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Gounardes talks congestion pricing with R train riders

State Sen. Andrew Gounardes has been frequent rider of the R train over the years, but on Thurs., Feb. 21, the lawmaker descended the stairs of the 77th Street subway station at 7 a.m. for another reason.

Gounardes, a Democrat who represents Bay Ridge and a wide swath of Southwest Brooklyn, went into the subway to talk to passengers on the station platform and the train about R train service and the promise congestion pricing holds to make their commuting lives better.

Gounardes is a strong supporter of congestion pricing, the idea of charging vehicular drivers a toll to enter Manhattan below 60th Street and using the revenue to enable the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) to conduct much-needed repairs and upgrades of the city’s crumbling transit system. Part of his mission on Thursday was to gauge public opinion on it.

Gounardes, a member of the transportation advocacy group Riders Alliance, joined other alliance members on the rush hour field trip as part of the organization’s #FixTheSubway movement. At the 77th Street station, Gounardes handed out surveys and chatted with riders about their grueling commutes to work and school.

“As a frequent mass transit commuter — and a member of the Riders Alliance — I know firsthand what anyone who rides New York City’s subways or buses knows all too well: every single day thousands of exasperated commuters experience rampant delays amidst crumbling infrastructure, inaccessible stations and perennial fare increases,” Gounardes said in a statement. 

“The status quo is beyond unacceptable,” the local pol added.

To repair the troubled transit system, he called for “a massive public investment” in transportation coupled with changes in the MTA hierarchy to make the agency more accountable to the public.

“That’s why I campaigned on a platform to give riders a vote on the board of the MTA and why I support congestion pricing as a means to fund the critical infrastructure needs of our subway and bus system,” said Gounardes, a freshman senator elected in November.

But there are signs that riders aren’t buying the argument.

Maria Garcia, waiting for a Manhattan-bound R train at the 77th Street station on Feb. 22, said she doesn’t like the idea of charging drivers a toll to enter Manhattan. “We pay enough taxes. They should find another way to get the money to fix the subways,” she told this newspaper.

Another straphanger, who would only give his first name, Andy, said he opposes congestion pricing. “I don’t care if they want to make people pay to go into Manhattan. But you know they’re not going to stop there. They’ll be doing it in Brooklyn before you know it,” he said.

Negotiations for a state budget are set to begin in earnest as members of the state legislature look toward an Apr. 1 deadline to finalize the state’s spending package. Leaders of the Riders Alliance are pushing for congestion pricing to be included in the new state budget.

Specifically, congestion pricing tolls would go toward funding the Fast Forward plan, an ambitious project to modernize the 1930s-era subway signal system, and to pay for hundreds of new subway cars and station elevators.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who supports congestion pricing, called for an $11.52 surcharge on cars and a $25.34 charge for trucks entering midtown, NYCurbed reported in January. Under his proposal, there would also be a fee of $2 to $5 on for-hire vehicles. Congestion pricing could generate anywhere from $810 million and $1.1 billion a year, NYCurbed reported.

Gounardes was one of several state lawmakers who took rides on their local subway lines with members of the Riders Alliance as part of the group’s ride-along series to document subway problems and galvanize public support for congestion pricing.

“Southern Brooklyn subway riders are especially burdened with extensive delays and inconsistent subway service, made worse by inaccessible stations and unreliable service updates. Now more than ever, we need our state elected officials to pass a fair, progressive, and sustainable funding plan that will improve the commutes and accessibility for all South Brooklyn public transit riders,” said Riders Alliance #FixTheSubway Organizer Michael Maskin.

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