The head of a business group that represents the Broadway and Times Square theater district has offered a scathing review of the state’s plan to impose a $15 “congestion” fee to enter the downtown business district, claiming it would hinder the growth of the Big Apple’s tourist mecca.
“This is just another barrier to people coming to the city — especially the bridge and subway residents who are so important to Broadway theaters,” Christine Nicholas, president of the Broadway Association, said Sunday on WABC Radio’s 77 Show. Cat Round Table.
“Keep in mind they make up about 30 percent of the Broadway audience and have been the slowest to come back,” she told host John Catsimatidis.
Nicholas said the city has not yet fully recovered economically from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This is not the same city it was 5 years ago. The city back then was thriving. The city was in great shape. That was before the coronavirus. Broadway was doing well,” she said.
Nicholas said remote work coupled with concerns about crime are making tourists from the New York and New Jersey suburbs “nervous” about coming to Manhattan.
“And on top of that you have this,” Nicholas said. “Broadway is doing well, but it could be better and I don’t think congestion pricing will help it.”
The Broadway Association represents the Theater District and the Times Square and Midtown Business Improvement Districts.
“The economy is fragile. There has to be a different way to do this,” she said.
Nicholas said the $15 toll is about raising the nearly $1 billion a year to fund mass transit and not “an issue of congestion relief” to discourage vehicles from entering Manhattan’s business district during rush hours.
It proposed that all bridges be tolled at a lower but uniform rate to discourage toll avoidance and divert traffic to other parts of the city. Some East River crossings are currently free.
Under the congestion pricing plan, commuter vehicle drivers entering Manhattan south of 60th Street during daylight hours will be charged $15.50 and $3.75 during off-peak times.
The fee for small trucks is $24 while the fee for large trucks is $36 during daylight hours. At night, these fees will be discounted to $6 and $9, respectively, for deliveries heavy with traffic outside of commute hours.
Catsimatidis, who owns Gristidis Grocery Stores, said higher fees on trucks would only be passed on to customers through higher food prices.
Former Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the Democratic-led state Senate and Assembly approved a congestion pricing law in 2019, creating a traffic review board, which last week recommended raising peak-hour tolls by $15.
His successor, Gov. Kathy Hochul, has thrown her political muscle behind the effort, attending a pro-congestion pricing rally last week.
But Democratic Mayor Eric Adams is asking for some exemptions from the $15 fee for people who drive into Manhattan for necessities like medical appointments.
Some New Jersey Democrats, including Garden State Gov. Phil Murphy, have vocally opposed congestion pricing. Some Democrats in the suburbs and upstate also came out against the tally.
New York Republicans said they intend to use the issue against Democratic opponents in the 2024 elections.
The toll program has support from mass transit, environmental advocates and some business groups, including the Real Estate Board of New York.
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which will implement a congestion pricing program as early as next spring, defended the $15 toll fee for driving downtown.
“The vast majority of theatergoers use mass transit, just like fans attending sporting events and concerts, which has helped Broadway shows make what the Broadway League called a ‘strong rebound’ this season,” said MTA spokesman Aaron Donovan.
“The reality is that anyone paying hundreds of dollars for tickets, meals and parking downtown is unlikely to be dissuaded by a $15 congestion fee,” he said.
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