Those are very key words we need to remember because when you pause something, you pause it with the intention of bringing it back.”

Town leaders were adamant that the congestion-pricing plan would’ve hurt the average middle-class resident who needs to drive into the city for work — people like teachers, firefighters and police officers.

“This was literally nothing but a money grab,” Clavin said.

The area where tolls would’ve been implemented was referred to as the Congestion Relief Zone in Manhattan. It was estimated the congestion pricing plan would’ve raised $1 billion a year, which would cover the interest and principal payments for capital improvement projects to the city’s subways, buses and regional train lines. 

However, town officials called out the MTA on past spending failures, leading them to feel doubtful that congestion pricing revenue would’ve made a difference.

“Everyone across the island knows that this was not about good government,” Clavin said. “This was not (about) investing in the rail systems.”

The Town of Hempstead filed a federal lawsuit last month, making it the first on Long Island to take legal action against the congestion-pricing plan.

Clavin said even though there’s a temporary pause on the plan, it’s important that residents continue to fight its possible reenactment.   

“We need to stay vigilant,” he said. “We need to keep up this fight. We’re not eliminating our lawsuit.

“This isn’t a Republican issue — this isn’t a Democrat issue,” he added. “This is a taxpayer issue, and the overburdened, overtaxed residents can’t afford this anymore.”

Congressman Anthony D’Esposito, who represents New York’s Fourth Congressional District, said the issue of congestion pricing was not only talked about on Long Island, but in the halls of Congress.

“This is an issue plaguing hardworking New Yorkers, and people in the tri-state area, that come to and from Manhattan,” he said. “Congestion pricing could cost the average commuter over $4,000 a year.”

D’Esposito said he worked with Congressman Josh Gottheimer, a Democrat from New Jersey, who also opposed congestion pricing, to enact legislation that would’ve put a stop to Hochul’s plan.

“We should claim victory because everyone here raised their voices,” D’Esposito said. “But we must keep pressure on. This shouldn’t be a pause — it should be an absolutely never going to happen.”

As of now, it is unclear if and when Hochul may reinstate the plan.

“Congestion pricing would have been another hit on hard working New Yorkers,” Town Councilman Chris Carini said. “I am proud to help champion the fight against an egregious tax that would have crippled residents and small businesses. Every day, more New Yorkers are leaving the state due to high taxes and unsafe neighborhoods. Albany’s leadership continues to produce out of control spending and has failed to rein in costs — let’s hope congestion pricing never rears its ugly head again.”

“This is a small victory in the long battle against congestion pricing,” Councilman Dennis Dunne said. “We are committed to fighting against unfair taxes on the back of Long Islanders.”