New and old M.T.A. chiefs on the political toxicity of congestion pricing

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Current M.T.A. chairman Joe Lhota and former M.T.A. executive director Elliot Sander agree: congestion pricing is hard. 

The topic came up at a Regional Plan Association forum comparing transit systems around the world, when an environmental lawyer asked how applicable London's experience of implementing congestion pricing scheme was to New York City.

Lhota responded by saying that that New York's traffic, compared to London's, isn't so bad.

"My experience in London, having been there before and after they've done the congestion pricing, it's extraordinary," he said. "I mean, it moves in New York in comparison to London. And no disrespect, I love London.

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"But you can tell I really don't want to talk about congestion pricing," he continued. "Just to be very honest with you, because I think it's one that I think the elected officials need to look at and determine if it's necessary here."

Sander jumped in, pointing to Governor Andrew Cuomo's contention earlier this week that congestion pricing doesn't have sufficient political support to make it through Albany.

"I think that's true," said Sander, who then began to reminisce about the death of a congestion-pricing scheme a few years back at the hands of three state senators, two of whom have since had serious problems with the law.

"It was basically three senators, Senator Kruger, who as I think you know, was sentenced I think yesterday, and Senator Espada and Senator Diaz, and that's what stopped us from making that happen," he said. "I think it is inevitable at some point that we will have some degree of program involving road-charging. But it is a tough political row to hoe."

CORRECTION: Sander was executive director of the M.T.A., not chairman, as stated in the original.