Teachers Union and Staten Island Borough President Sue to Halt Congestion Pricing

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Another lawsuit has been filed against New York’s congestion pricing plan, this time pleading with federal judges to think of the children.

The United Federation of Teachers representing New York City public school teachers and Staten Island Borough President Vito Fossella sued the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority over the plan to tax drivers entering the busiest parts of Manhattan, claiming that rerouted vehicles displaced by the tolling will add more air pollution to areas with schools.

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The plaintiffs called congestion pricing, which has been approved on the state and federal level, “regressive and discriminatory” for the impacts it could have on communities outside of the central business district below 60th Street in Manhattan.

The lawsuit calls for an environmental study that takes into account its effects on air quality in the ​Bronx and Staten Island, even though the plan was approved by the federal government following a submission of a review. The MTA regarded the request for further review of how it will affect those two boroughs as redundant.

“The environmental review process for congestion pricing involved four years of consultation with government agencies, public outreach meetings, and engagement with tens of thousands of public comments, with hundreds of pages of painstaking detail released that considered impacts on traffic, air quality, and environmental justice across the metropolitan area,” MTA spokesperson John McCarthy said in a statement. “And if we really want to combat ever-worsening clogged streets, we must adequately fund a public transit system that will bring safer and less congested streets, cleaner air and better transit for the vast majority of students and teachers who take mass transit to school.”

The 500-page environmental impact study that was approved by the federal government in June studied air quality impacts for all five boroughs, including Staten Island and the Bronx, and even stretched all the way down to South Jersey and counties in Long Island, north of the Bronx and Connecticut.

The UFT could not be reached for comment, and Fossella’s office did not respond to a request.

“This is an action to protect New York and New Jersey residents from the decision to implement congestion pricing in New York City, a decision that would inflict environmental and economic damage on already challenged neighborhoods and one reached only after a rushed and hurried process that violated the comprehensive review requirements that a federal agency must take,” the plaintiffs wrote in the complaint filed in the Eastern District of New York.

It is possible that congestion pricing could charge motorists $15 per day to enter Manhattan below 60th Street and trucks could pay up to $36, but those prices have not been fully adopted by the Traffic Mobility Review Board. Even cars entering via one of the four toll-free bridges over the East River could get an E-ZPass charge as well as those exiting the Franklin D. Roosevelt East River Drive into the central business district.

Congestion pricing was first introduced by disgraced Gov. Andrew Cuomo during the transit crisis in 2017 and later adopted by the legislature in 2019. It’s projected to raise $1 billion of revenue for the MTA annually and help the cash-strapped agency. 

The plan was significantly delayed by the Trump administration, which took no action on the environmental assessment, before it was given the green light by President Joseph Biden’s administration.

Mark Hallum can be reached at mhallum@commercialobserver.com.