Officials don’t expect it to start on time and the cash-strapped agency won’t be able to spend the funds on promised upgrades.
Drivers in Westchester County and other parts of the Tri-State Area are apparently going to get a reprieve from paying hefty fees to get into Manhattan, CBS2’s Marcia Kramer reported Wednesday.
“Given a combination of the pandemic and the delays in Washington, a January 2021 start is unlikely,” MTA Chairman Patrick Foye said.
For people who live in the suburbs, the outer boroughs, or above Manhattan’s Central Business District that starts at 60th Street, these are probably welcome words because they won’t have to start shelling out fees to get to work. But for mass transit riders, it’s probably bad news because the funds raised by congestion pricing, whenever it goes into effect, will now be used to plug the agency’s $8.5 billion budget gap, not to fix trains.
When asked if the agency will be able to take some of the congestion pricing money from capital and move it to the operating budget, Foye said, “The governor’s office and the state’s Legislature, in their wisdom in the session that ended on April 1, gave us that ability to use it for operations for a limited period of time. I think that’s really important flexibility.”
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Transit expert Sam Schwartz, who has pushed congestion pricing for decades, is onboard with plans to delay bus and subway improvements in the short term, because the MTA has suffered big losses, including a 95% drop in ridership.
“Congestion pricing should move ahead as quickly as possible. I can understand some delays, maybe getting the system up. But sometime in 2021 it would be great to see it up and use that revenue originally meant for capital work at least operating for the short term,” Schwartz said.
As it copes with a drop in ridership, the MTA is also coping with an increase in the number of homeless people on the subways. Transit officials blame the city for not doing enough to get the homeless into shelters.
“We continue to work with the city and urge the city to take more aggressive steps to address this problem,” Acting Transit Authority head Sarah Feinberg said. “Everyone here is losing patience.”
The city said it’s working around the clock, both above and below ground to do outreach to the homeless. MTA officials said it is not moving fast enough.