How powerful forces ‘from left to right’ came together to stop NYC’s controversial congestion pricing

Congestion pricing
Congestion pricing

An extraordinarily broad coalition of powerful people who often don’t see eye to eye joined forces and prompted Gov. Kathy Hochul to blink and scuttle the controversial $15 congestion toll for Midtown.

Key players detailed pivotal moments that fueled the groundswell of opposition — while The Post’s campaign against the badly misguided plan crucially kept the issue “front and center,” according to New Jersey Democratic Rep. Josh Gottheimer.

One turning point came when the influential left-leaning teachers’ union hooked up with Staten Island Republican Borough President Vito Fossella in filing a federal lawsuit to pump the breaks on the congestion pricing.

An extraordinarily broad coalition of powerful people joined forces and prompted Gov. Kathy Hochul to blink and scuttle the controversial $15 congestion toll for Midtown. Helayne Seidman
An extraordinarily broad coalition of powerful people joined forces and prompted Gov. Kathy Hochul to blink and scuttle the controversial $15 congestion toll for Midtown. Helayne Seidman

Unions representing the entire city government workforce — including ambulance workers and other first responders who drive to their jobs in Manhattan — also provided muscle by rallying against it.

“I got a call from [United Federation of Teachers President] Mike Mulgrew, who asked me, ‘Are you serious about pursuing this lawsuit?’ Fossella recalled. “I said, ‘Yes.’ Sometimes you have to work with people you don’t always agree with for the common good.

“I give credit to Mulgrew and the UFT for stepping up. The $15 toll was going to come out of the pockets of teachers, firefighters and EMS workers.” 

Gottheimer — a Dem who is considered a top contender to become New Jersey’s next governor — held bipartisan press conferences with New York House Republican Reps. Nicole Maliotakis and Michael Lawler among others to keep the issue in the spotlight. He represents north Jersey communities that border the George Washington Bridge.

Staten Island Republican Borough President Vito Fossella filed a federal lawsuit to stop the new congestion pricing. Brigitte Stelzer
Staten Island Republican Borough President Vito Fossella filed a federal lawsuit to stop the new congestion pricing. Brigitte Stelzer

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat, filed his own lawsuit against the congestion toll, turning the issue into a battle between himself and Hochul — two governors from the same party on both sides of the Hudson.

“People are over the moon. We won,” Gottheimer said.

“The public pressure worked. It was a broad-based coalition from left to right. All those pieces made a difference,” the Jersey congressman said, adding, “The New York Post did a very good job putting the issue front and center.”

Gov. Hochul and the legislature failed to come up with alternatives last week to finance the MTA’s capital plan. Susan Watts/Office of Governor Kathy Hochul
Gov. Hochul and the legislature failed to come up with alternatives last week to finance the MTA’s capital plan. Susan Watts/Office of Governor Kathy Hochul
Unions representing the city’s government workforce and ambulance workers also rallied against the new pricing. Christopher Sadowski
Unions representing the city’s government workforce and ambulance workers also rallied against the new pricing. Christopher Sadowski

Congressman Lawler, who represents Rockland County and other communities north of the city, said massive opposition forced Hochul’s hand five months before elections that could decide which party controls the House of Representatives.

“There was a groundswell against the congestion toll. The general public was getting clued in to what was going on,” Lawler said, adding that The Post’s coverage of the issue was  “invaluable.

“Hochul got cold feet” after the MTA already spent some $500 million in prep work to impose the new toll, the rep said.

New York Post’s front page for Thursday, June 6, 2024. rfaraino
New York Post’s front page for Thursday, June 6, 2024. rfaraino

Other civic activists and small-business owners who formed the group New Yorkers Against Congestion Pricing Tax also galvanized opposition. Founders included Corey Bearak of the Queens Civic Congress, Chinatown business advocate Susan Lee and former Lower East Side Councilman and retired Judge Kathryn Freed.

“Our cause was right. We need a vibrant economy. The congestion toll was going to raise the cost of goods and services for everyone,” Bearak said.

He also said traffic congestion and pollution would have been redirected from Manhattan to other parts of the city to avoid the Midtown toll.

The Post’s campaign against the badly misguided plan crucially kept the issue “front and center,” according to New Jersey Democratic Rep. Josh Gottheimer (pictured). AP
The Post’s campaign against the badly misguided plan crucially kept the issue “front and center,” according to New Jersey Democratic Rep. Josh Gottheimer (pictured). AP

“The congestion toll was never about the environment. It was about revenue,” Bearak said.

Hochul and the legislature failed to come up with alternatives last week to finance the MTA’s capital plan, which was expected to gain $1 billion a year with the congestion toll.

Bearak said the state, city and federal governments should make public transit a bigger priority and identify additional funds in their budgets for the MTA’s capital program and help implement better cost controls at the the agency that oversees NYC Transit, the Long Island Railroad and Metro-North.