Queens advocates travel to Albany to back congestion pricing & call for mass transit improvements

Courtesy of Riders Alliance

Dozens of labor, civil rights, social and environmental advocates from Queens rallied in Albany on Monday calling on Governor Andrew Cuomo and the state Legislature put congestion pricing in the upcoming state budget as part of a revenue package to fund the modernization of the city’s transit system.

The coalition, which formed last year to demand essential transit upgrades to restore reliable service for millions of everyday New Yorkers, were joined by several subway and bus riders from the borough. Congestion pricing would fund major reliability, capacity and accessibility upgrades to the transit system by charging a fee to cars and trucks in the Manhattan central business district.

The governor proposed the policy in his executive budget, and the speakers urged its inclusion in the final budget, due April 1.

“The best time to implement congestion pricing was during the 1970s when it was first proposed,” St. Albans resident Samuel Santaella said. “The second best time is now. Doing the right thing requires not myths or promises, but immediate action. The subways need to be fixed, and New York’s roads are gridlocked every day. Congestion pricing will address both at the same time, and more: There are 11 years left to fight climate change; too many lives have already been lost to traffic violence and health issues caused by car-centric developments; and many cannot afford a subway fare — let alone a fare hike — while others drive their private vehicles into public Manhattan for free.”

The rally highlighted the governor’s and Legislature’s responsibility to funding the MTA. Speakers pressed state leaders to prioritize the needs of millions on New Yorkers struggling to cope with the effects of slow and unreliable transit service on a daily basis.

“Though there are no subway stations in eastern Queens. Many, many transit riders take local buses and transfer at the nearest station for a long commute,” Little Neck resident Fulton Hou said. “As the transit crisis continues, long commutes get longer and less reliable. That is why I am in Albany to ask the governor and legislation to pass congestion pricing. Congestion pricing is a sustainable funding source that will reduce traffic congestion and delays while supporting essential MTA fixes to increase reliability, capacity and accessibility.”

Nearly 6 million straphangers ride the subway each day. In 2018, several months into the MTA’s emergency Subway Action Plan, signal problems still delayed trains on 92 percent of rush hour mornings, according to the Riders Alliance.

“Opportunities in New York City should be accessible to all New Yorkers, regardless of status or income level,” Chinese-American Planning Council Director of Policy & Advocacy Amy Torres said. “When bus and subway fares go up, New Yorkers are forced to make a difficult decision between spending hard earned or staying close to home. It is unfair to place additional burden, cost and pressure on the riders who are already disproportionately affected by poor service when fair, sustainable and progressive funding options are on the table.”

The coalition had plenty of support from a host of Queens elected officials.

“I implore my colleagues in the Senate and the Assembly to support congestion pricing and other effective and sustainable transit funding in order to fix the city’s subway system,” Assemblywoman Catalina Cruz said. “The people of New York deserve a more reliable and affordable public transit system, and need a commitment from elected officials that funding will be secured for long-term and systematic improvements to mass transit in our city.”

Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas agreed.

“Congestion pricing is a viable solution to fund and fix what ails mass transit,” she said. “As lawmakers, it’s our job to come up with a wise plan and it’s long past time we did that.