Comments Submitted to the MTA Regarding the Environmental Assessment for the Central Business District Tolling Program

Disability Justice, Environmental Justice, MTA, News

Photo of subway platform

Comments by New York Lawyers for the Public Interest
To the Metropolitan Transportation Authority
Regarding the Central Business District Tolling Program
Environmental Assessment, Submitted on September 12, 2022 

New York Lawyers for the Public Interest (“NYLPI”) strongly supports the Central  Business District Tolling Program (“congestion pricing”) as the best way to reduce  traffic congestion and air pollution in New York’s central business district (“CBD”), and  to raise revenue urgently needed to fund a more accessible, reliable, and sustainable  transit system. The Environmental Assessment, as released by the Federal Highway  Administration, New York State Department of Transportation, MTA Triborough Bridge  and Tunnel Authority, and New York City Department of Transportation on August 10,  2022 (“EA”), clearly shows major environmental, health, and infrastructure benefits  from congestion pricing. However, the details of the tolling scheme will have specific  impacts on both disability and environmental justice communities, and we offer the  following recommendations to address and mitigate these concerns:

First, the EA analyzes seven potential tolling scenarios, and finds that the scenarios  with more exemptions from tolls will cause increased traffic on the Cross Bronx  Expressway and Staten Island Expressway. While NYLPI strongly supports the  proposed deployment of electric transit buses to help offset potentially increased  pollution near the Cross Bronx Expressway, electrifying transit buses alone would not  directly mitigate air pollution from increased, non-transit truck and vehicle traffic. In  addition to implementing congestion pricing, we urge the MTA to adjust tolling  structures and closely monitor traffic impacts to ensure that no environmental justice  community is impacted by increased emissions. In addition, the tolling program must  comply with Section 7(3) of New York’s Climate Leadership and Community Protection  Act which bars agencies from taking actions that disproportionately burden  disadvantaged communities, such as those in the Bronx.

Second, there must be ongoing public input into the process of choosing,  implementing, and adjusting specific tolling scenarios to ensure that congestion pricing  does not have the unintended impact of pitting disadvantaged communities’ interests against one another. For instance, scenario G, which is the best for minimizing  increased truck traffic would also have the adverse effect of additional taxi and for-hire  vehicle (“FHV”) tolling costs being passed on to vehicle riders, including riders with  disabilities who, due to an inaccessible mass transit system, are left with few options  other than taxis and FHVs. The scenario that is best for environmental justice communities must be designed to avoid harm to people with disabilities, especially as  these issues are highly intersectional and many New Yorkers with disabilities also live  in environmental justice communities.

Third, the mitigation of tolling costs via a back-end tax credit to low-income and  minority drivers who live in the CBD is unworkable. Such drivers can’t afford thousands  of dollars of tolls upfront and should not be responsible for the work it takes to apply  for, and obtain, a tax credit. A better mechanism to mitigate the impacts on low income minority drivers and people with disabilities is to issue non-revenue-generating  EZ pass tags or similar mechanisms which would exempt such drivers from paying the tolls upfront.

Finally, we stress that the tolling program has major positive implications for disability justice communities. New York City’s worsening traffic congestion constantly  disrupts the operation of buses and paratransit vehicles, which – along with taxis and  FHVs – are commonly the only forms of accessible mass transit available to the  disability community. Congestion pricing is the best way to simultaneously reduce  traffic congestion while generating ongoing revenue urgently needed to invest in  accessible and safe subway and bus infrastructure. In fact, the MTA’s $51.5 billion  2020-2024 Capital Plan needs congestion pricing to raise $15 billion of the money.  Without a fully funded Capital Plan, the $5.2 billion allotment promised to system-wide  accessibility improvements will be in jeopardy.

However, congestion pricing must be implemented in a manner that does not further  disadvantage the most vulnerable in our communities. While NYLPI appreciates the  MTA’s efforts to minimize adverse effects on persons with disabilities by exempting  certain qualifying vehicles from the congestion pricing toll, including vehicles with  government-issued disability license plates and fleet vehicles owned or operated by  organizations used exclusively to provide transportation to people with disabilities, this  exemption must be expanded to include all vehicles making Access-A-Ride trips – including taxis and broker vehicles – and the MTA must establish a specific mechanism  for identifying and exempting those vehicles, such as issuing non-revenue-generating  EZ pass tags that may only be utilized when the driver is undertaking an Access-A-Ride trip.

Additionally, we urge the MTA to expand this exemption to all wheelchair-accessible  taxis and FHVs, regardless of whether they are being utilized by the Access-A-Ride  program. Not only would this alleviate the burden on disabled riders, but it would  strongly incentivize drivers and owners to purchase and operate additional, urgently  needed wheelchair-accessible vehicles. Currently only about 3% of the city’s more than  100,000 FHVs are accessible, while fewer than 50% of yellow cabs are accessible. If a  blanket exemption for wheelchair accessible taxis and FHVs cannot be implemented,  these vehicles must at least be exempt from tolling when transporting people with disabilities.

Lastly, the costs of taxi and FHV tolls must not be passed on to riders with disabilities, who are already disadvantaged by the inaccessible public transit system, and who are disproportionately indigent. If the MTA decides on a tolling scenario that passes the  costs of tolls in taxis and FHVs on to riders, persons with disabilities who are  transported by such vehicles must be exempted from paying the toll.

NYLPI is committed to a more equitable and sustainable city, and we strongly support  congestion pricing as the best way to advance both environmental and disability  justice. We thank you for this opportunity to comment on the EA, and hope to  continue working closely with the MTA and various stakeholders to ensure that New  Yorkers most impacted by the inaccessible transit system, the paratransit system,  traffic congestion, and pollution benefit from the implementation of this complex and  long overdue policy.

New York Lawyers for the Public Interest
151 West 30th Street, 11th floor
New York, NY 10001
(212) 244-4664 

Sonya Chung
Staff Attorney, Environmental Justice Program
[email protected]

Christopher Schuyler,
Senior Staff Attorney, Disability Justice Program
[email protected]

*Special acknowledgments to Chloe Chen, former intern with NYLPI, who assisted in drafting this testimony.

About New York Lawyers for the Public Interest

For over 40 years, NYLPI has been a leading civil rights and legal services advocate for New Yorkers  marginalized by race, poverty, disability, and immigration status. Through our community lawyering  model, we bridge the gap between traditional civil legal services and civil rights, building strength and  capacity for both individual solutions and long-term impact. Our work integrates the power of  individual representation, impact litigation, organizing, and policy campaigns. Guided by the priorities  of our communities, we strive to achieve equality of opportunity and self-determination for people  with disabilities, secure environmental justice for low-income communities of color, create equal  access to health care, ensure immigrant opportunity, and strengthen local nonprofits.


Take Action

Here’s what you can do right now for justice in New York…

Stay up to date

Get updates on our cases and campaigns, and join us in taking action for justice…

Stay Connected

Join our mailing list to receive the latest news and opportunities to take action from our team.

Thanks! We’ll be in touch soon!

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Join our mailing list to receive the latest news and updates from our team.

You have Successfully Subscribed!