Why Congestion Pricing Lost This Round Ė And Lessons for the Future

Statement by Assembly Member Richard N. Gottfried
April 8, 2008

The current effort to enact congestion pricing failed because it received overwhelming opposition in the New York State Assemblyís Majority Conference. It also did not appear to have sufficient support in the State Senate, which did not vote on it.

I support congestion pricing and have since the beginning. My district includes the much of the central business district, Chelsea, Hellís Kitchen, Midtown, Murray Hill, and part of the Upper West Side Ė areas with some of the worst congestion in the country, and new development keeps making it worse. The millions of people who come into my district to work or visit suffer, as well as the people who live there.

Like many other legislators and New Yorkers, I have concerns with some aspects of the proposal that could have been addressed with changes. For example, the bill should have been limited to a three-year trial period; required an environmental impact review before it went forward, like other projects; and exempted people who drive on the FDR Drive or the West Side Highway but do not enter the business district. There should have been exemptions for people who need to drive because of medical conditions, and for non-profit organizations making deliveries, such as Godís Love We Deliver and Meals on Wheels.

Mayor Bloomberg should have spent the last several months reasonably negotiating these and other concerns to try to win support for the plan, but that did not happen. He made little if any effort to reach out to allies in the State Legislature to help advance congestion pricing.

If the Mayor had reached out to supporters, opponents, and undecideds to resolve issues they were concerned with, the result could have been very different. He was the only one in a position to do that. As an advocate for congestion pricing, I am frustrated that he did not.

It seems that the reason the Mayor did not try to work with legislators is that he believes that the only member of the Assembly whose opinion matters is Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, and that the rest of us just wait to be told what to do. If that were true, I would have left the Legislature many years ago and found more interesting work to do. Fortunately, itís not how the Assembly works. The Assemblyís position on congestion pricing was entirely determined by the opinions of individual Assembly Members.

This should not be the end of the effort. An idea as important, sweeping, and controversial as congestion pricing rarely is enacted in its first year before a legislative body in America. I hope that advocates for congestion pricing, including the Mayor, learn from this first round and continue the effort. I look forward to working with them