The United Federation of Teachers (UFT), in conjunction with Staten Island Borough President Vito Fossella, has initiated legal action on Thursday, January 4th, against the newly approved congestion pricing plan in Manhattan.
The lawsuit, filed in a Brooklyn federal court, marks an important addition to the existing opposition against the congestion tolling program, slated for implementation as early as this spring.
The primary focus of this lawsuit is the impact on public sector employees, notably teachers, who will be subject to the $15 base congestion toll for driving within the toll zone south of 60th Street.
UFT President Mike Mulgrew stated, “This is simply a money grab because they’re going to raise the money off the working and middle class of this city.”
The lawsuit argues that essential city workers, including teachers, firefighters, and EMS workers, will disproportionately bear the brunt of this congestion toll, with some even considering job changes due to the financial strain.
Staten Island Borough President Fossella, a vocal critic of congestion pricing and a key figure in this alliance, emphasized the punitive nature of the scheme against public servants during a high-cost living era.
“These workers will be intentionally punished under the proposed scheme at a time when so many are fleeing the city due to the high cost of living,” Fossella stated at a joint press conference with the teachers union.
Vito added, “For Staten Island residents, it will increase traffic, it will make air quality worse and take tens of millions of dollars out of their pockets each year. Why on earth would we support this?”
On the other hand, MTA Chairman Janno Lieber cautioned against any major alterations to the congestion tolling scheme, likening it to a delicate balancing act.
“If you change one aspect…the whole thing starts to unravel or fall apart. It’s definitely a really complex calculus if you change anything,” Lieber said last month.
The lawsuit also alleges that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), the federal government, and the New York City Department of Transportation hastily approved the congestion toll plan without fully considering its environmental impact on areas like the Bronx and Staten Island.
Countering these claims, John McCarthy, the MTA’s chief of policy and external relations, defended the extensive environmental review process. He highlighted that it involved four years of consultation, public meetings, and analysis of numerous comments, focusing on traffic, air quality, and environmental justice.
The congestion toll legislation, which was passed by Albany in 2019 and signed into law by then-Governor Andrew Cuomo, maintains toll-free status for the FDR Expressway and the West Side Highway.
Additionally, it permits residents within the congestion zone who earn less than $60,000 annually to deduct the toll costs from their taxes.
This lawsuit joins other legal challenges, including those from the state of New Jersey, the mayor of Fort Lee, and a Battery Park resident.
However, federal and state authorities have found no environmental harm from the plan.
McCarthy added, “And if we really want to combat ever-worsening clogged streets we must adequately fund a public transit system that will bring safer and less congested streets, cleaner air, and better transit for the vast majority of students and teachers who take mass transit to school.”