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CUNY Students Fight for Congestion Pricing

CUNY students, at a student-led call-in drive, pressed state legislators to support and pass congestion pricing in this year’s budget. PHOTO/ Marcus Ayala

By Marcus Ayala

Published: March 27th, 2019

Time is running out for the new state budget. Brooklyn College students and members of the NYPIRG Straphangers Campaign kicked off a student-led call-in drive. Their goal is to ultimately get state legislators to support and pass congestion pricing in this year’s budget.

Students were given the opportunity by NYPIRG to call their state legislators and express their feelings at Brooklyn College about their troubles with the MTA. Many spoke about their lateness and mixed exams and presentations due to the poor subways and buses.

NYPIRG believes congestion pricing would help lower congestion on its busiest streets. It would also add funding that the transit system desperately needs with it’s outdated overall system.

The MTA could use it to modernize and repair the trains and buses and help the average New Yorker succeed. Congestion pricing is projected to raise over a billion dollars a year for transit.

Jaqi Cohen of the Straphangers Campaign said, “We can’t expect student to succeed if our transit system is holding them back.” Students travel from all of the five boroughs to get to Brooklyn College and have to rely on transferring to the 2,5, B or Q trains, being the nearest to Brooklyn College.

Students expressed how unreliable those trains can be. Cohen believes that the fate of New Yorkers rests on Governor Andrew Cuomo and legislators in Albany. It all could come down to the way congestion is addressed.

Smitha Varghese of the Straphangers Campaign is also a CUNY student attending Queens College. She likes in Eastern Queens and calls it the “transit desert.” She can’t walk to the nearest subway with it being miles away.

Varghese comes from a family of drivers and doesn’t believe congestion prices will negatively affect drivers. She believes low income and middle class New Yorkers don’t drive because it’s too expensive, especially with parking.

The people who take the bridges and drive into the city are the ones who can afford it and average CUNY students like herself, can’t. Varghese has to drive to Astoria when commuting to the city and then get on the subway. 

According to Varghese, “How come people who can afford it, get into city for free. It is not a regressive tax and poor people will not suffer from this tax. Politicians like to say that but I’m living proof that we do not drive into the city.” Congestion pricing wouldn’t hurt the average driver.

“Our subways are falling apart and the subway is the lifeline of the city. We can’t let this happen and congestion pricing is a solution,” Varghese said.

“The delays are impacting us; we’re coming late to class. We’re going late to our shifts at work and we’re being held accountable,” said Varghese.

She then raises the question, why aren’t the elected officials? We’re being held accountable and the elected officials are getting off without any repercussions.

“Pass congestion pricing,” Varghese says.

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