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Less than two months ago, in a short story about the triumph of New York’s congestion charge, I canonized New York Governor Kathy Hochul, placing her alongside transportation legends Bill Vickrey (Nobel Prize winner in transportation and transportation finance expert), Ted Kheel (transit finance expert), and the upstart Riders Alliance, which in 2019 accomplished what previous activists could not: introduce legislation to establish a revolutionary new tolling system that would eliminate enough car trips into downtown Manhattan to reduce rampant gridlock while providing revenue to expand subway and bus infrastructure for generations to come.

Diary of a transit miracleThe Viewers titled this article. Hochul, I wrote, had proven to be a “determined and enthusiastic” supporter of the congestion charge. “Her passionate support,” I said, “became the crucial ingredient in getting the congestion charge off the ground.”

So much for this fairy tale. Hochuls Edict of 5 June The “indefinite suspension” of congestion tolls just weeks before their June 30 launch may not have ended the program, but Hochul’s governorship is bloodstained and her political prospects hang by a thread.

While the story is outrageous for urban planners, climate activists and opponents of car dominance in big cities who for decades had hoped that New York’s congestion charge would be their salvation, it is also exciting. It is difficult to remember a political story with as many tentacles as this one.

Let’s count the possibilities.

Hochul’s late reversal is obvious a New York story. With the introduction of a congestion charge, the country’s largest city, which has a unique global brand, could have regained its dominance in progressive, bold innovation. Instead, its literal engine – its subway system – was left at the altar.

It is also a dystopian government history, as befits the one-sided twisting of a policy forged by thousands of individuals, agencies and organizations over years and, in some cases, decades. As livable streets journalist Aaron Naparstek wrote on TwitterHochul and her congressmen “are not only undermining the congestion charge, they are also discrediting the Democratic Party and undermining trust in government and democracy.” New York Times Editorial writer Mara Gay complained “Americans didn’t need a reason to be more cynical about politics. But Governor Kathy Hochul of New York has provided one.”

And of course it is a Transport and transit history. How will New York City solve, or at least curb, its usual, annoying traffic congestion, which city transportation officials revealed last week has become even more crippling than it was in 2019, despite the post-pandemic office misery?

Answer: It won’t. Without the city toll stiff but fair $15 toll for driving to Manhattan south of Route 60th Street during most hours, alternative measures to reduce New York’s incredibly costly traffic collapse inevitably succumb to the dreaded “Rebound effect.”

And how does Hochul and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority she commands plan to generate annual revenues of $1 billion to cover the interest on the long-awaited $15 billion investment in subway station elevators, digital train signals and clean electric buses?

Answer: They probably won’t. In a clear victory for congestion charge proponents, legislative leaders last week refused to approve Hochul’s requested Payroll Mobility Tax increase. This leaves her with no way to fund the new public transit improvements. Thousands of factory jobs in the north and south of the state are at risk. Since congestion charge is the only way to fund these investments, opposition remains.

I said Resistance? The widespread opposition to the governor is another tentacle of the story. If Hochul thought that the protests against her surprise cancellation would die down, she was sorely mistaken. What began as public astonishment quickly turned into excitement and grew into outrage, not only because of the consequences for transit and traffic, but also because of the sheer stupidity (according to climate awareness Bill McKibben) and Cowardice and cowardice (according to Alex Matthiessen, city toll activist).

The anger is not limited to traffic experts and bicycle advocates. It is also expressed by the traffic construction and engineering companies; Business leaders and real estate interests; until News‘ Editorial staff as well as that of The Just’; through the insatiable Families for safe streets who have been risking their bodies since 2018 to protect future grieving mothers; by city planners who hoped other cities would follow in New York’s footsteps; and through “supply-side progressives” desperate that America will actually Traffic congestion in cities and suburbs as well as housing and climate.

The anger toward the governor shows no sign of abating. As I was writing this article, I attended a Riders Alliance rally in East New York, where Hochul was mocked as Congestion Kathy and Governor Gridlock, and her face was photoshopped onto a fake photo. News Headline: “Hochul to city: Back down. Governor is cheating millions of riders.” Every hour, it seems, there is news of another demonstration, another rally, another elected official and community leader deciding to bully and, if necessary, break Kathy Hochul in order to get the congestion toll back on track.

Hochul’s action is also a Car culture History. Although the car-besieged and traffic-heavy downtown area of ​​Manhattan is perfectly suited to the imposition of a city toll, New York remains part of the United States and thus under the influence of greedy car and oil interests. Many of the city’s long-impoverished passengers also aspire to own their own car and resent the tolls they might one day pay, even though few working-class residents from Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island or the Bronx regularly drive into the congestion zone. Perhaps this is the reason why the subway improvements that would be financed through the tolls still do not resonate with most “ordinary” New Yorkers.

Moreover, New York’s political class avoids the subway and is car-obsessed, making them cousins ​​to the interests of suburbanites whose windshields make them immune to the value of public transit, except perhaps to keep others from clogging up “their” road space. That Governor Hochul failed to recognize the political implications only makes the story more intriguing. That Manhattan and New York City as a whole could not resist America’s “dominant car culture” last week, as The Just wrote His editorial on Saturday sets out another sad aspect of the story.

Now we come to the biggest and most puzzling part of the Hochul congestion pricing saga: Why did she do it?

Why, after not saying a single negative word about the congestion charge in her thousand days as governor, did she cave in 25 days before the end of her term? Why, after repeatedly praising the congestion charge and showing genuine joy in being its tribune, did the governor try to destroy it?

The standard explanation is that key national Democrats, especially the congressman from Brooklyn and designated Speaker of the House, Hakeem Jeffriesand perhaps senior White House officials instructed Hochul to delay the June 30 start to prevent voter defections in border districts of the House of Representatives. This account is plausible, if incorrect, because the four-month period from June 30 to November 5 provided ample time to “reset the standard.” as Stockholm showed after the collapse of the city toll in 2007. The apparent unpopularity of the toll would have disappeared in the proverbial rear-view mirror.

But these election concerns are not entirely valid. Any self-respecting politician knows not to abruptly change course on sensitive issues. And while changing circumstances can justify changing policy, no substantive change has suddenly thrown New York’s traffic patterns, transit needs, or economic vulnerability into turmoil. In fact, the governor’s clumsy attempts at justification have convinced no one.

Maybe Hochul, a Upstaters and Baby Boomerswas too caught up in car culture to believe their own rhetoric on congestion charges. Perhaps Campaign money from car dealers moved her needle. Perhaps she panicked and lost the words to tell Jeffries that helping him would destroy her political viability, end of conversation.

Whatever prompted Hochul to abandon the congestion charge, her mistake is spectacular in scale, or so it seems to this city resident. The likely anger of drivers – and not all drivers, since some saw the charge as a way to speed up their journeys – seems almost quaint in light of the real anger of the toll’s supporters and the derision of much of the public.

The governor can still get the ship back on course. She could offer to reduce the toll burden on the edges, as I explained last week. She could propose a referendum on June 30, 2025, an idea modeled on Stockholm, although it is unclear who would be eligible to vote and this could become a point of contention in its own right. She could cite lawmakers’ reluctance to fund alternative transportation and admit that Plan A was right all along.

The key word is “admit”. The congestion charge is not just for New York; its long development also means it is embedded in expectations about the financing of public transport, traffic management and the health of the city that are not so easily resolved.

Whatever caused Governor Hochul’s loss of nerve, and whatever the consequences for her term and her remaining time in politics, she must reinstate the congestion charge. The need is too great and the story too scandalous to pretend that the congestion charge will soon fade into the background.

The author, a policy analyst in Lower Manhattan, has spent two decades modeling the economics of congestion pricing and has written over a hundred articles on the subject for The New York Times, Street blog And The Washington Spectator.

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