Chief of MTA’s biggest union promises ‘massive confrontation’ over $15 NYC congestion toll: ‘Not going to take this’

The chief of the MTA’s biggest union — which once supported New York’s controversial congestion pricing plan — is now threatening a “massive confrontation” with transit management over the proposed $15 daily toll to enter Midtown or Lower Manhattan.

The head of the national Transport Workers Union, John Samuelsen, issued the threat in an interview on Thursday, which came just days after he escalated his battle with Gov. Kathy Hochul and her MTA chairman, Janno Lieber, by placing a full-page ad in Monday’s Post recruiting a primary challenge for the Democrat.

“There’s going to be a massive confrontation between the TWU and MTA,” Samuelsen told The Post. “We’re not going to sit back and take this.”

The head of the national Transport Workers Union, John Samuelsen, has threatened a “massive confrontation” over congestion pricing. Gabriele Holtermann-Gorden/Sipa
The head of the national Transport Workers Union, John Samuelsen, has threatened a “massive confrontation” over congestion pricing. Gabriele Holtermann-Gorden/Sipa

He added: “There’s going to be massive electoral fallout for the politicians who support this.”

TWU has made an about-face on congestion pricing as the plan looms closer, expected to launch as soon as June with the MTA saying virtually all of the cameras and other infrastructure has been installed.

The union was closely allied with now-disgraced ex-Gov. Andrew Cuomo as he pushed for the program in 2019 to finance billions in signal improvements and new trains following the “Summer of Hell” service meltdowns.

It touted the tolling plan in one 2019 newspaper ad, which said congestion pricing would pay for modern computerized subway signals, new train cars and buses and expanded service.

But Samuelsen said the MTA hasn’t delivered on the promise to boost service.

MTA Chairman Janno Lieber has received continued support from Hochul. James Keivom
MTA Chairman Janno Lieber has received continued support from Hochul. James Keivom

“I’m opposed because there has not been an increase in transit service. Where’s the increase in express bus service?” the union chief told The Post.

“This toll will whip blue collar, outer borough workers. It’s very classist.”

Samuelsen resigned from the commission tasked with drafting the MTA’s toll proposal after transit officials rejected his repeated demands to dramatically increase service on the agency’s expensive-to-run express bus service for commuters.

Samuelsen said there will be “electoral fallout” for politicians who support the plan. Photo by Alexi Rosenfeld/Getty Images
Samuelsen said there will be “electoral fallout” for politicians who support the plan. Photo by Alexi Rosenfeld/Getty Images

The MTA did not immediately comment.

Since 2019, the agency has ordered roughly 1,000 new train cars for the lettered lines, pushed ahead with plans to overhaul the signals on the A/C and B/D/F/M and received funding separately from the legislature to bolster midday, evening and weekend subway service on several lines.

Officials have argued that the express bus network is at about 80% of pre-pandemic ridership and can easily carry more riders as can the subways, which are averaging about 70% of pre-pandemic ridership.

The MTA has said virtually all of the infrastructure is in place for the start of congestion tolling. Christopher Sadowski
The MTA has said virtually all of the infrastructure is in place for the start of congestion tolling. Christopher Sadowski

The congestion fee program has kicked off a slew of legal challenges from New Jersey politicians, residents inside of the toll zone and municipal labor unions, all of whom are pushing judges to send the MTA back to the drawing board — and calling for discounts or exemptions.

The plan would charge drivers $15 once per day during the peak hours if they drive south of 60th Street in Manhattan, while the overnight toll would be $3.75.

Trucks would be charged $24 or $36 per day depending on their size, but would also receive significant discounts during the overnight hours in a bid to move deliveries out of the rush hour when traffic jams are the worst.

Cars and trucks that remain on either the West Side Highway or the FDR would not be tolled unless they exit onto the local streets.

A picture of a gantry for the congestion toll with the Empire State Building in the background. Christopher Sadowski
A picture of a gantry for the congestion toll with the Empire State Building in the background. Christopher Sadowski

Samuelsen’s remarks came just a week after TWU employees crippled the 8th Avenue subway during the morning commute with a work stoppage after a train conductor working an overnight shift on the A line was slashed in a brutal random attack at the Rockaway Ave. stop in Brooklyn.

The MTA is once again in contract talks with the TWU at one of its commuter railroads, Metro-North.

The union’s ad in The Post this week called for Democrats to challenge Hochul in the primary in part because of her continued support for Lieber.

The ad branded Hochul a “epic failure” — a phrase Samuelsen has echoed — and added that one of the qualifications for her replacement should be: “Understand that you are the boss of MTA Chair Janno Lieber. He works for NY’s Governor not vice versa.”

Veterans of city politics and the MTA’s labor strife — including the brutal 2005 strike — have been struck by the public and personal nature of the campaign against the agency’s boss.

Gov. Kathy Hochul and Lieber at a press conference at the agency’s rail control center in Manhattan this week where Hochul announced she was sending in the National Guard. James Messerschmidt
Gov. Kathy Hochul and Lieber at a press conference at the agency’s rail control center in Manhattan this week where Hochul announced she was sending in the National Guard. James Messerschmidt

“It was bitter and nasty but it wasn’t this personal,” said one. “I thought we’d seen the last of this conflagration, but there’s more to the deep-seated animosity.”

Some have chalked it up to differences between the two men’s background: Samuelsen, a union chief who grew up in working-class southern Brooklyn; and Lieber, a Manhattan-minted advertising and publishing scion who led the World Trade Center reconstruction before running the MTA.

“It’s tactics and it’s personality,” said a city politics insider. “John wants to get under the skin of Janno and the Second Floor [Hochul’s office].”

He added: “If he rattles them, they’ll may give him something more.”

Samuelsen told The Post the ads are hardball negotiating tactics, nothing more — pointing to his drumbeat of criticism aimed at Jay Walder, the ex-MTA chairman who owned a country home in the south of France that he purchased before coming to New York.

“The Transport Workers union doesn’t fight like other unions, that’s why I stick out like a sore thumb,” said Samuelsen. “That doesn’t mean that it’s personal.”

“We fight bosses.”