traffic

NYC Congestion Pricing Plan Needs Open Doors, Watchdogs Say

Drivers enter Manhattan on the Brooklyn Bridge.
Drivers enter Manhattan on the Brooklyn Bridge. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

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The panel charged with planning the rollout of congestion pricing in New York City should not operate behind closed doors, according to the state’s Committee on Open Government.

The November advisory opinion from committee Assistant Director Kristin O’Neill was just made public Friday by watchdog group Reinvent Albany.

It’d come in response to a request from the watchdog and advocacy organizations that the congestion pricing panel, known as the Traffic Mobility Review Board, be bound by the state’s Open Meetings Law.

The MTA had contended that the the six-member board — who have yet to be named — was not subject to the law, because it will only make recommendations and not perform governmental functions.

A Public Body

In a Nov. 21 letter to Rachael Fauss of the watchdog group Reinvent Albany, O’Neill wrote that that is not the case.

“Because the TMRB is a creation of law, is required to focus on critical governmental tasks and is required to carry out a governmental function … I believe that it constitutes a ‘public body’ required to comply with the Open Meetings Law,” O’Neill wrote in the letter made public Friday.

Reinvent Albany was among 20 groups that last year pressed the MTA board to promptly appoint the members of a toll board whose decision-making would be open to public scrutiny.

“It’s critically important for congestion pricing to succeed and part of this is that the MTA follow basic transparency,” Fauss told THE CITY. “We’re talking about something that’s supposed to generate $15 billion to fix the subway and the commuter railroads.”

Boosting Public Transportation

State political leaders last year passed congestion pricing as a way to raise $15 billion for public transportation and reduce traffic.

When it takes effect next January, drivers are supposed to be tolled as their vehicles enter a congestion zone south of 60th Street in Manhattan.

Under state law, the toll board’s members are to be appointed by the MTA board and come up with recommendations by Nov. 15 on how much drivers will pay when entering the congestion zone, as well for regional discounts and tolling technology.

“There are so many people who are going to be affected by congestion pricing,” said Lisa Daglian, executive director of the Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee to the MTA. “It’s not just people paying the tolls, but the riders who will benefit from that.

“Yet, we don’t know who’s going to be on the board or when they’re going to be selected.”

Moving Quickly

MTA spokesperson Abbey Collins said the selection of a contractor to build, operate and maintain the toll equipment is a month ahead of schedule.

“As we have said, the process of establishing the Traffic Mobility Review Board is moving forward, members will be appointed as required by statute and we are committed to a transparent process,” Collins said.

The bulk of the money raised by congestion pricing is pegged to improve subway and bus service in the city, with a portion of the money going to the MTA’s two commuter railroads.

Collins said once the review board members are appointed, a “public engagement process” will be determined.

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