Assemblymember Grace Lee, Senator John Liu, Local Electeds, and Community Leaders Hold Press Conference Calling on MTA to Exempt Commuter Vans from Congestion Pricing

New York, NY – On Thursday, September 21, 2023, Assemblymember Grace Lee, Senator John Liu, Senator Brian Kavanagh, Senator Iwen Chu, Assemblymember Ron Kim, Council Member Christopher Marte, and community leaders gathered in Manhattan’s Chinatown to call on the MTA to exempt licensed commuter vans from the Central Business District Tolling Program, more commonly known as congestion pricing. This conference followed a letter sent by Assemblymember Lee, Senator Liu, and other elected officials to the MTA’s Traffic Mobility Review Board earlier in the week voicing the same proposal. As in the letter, the coalition highlighted that commuter vans help reduce congestion and offer safe, reliable, and culturally appropriate transportation for low-income, immigrant communities in New York, including Asian Americans. Since these services are not currently being provided by other forms of public transportation, this coalition is calling on the MTA to preserve access to commuter vans by granting them toll exemptions under congestion pricing. This press conference was held outside of Confucius Plaza in Chinatown, the pick-up and drop-off location for commuter van lines serving the Asian American community.

“New York’s congestion pricing plan cannot be built on the backs of vulnerable immigrant communities – it must recognize the diverse needs of all New Yorkers,” said Assemblymember Grace Lee. “Commuter vans offer the Chinese communities in Manhattan, Queens, and Brooklyn a much-needed service that is not being provided by other forms of public transportation: safe, language-accessible, and culturally-competent means for people to access jobs, resources, and family, and they should be exempt from tolls under the congestion pricing plan. I am proud to lead this effort and join this coalition in Chinatown, a hub for commuter vans serving our Asian communities, in calling for this exemption.”

State Senator John Liu stated, "Commuter vans play a vital role in the City's transportation network by providing affordable, reliable and language-accessible transportation in communities that are traditionally underserved by our mass

transit system. Immigrant areas in Queens, Brooklyn and Chinatown have relied on these alternative modes of transportation for decades to bridge their communities, and any change to our city’s transportation pricing structure must recognize and accommodate for commuter vans in a way that is fair and inclusive to our immigrant communities."

“Commuter vans serve as a crucial alternative form of mass transportation for many New Yorkers, especially the Asian community,” said State Senator Brian Kavanagh. “I urge the Traffic Mobility Review Board to recognize this and exempt licensed commuter vans from congestion pricing tolls, consistent with the goals of encouraging mass transit and reducing congestion and vehicle emissions. Imposing new charges on these vans will only serve to impose new costs on many low-income New Yorkers who rely on them as a safe, culturally competent, and language accessible way to travel to work and from work and maintain community ties.”

State Senator Iwen Chu stated, “We must face the harsh reality that parts of New York City don’t have adequate public transit options, but still need to commute to work, connect with their doctors, attend cultural programs, and educational opportunities in the congestion pricing zone. Although imperfect, commuter vans do plug a gap of historic inaccessibility and connected places like Sunset Park and Manhattan's Chinatown. By exempting commuter vans from congestion tolls, we will make them a more attractive and regulated form of mass transit that discourages private car use. I stand with my colleagues and constituents as we call for the MTA Transit Review Board to exempt commuter vans from the tolls.”

Assemblymember Ron Kim said, "Many members of our communities rely on commuter vans for essential travel, especially if they are older, mobility-impaired or otherwise unable to take the bus or subway. They are a crucial supplemental part of the transportation services offered in the city, and we are calling on the MTA to ensure that the congestion pricing rollout does not disrupt this much-need service."

Assemblymember Steven Raga said, "I firmly believe in prioritizing transportation solutions that serve our diverse communities. Commuter vans play a pivotal role in bridging the gap for our low-income immigrant populations, including our Asian American community, where public transportation falls short. Exempting these vans from congestion pricing not only recognizes their value in reducing traffic but also acknowledges the vital lifeline they provide for New Yorkers who rely on them daily."

"In a city as diverse as New York, we must prioritize the needs of every community, including our hardworking immigrant neighbors who rely on commuter vans," said Assemblymember Nily Rozic. "These vans serve as vital bridge from the outerboros, providing an accessible and affordable transit option. Exempting them from congestion pricing tolls not only supports our communities but also aligns with our goal of reducing congestion and emissions."

Assemblymember William Colton said, “In these times of high inflation and rising gas prices, we must find ways of reducing the cost of trips to Manhattan. Commuter vans have provided such a manner of affordable travel. Imposing additional cost of congestion pricing on these commuter vans might drive them out of business, causing a hardship to the drivers as well as to the low-income families who need to use the commuter vans out of necessity.”

City Council Member Christopher Marte said, “As so many of Manhattan Chinatown’s residents and small businesses have been displaced, commuter vans are essential to the economic vitality of this community and its sister neighborhoods in Sunset Park and Flushing. They serve the same function as a bus or train and must similarly be exempt from congestion pricing.”

The letter was signed by Assemblymember Grace Lee, Senator John Liu, Senators Iwen Chu and Brian Kavanagh, Assemblymembers Steven Raga, Ron Kim, William Colton, and Nily Rozic, and City Council Member Christopher Marte.