The event was well-attended and the conference was run well, with time limits respected. There were some microphone issues, and the table was barely long enough to accommodate all seven panelists, with Thompson (seated at the far left) remarking about how little table he had.
Comptroller John Liu commented on bus schedules not being realistic. Although traffic is probably considered in developing schedules, I agree that many schedules are unrealistic. Insufficient consideration is given to heavy passenger loadings and to wheelchairs, both of which delay buses. If the schedule does not necessarily allow for it, a bus can lose up to 15 minutes or more on a single trip if more than one passenger in a wheelchair needs to be accommodated.
In response to the recent school bus driver strike, the moderator suggested that the MTA take over yellow school bus operations without any mention of the financial ramifications that it would cause. MTA workers are paid much more than school bus drivers and no revenue is obtained from the passengers, so such a move could be detrimental to the MTA’s finances without an increase in the city’s contribution to the MTA.
This was stated as a matter of fact — as something that just needs to be done. No candidate addressed that issue. There was little interaction between the panelists other than a slightly heated discussion between two participants regarding allowing non-medallion taxi street hails.
The scorecard for funding issues appears to the right:
Other Significant Funding Issues
Sal Albanese stated that a fair toll plan would raise $1 billion. He is referring to Sam Schwartz’s plan. That plan would place tolls on the free bridges where mass transit is a good alternative, but would lower tolls on present toll bridges not connecting to Manhattan where, in most cases, mass transit is not a feasible alternative. Albanese stated that according to NYS Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, $90 million in extraneous funds could have prevented the 2010 service cuts.
Tom Allon stated the need for a gas surcharge and the need to issue more taxi medallions to obtain extra funding for transit.
Liu criticized Allon, stating that selling subway naming rights is a one-shot deal and transit needs an ongoing revenue stream. Liu stated that New Yorkers pay for a greater percentage of mass transit costs through fares than other cities. He also was the only one who stated what one percent of the city’s budget actually translates into, which, according to him, is $560 million. That figure is less than the subsidies we are currently giving some developers, who are supposed to be increasing jobs but are not. Those corporations, he stated, owe us money. Liu also blamed former Governor Pataki for the mass transit funding problems we have today because he eliminated all state funding for capital improvements. That forced the MTA to resort to heavy borrowing, resulting in fare hikes. He stated that if the federal government merely shifts 10 percent of its transportation monies from highways to transit, that would amount to billions.
Thompson stated that we need to fund mass transit fairly. He called congestion pricing putting the cart before the horse and that, before it could be instituted, additional mass transit alternatives would first have to be provided. (I am assuming he was referring to the fact that many subway lines are already overcrowded.) He made no mention of supporting the Fair Toll Plan and his website states that he opposes new tolls.
Thompson also stated that commuters now only pay one dollar a day for mass transit and that a commuter tax would generate $700 million to $1 billion per year. He supported heavier vehicles paying higher registration fees, which, if instituted in the entire tri-state region, would generate an additional $1.7 to $2 billion per year. He was also the only candidate, except for Allon, who stated that the mass transit dollars need to be used correctly. Allon alluded to that by questioning if the #7 extension was the best use of funds. Interestingly enough, he did not question the billions spent on East Side Access, which keeps getting delayed.
Of the participants, Liu and Thompson had the best understanding of finance and the needs of the middle class, as well as transit issues in general, making some of the most insightful comments.
Only Liu and Albanese, however, were willing to put their money where their mouths are when asked if, as mayor, they would increase mass transit spending from .2% to one percent of the city’s budget. The others were being a little hypocritical by advocating more state and federal funding, but not willing to increase the city’s contribution by even one dime, although Thompson went into considerable detail regarding other ways that transit could be funded.
Currently, the city only partially subsidizes senior and student fares and the bus lines formerly operated by private companies, operated now by the MTA. It is too bad former MTA Chairman Joe Lhota was not in attendance because it would have been very interesting to hear his response to that question.
Stay tuned for the final part of this series (Friday) when safety issues will be discussed and we will add some final thoughts.
The Commute is a weekly feature highlighting news and information about the city’s mass transit system and transportation infrastructure. It is written by Allan Rosen, a Manhattan Beach resident and former Director of MTA/NYC Transit Bus Planning (1981).
Disclaimer: The above is an opinion column and may not represent the thoughts or position of Sheepshead Bites. Based upon their expertise in their respective fields, our columnists are responsible for fact-checking their own work, and their submissions are edited only for length, grammar and clarity. If you would like to submit an opinion piece or become a regularly featured contributor, please e-mail nberke [at]sheepsheadbites [dot]com.