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‘Talking Headways’ Special: Let’s Understand This Congestion Pricing Debacle

Why did New York Gov. Kathy Hochul kill the first-in-the-nation toll? We talk to a New York-based transit expert to see what is going on?

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She’s run her transit system off a cliff. Why?

Days after New York Gov. Kathy Hochul canceled a first-in-the-nation congestion pricing plan just three weeks before the decades-in-the-making toll was about to go into effect, we called up Ben Kabak of the website Second Avenue Sagas to help us understand just what the "F" is going on.

There's a partially edited transcript below the player, or you can read the full conversation here. Click below to use your ears:

Jeff Wood: A lot of folks could say, "Oh, this is just a Manhattan issue" or "This is just a New York region issue." But this is actually something that is going to impact other places as well, lie Seattle or San Francisco or Los Angeles, which have been talking about congestion pricing as well. Stockholm did it. London did it, but we are very averse to looking at international examples here in the United States.

And if New York could have done it and gotten something out of it, then maybe other places could have followed. There's a lot of hand-wringing about the setback for the climate movement and for transit that maybe blows this up outside of the New York region.

Ben Kabak: That's why so many people outside of the New York region were paying close attention because there are a lot of very engaged transit activists in a lot of these cities. That we're really hoping New York could be a model for taming traffic and investing more in transit than a lot of cities have over their history.

Car usage has exploded since the pandemic and it’s hard to get people out of cars once they get in them than. They were really looking to New York to be a leader. Sure, you can look at London and Stockholm, but Americans feel we have to do something ourselves to know that it's going to work here.

Jeff Wood: It's a hard political lift, especially with all those excuses of post-pandemic office losses because of work from home and things like that, especially here in San Francisco.

It's a political push and you could make it if you really wanted to. But there's a lot of folks who believe that would be a death knell to any mayoral candidate campaign that might be going on here in San Francisco or anything along those lines. So people don't want to touch it with the 10-foot-pole, though of course they should.

Ben Kabak: It does require a level of political courage that I think politicians are not sure they have these days just because everybody is so fickle against incumbents. They're so fickle against change. I think there's just a lot of nervousness that voters will revolt though I think some of these leaders of cities with robust transit networks that are used to the culture of transit should be more willing to take the plunge and feel that voters will cover them.

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