Viewpoint: New York City Congestion pricing costs city control of streets

Last week’s passage of a congestion pricing plan was the very definition of a heavy lift—a years-long joint effort by transportation advocates and elected officials combined with Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s celebrated political skills. But for all the city will gain from its new source of funding for subways and buses, it might be paying a high price.

According to one view of the groundbreaking legislation, it will grant the state an unprecedented degree of control over what happens on its streets, at least those south of 61st Street in Manhattan.

The problem lies in the creation of a traffic mobility review board. The board will advise the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority on how congestion pricing will work: how much it will charge drivers to enter the core business district, who will get discounts or exemptions and what kinds of variable pricing there will be based on the hour or the season.

But the city might have limited influence on that board, which will consist of a chairperson and five members. The mayor can recommend only one member. One other member will come from the Metro North region. A third will come from the Long Island Rail Road region.

The bridge and tunnel authority—an agency of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which is itself controlled by the governor—gets final say over all six appointees.