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Due to congestion pricing pause, Janno Lieber says MTA to "maximize the situation for our riders"

Janno Lieber discusses how MTA will fill huge budget gap created by congestion pricing pause
Janno Lieber discusses how MTA will fill huge budget gap created by congestion pricing pause 03:01

NEW YORK -- MTA CEO Janno Lieber on Monday made his first public comments since Gov. Kathy Hochul's bombshell decision to pause congestion pricing.

He said the news to pull the plug on the June 30 start was incredibly difficult, and that the MTA will try to figure out funding without the tolling plan.

Modernization projects like electric buses, accessible stations and new signals are on the so-called "deprioritized list" as the MTA seeks to preserve the basic operation of the aging system.

Lieber said various experts will look at just what the MTA can afford to do with its capital program shredded by Hochul's decision to halt congestion pricing in the 11th hour.

"Bottom line, this phase of the MTA's work is a huge challenge, and I have a great team that is going to be laser-focused on working on this," Lieber said. "It may feel right now that things are a little crazy and even there's a crisis, but we need to stay focused so that we can maximize the situation for our riders. They are our focus right now. That's where our heads are at."

MTA has many decisions to make  

Lieber said right now his first priority is to find a way to keep the system functioning.

"We know we have to keep the system running," he said, adding, "The priority is throughout we're gonna fight like hell to make sure we don't have to reduce service."

As CBS New York's Marcia Kramer reported, one can look at Lieber's comments on Monday as a pressure tactic to either get congestion pricing back on the drawing board or force the governor and the Legislature to find a new way to fix a system that seems as old as Methuselah.

It's nearly 120 years old and the lack of congestion pricing funds means straphangers could be in for slower rides, less service and fewer shiny new toys to bring the system into the 21st century.

Lieber said the MTA board will meet on June 26 to get an update on the projects and decide what to do about congestion pricing. He said he's not giving up on the idea of putting the tolling system in place, but added in the meantime there are immediate problems, like deciding which projects are affordable, if layoffs will be necessary, and if the MTA's credit rating will be impacted.

Lieber says he had no intention of resigning in protest

Lieber admitted that he didn't learn about the governor's decision until late the night before and also admitted, however gently, that he didn't agree with the decision.

"The governor plays on a statewide and national field and sometime it means we don't look at things the same way," Lieber said.

Although he was clearly unhappy, Lieber insisted he wasn't thinking of resigning in the face of the stunning setback.

"It's not in my nature to walk or to quit," he said. "I couldn't walk away because of a single setback, even one of this magnitude."

"Gridlock Sam" continues crusade for congestion pricing

Sam Schwartz, also known as "Gridlock Sam," has been tracking Manhattan congestion since he was appointed New York City's traffic commissioner 40 years ago.

"We have fewer people taking transit, more people driving, so congestion pricing is needed now more than ever," Schwartz said.

According to his data, the average travel speed in Midtown last month was 4.5 mph, the slowest speed on record.

"Back in 1915, when there were horses buggies, traffic moved at 7 mph," Schwartz said. "I have never seen traffic speeds this slow in Midtown Manhattan."

Schwartz, who has been fighting for congestion pricing since he was commissioner in the 1980s, argues it's a cycle, adding if mass transit isn't improved, fewer people will use it and then more people will drive and traffic will worsen.

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