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UFT, Staten Island Borough President announce lawsuit to halt congestion pricing

Press Releases

The United Federation of Teachers and the office of the Staten Island Borough President, joined by a group of individual plaintiffs, today filed a federal lawsuit asking the court to halt the implementation of congestion pricing in Manhattan, which is scheduled to go into effect this spring.

The suit says the program, which it describes as "regressive and discriminatory," cannot be put in place until a thorough environmental impact statement is completed, including the potential effects of the plan on air quality, including in Staten Island and the Bronx.

According to the lawsuit, the current congestion pricing plan "would not eliminate air and noise pollution and traffic, but would simply shift pollution and traffic to Staten Island, the Bronx, Upper Manhattan, and Northern New Jersey."

The lawsuit blames federal, state, and city transportation authorities for conducting a "rushed and hurried" approval process for the plan, with an "intent focus on raising revenue." It challenges the review for taking place prior to the actual tolling plan being determined, and maintains that the defendants must re-evaluate the assessment on a full record, not in the cursory manner initially undertaken.

United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew said, "Thousands of teachers and other UFT members, along with many other workers, live in places with little or no access to mass transit. They are facing dramatically rising commuting costs, and all for a traffic reduction plan whose potential effects on air quality and other issues were never seriously examined."

Staten Island Borough President Vito Fossella said, "Congestion pricing would be a three-strike loser for Staten Island residents. According to the MTA’s own study, it would be both a financial and environmental burden; not to mention it will result in more traffic for our borough. It is just plain wrong to once again ask Staten Islanders to assume such a burden when they will see little to no benefit. It happened with the Fresh Kills landfill. It is happening with the migrant crisis."

"We know that our traffic will get worse, our air quality will get worse, and residents who must commute by car will pay an added tax to travel within their own city. We are suing because at some point, we have to say 'enough is enough'."

The current congestion pricing plan would charge drivers $15 for every day they enter the Manhattan central business district between 5 a.m. and 9 p.m. The congestion pricing toll would be in addition to normal parking charges and to other current tolls on bridges and tunnels, though partial credit would be given to some payments on certain crossings. The congestion pricing fee would be reduced — though not eliminated — on nights and weekends.

The plan has been designed to generate approximately $1 billion a year for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority for capital needs in its subway, bus, and rail systems. According to the lawsuit, the plan has thus put the revenue needs of the MTA "as paramount over the needs of New York and New Jersey commuters."

"Teachers, firefighters, police officers, EMS workers, sanitation workers and other public sector workers who are essential to the fabric of New York City would be forced to shoulder the burden of the MTA’s latest fundraising gambit," the lawsuit charges.

According to the lawsuit, the Federal Highway Administration’s environmental assessment of the congestion pricing plan — not a full Environmental Impact Statement — "ignored and failed to mitigate" many potential negative effects of the plan in "the hurried process that led to its premature approval."

Among the concerns ignored were those of another federal office, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which said in its official comments on the plan that it "remained concerned" because the assessment included insufficient data to measure air quality impacts in the Bronx, Bergen County, and Staten Island.

The EPA also noted that traffic diversion “may result in continued or increased air pollution” in some neighborhoods, and in particular the potential for hundreds of additional trucks in the South Bronx.

The lawsuit asks the court to order the Federal Highway Administration to prepare a “full and proper” Environmental Impact Statement for the congestion pricing plan, and for the court to halt the program until such an EIS is conducted.

The Federal Highway Administration is named as a defendant in the suit, as are the U.S. Department of Transportation, the New York State Department of Transportation, the New York City Department of Transportation, the MTA, and the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority.

Among other plaintiffs were individuals who would be directly affected by the congestion pricing plan, including teachers who work at schools in Manhattan and who commute by car because there are no convenient forms of public transportation available to them.

The lawsuit is being filed at the U.S. Court for the Eastern District of New York by New York attorneys of Steptoe LLP.  A copy of the federal lawsuit is available to read online.