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FDNY members against congestion pricing speak at MTA's 2nd public hearing on new tolls

Firefighters union rallies at public congestion pricing hearing
Firefighters union rallies at public congestion pricing hearing 02:30

NEW YORK -- Firefighters spoke out against congestion pricing Friday at the MTA's second public hearing on the controversial new tolls. 

There were 155 people registered to speak, including many FDNY members frustrated they are not exempt, despite being essential workers. 

The firefighters union called on the MTA to exempt members from paying the $15 toll when driving their personal cars to firehouses within the zone below 60th Street. 

"I don't think the MTA really wants to put a firefighter through the strenuous activity of carrying a 60-, 70-, 80-pound bag down to the subway," said Andrew Ansbro, with the Uniformed Firefighters Association. 

Firefighter Alessandra Simeone showed CBS New York how heavy her gear is. 

"We have my helmet, we have my jacket, and my jacket has my mask," said Simeone. 

FDNY union reps said the equipment is covered in dangerous chemicals that are unsafe to carry on public transit. 

"If you've been to a fire, it's carrying carcinogens," said Simeone.

"On that bunker gear contains arsenic, asbestos, benzine," UFA Health and Safety Officer Michael Schreiber said.

Andrew Ansbro, with the UFA, added, "When they get to their firehouse, they may be re-assigned to another firehouse that day based on staffing needs. It happens probably a couple hundred times a day. Members would then be crossing in and out of congestion pricing zone."

The MTA told us they are still in discussions with the city regarding exemptions for FDNY members. 

"I thought that was important for us to understand that concern," MTA Chair and CEO Janno Lieber said. "We're in discussions with the city, who's their employer. Normally when an employer says you gotta travel a certain way to carry equipment or carry material, they compensate you for the cost of that."

Watch Natalie Duddridge's report

FDNY members speak out against congestion pricing 02:54

Others argued for exemptions for those who need their vehicles to do business.

"We cannot place another economic burden on over 50,000 New York City cab drivers," Assemblyman Zohran Mamdani said.

"Adding a congestion fee to truck trips, every time they enter the CBD will primarily hurt New York's small local trucking companies who cannot afford to absorb these costs," said Zach Miller, director of metro region operations for the Trucking Association of New York. "Last I checked, you can't deliver freight via subway." 

Other commuters had a lot to say at the first public hearing Thursday night. The hearings are some of the last steps before the MTA turns on the new toll readers, which are ready to go live in June. 

Under the plan, passenger vehicles would be charged $15. Trucks would face a once daily toll of $24 to $36, depending on size.

The FDR Drive, West Side Highway and Hugh L. Carey Tunnel Connection to West Street are exempt.

"Not only is this process about improving air quality in the neighborhood I live in, Hell's Kitchen, which has got to be one of the worst, but the revenue we're gonna raise is going to be invested in transit," said NYC Transit Pres. Richard Davey.

Some at Friday's meeting applauded the plan.

"We need more elevators. We need modern stations. We need modern signals. We need more modern system," one person said.

"We have absolute gridlock out there. We need to free this up," another person said.

The last two public hearings are on Monday, March 4 at 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. Participants can join in-person or virtually. Registration closes 30 minutes after the hearing starts.   

As for when they could decide on exemptions, Lieber said, "Have to hold the hearings and then after a certain amount of time, we can take action, but we've not set a date for that final action."

The agency hopes to raise billions for transit projects like new subway cars and more accessible stations. The MTA Board will review the feedback and hold a final vote in the spring. 

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