Source: bjoele / Flickr

Source: bjoele / Flickr

THE COMMUTE: The major news is the new state budget, which includes a $30 million raid on transit funds approved by Governor Andrew Cuomo. It could have been worse. The original proposed budget requested $40 million of transit funds to be used instead, to pay off the debt for MTA bonds, a responsibility of the state, not the MTA.

As reported in 2011, the governor is “No Friend of Transit.” Equally disturbing is MTA Chairman Tom Prendergast’s statement to the press that “Our needs are being met” in this Daily News article. Gene Russianoff of the Straphanger’s Campaign also criticized Prendergast for not taking a stronger position against the raid.

Second Avenue Sagas (SAS) and Streetsblog go into more detail. The only thing I can add to these articles is that the MTA’s reluctance to say anything negative about the governor is nothing new. Prendergast has his reasons for making the statement he did, and to criticize him as SAS and Streetsblog did, without knowing his reasons, is a little unfair. What if the amount of the raid was reduced from $40 million to $30 million, in exchange for Prendergast’s statement of support? Would his statement still be wrong?

Now, every transit advocate and a good portion of the public know about Albany’s continual raids of transit funds. That was not the case back in 2010 when the MTA proposed its massive service cutbacks, the effects of which are still being felt today. The cause was attributed to the MTA’s deficit, but not to Albany’s reduced support of the MTA.

At the Brooklyn public hearing of March 2010, speaker after speaker criticized the MTA for the proposed cutbacks. Some of those speakers were state lawmakers who voted for a reduced MTA budget. Not once at that hearing did a single MTA official on the dais tell the public that their anger was misdirected. That their anger should have been directed at the state and not the MTA because it was the state’s reduced funding that was the cause of the MTA’s budgetary problems. MTA officials just sat there and accepted all the blame as the state’s whipping boy. Would they have been dismissed or demoted if they let the cat out of the bag? So why should we expect Prendergast to behave differently today?

A Change To Alternate Side Of The Street Parking?

Don’t hold your breath. Last week Councilman Ydonis Rodriguez proposed sensible legislation permitting drivers to park as soon as the street sweeper passes. In some neighborhoods, drivers remain in their cars, double parked until the regulations end. The passing of this legislation would save residents countless minutes, which translate into many dollars. This proposed legislation, which went nowhere in 2010, is likely to have the same fate.

One must ask what is the purpose of alternate side parking (ASP)? Is it to keep the streets clean or is it to raise revenue for the city? If it is the former, then areas without ASP, such as some areas within Sheepshead Bay, would be noticeably dirtier. Streets in densely populated areas, such as Park Slope, would have become intolerably dirty during the three months in which ASP was suspended entirely a couple of years ago to facilitate the erection of new ASP signage. Guess what? The streets of Park Slope were no dirtier during the ASP suspension than when ASP was in effect. Also, the streets in Sheepshead Bay without ASP are no dirtier than the streets with ASP.

So the larger question is do any neighborhoods even need ASP, and if so how often should the streets be cleaned? Can it be reduced to once every other week, or even once a month? Why are ASP regulations as brief as 30 minutes on some streets and as lengthy as three hours on others? Does Manhattan Beach, for example, which is always complaining about Kingsborough College students blocking driveways because of inadequate parking, really need ASP four times a week with three-hour prohibitions when 90 minutes is now the norm in most neighborhoods?

No one is asking these questions. The proposed legislation is just common sense, and is not rocket science. It also is not a revelation. I was asking the same question more than 40 years ago and I am sure I was not the only one. The reason why it most likely will not happen is that it would result in less revenue for the city due to fewer summonses being issued.

Regardless, if the city claims increased safety from red light and speed cameras, or cleaner streets due to ASP, the major reason for these measures is the revenue they generate. More summonses should result in lower taxes but do not and are viewed as a fairer way to raise revenue since only violators pay. However when summonses are unfairly meted out, such as when someone throws a recyclable item in your general trash, and you are ticketed, or if you receive a summons for double parking because someone is in the process of leaving a parking space and you are waiting for it, then fines are no different than taxes.

Remember former City Councilman Michael Nelson’s proposed legislation to require Sanitation Enforcement Agents to take photographs of violations when surveillance video showed them not even opening a trash bag to see if recyclables were inside and issuing a summons anyway for not recycling? That legislation never passed because too much revenue would have been lost.

If the purpose of ASP regulations is to keep the streets clean, why shouldn’t you be able to park after the sweeper has passed? Why should you have to sit another 30 minutes in your car or bypass that parking space? The only possible reason is so more summonses can be issued. If this legislation does not pass the City Council or if it is vetoed by the mayor, it would yet be another example of government hypocrisy.

If by some miracle, this legislation is approved, it would be a big win for city residents.

Tomorrow: Speed cameras, a new B44 SBS schedule, and more.

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.

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  • SubwayStinker

    One of the unintended consequences and benefits of ASP is that it is an efficient and fair and random redistribution of street parking spots. Where ASP does not rule, many car owners treat the spaces as ‘”long term parking”. I can think of many of my neighbors who are two & three car families with only 1 driveway. The other cars are mainly dust collectors until the weekends. At least ASP shuffles the deck giving the “other guy” a break.

    • YHBTSTLL

      ASP cuts no breaks to anyone that works a normal 9-5 during the weekdays. It might “shuffle the deck” for people who are home to capture newly freed parking spots, but myself and most people I know are well into their workday by 10am, when ASP usually ends.

  • Allan Rosen

    I see no one as any opinions regarding Prendergast’s statement if it resulted in additional transit funds. Anyway, it is something to ponder. Not everything is always apparent on the surface.

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  • http://secondavenuesagas.com Benjamin Kabak

    “Prendergast has his reasons for making the statement he did, and to
    criticize him as SAS and Streetsblog did, without knowing his reasons,
    is a little unfair.”

    Why do you assume I don’t know his reasons? I’m not speaking off the cuff here.

    • Allan Rosen

      Then would you like to share what you know since you called his statement “galling?” I also didn’t like his statement but I won’t criticize him without knowing his reasons for saying what he said.

      • http://secondavenuesagas.com Benjamin Kabak

        Because his boss, the governor, told him to. It’s galling because the MTA clearly needs the money and will begin asking for $25 billion for the capital plan. Plain and simple as that.

        • Allan Rosen

          If there were no deals made, and he got nothing in return for that statement, then I would tend to agree with you. He does have a contract and should have some independence and be able to say what he wants without any threats of reprisals. But none of us know what went on behind the scenes.

          • http://secondavenuesagas.com Benjamin Kabak

            I know what I’ve been told by people I trust. I’ll stick with them instead of the line you’re pushing here.

          • Allan Rosen

            I’m not pushing anything, just raising a possibility. If you know more and want to keep it to yourself, that’s fine also.

          • http://secondavenuesagas.com Benjamin Kabak

            I’m not keeping anything to myself. My sources have told me that Prendergast made those statements at the request of the governor.

          • Andrew

            The MTA Chair serves at the pleasure of the Governor. If the Governor has directed the Chair to publicly declare that a reduction in transit funding is fine by him, then the Chair will publicly declare that a reduction in transit funding is fine by him. There’s no room for bargaining – I don’t think Prendergast wants to lose his job.

            Andrew Cuomo has been no friend of transit, and he’s been quick to take the credit for the good stuff while letting others take the blame for the bad. This move fits his character perfectly.

          • Allan Rosen

            What is the purpose of a contract then?

            Let me see. If the chairperson can find another job at higher pay, he is free to leave without any penalty.

            If the Chairman does one thing to displease his boss, he can e immediately terminated without any type of due process.

            If he is thoroughly incompetent and destroys the system but he is pleasing his boss, he is guaranteed his salary for the duration of the contract.

            Doesn’t really sound like the public interest is being served in any way. Does it?

            The entire reason for setting up public authorities was to shield them from the political process so they can operate independently and for the public good.

            If that is not what is happening, looks like it is time to abolish te MTA and start over. right?

          • Andrew

            Do you really think it would make sense for somebody at this level to remain on the job against the will of his boss, or for the boss to demand that an employee stay on the job after the employee has expressed a desire to leave? Not everything is determined by contract law.

            I’m surprised that you want the MTA to have greater independence from elected officials. It seems to go against what you’ve written. But I agree. Do you have a better structure in mind? The state legislature uses the MTA as a piggy bank and then blames the MTA for the consequences, so why do you think the state legislature would be willing to give it up?

          • Allan Rosen

            A contract needs to protect both parties not only one. The MTA was supposed to be an independent body and in most cases it is except to decide how it’s money is spent which now is being determined by the governor. The MTA has also been accused of being too powerful so there also needs to be checks and balances.

            I don’t claim to have the answer here. But what we have now clearly is not working. Maybe we need to look at city control again, not necessarily like we had it before, but the big question there is also how the financing would work and if that would even result in less mass transit funding. No solution is simple.

          • Andrew

            I think you’re expecting far too much from an executive-level contract. If the employer-employee relationship isn’t a positive one, things don’t go well in practice. Cuomo might not be able to literally fire Prendergast, but he can inform Prendergast that he’d like to bring in somebody different in his place.

            How on earth would direct city control reduce the political meddling? Why would a politician, looking ahead to the next Election Day, care about the long-term welfare of the transit system? Fares would stagnate, maintenance would be deferred (because it’s expensive and inconvenient), and service planning would be based on politics.

            And why do you think the state would be willing to give up their piggy bank?

          • Allan Rosen

            I don’t want to get into a debate with you on the merits of city control because it is a complex issue and many factors have to be considered. I will only say that when we had it under the NYCT, they were no more responsive to the public than the MTA is. I cannot speak for the BOT because I was not around then, but they may have been more responsive.

            As far as Prendergast, no one knows what happened behind closed doors, so there is no reason to assume this no negotiations took place and his relationship with Cuomo is I say, you do.

            I don’t think anyone would take any job unless he was only doing it for the money, which is clearly not the case with Prendergast, if he had that type of relationship with his boss and wasn’t allowed to question anything. So what if Cuomo says he would like to bring in someone else. Prendergast doesn’t have to jump up and leave. All he has to say is, tough, I have a contract and I am staying.

          • fdtutf

            He can certainly say that *legally*, but there’s no way he’s going to be able to be effective in that situation, when he no longer has the confidence of his boss.

          • Allan Rosen

            I don’t follow. The governor is not involved in day to day operations of the MTA. The chairman does not ask the governor’s approval for every decision he makes. That would be micro managing and the governor would not be able to do hs job if he kept constant tabs on the MTA. It would only hurt the MTA when he needs the governor to do something for the MTA like provide more money which Cuomo is refusing to do anyway.

          • fdtutf

            At that (rather rarefied) level of executive power, a high-level manager, such as the MTA chair and CEO, who is known to be out of favor with his or her boss cannot be effective in the organization. This is because a manager at that level must be seen to be backed up by his or her boss in order for his or her power to be effective throughout the organization. If people know that the boss’s boss isn’t behind the boss, they essentially stop taking the boss seriously. It’s just organizational psychology.

            Note that this (whether or not the boss is backed by the boss’s boss) may or may not be known to people outside the organization; however, it is generally impossible to keep this situation hidden from the organization’s own employees, who are the ones most directly affected.

          • Allan Rosen

            Most employees only have direct contact from their boss who they receive orders from. So are you saying that all the senior VPs would just stop doing their jobs and not follow their boss’s orders.

            The boss does not need the governor’s approval to dismiss them if they don’t comply with his direction and that would apply all the way down the line. People would still take orders for fear of reprisal. So I don’t really agree with you.

            The only difference I can see is that if a direct report has a personal relationship with the governor, he might not follow the Chairman’s order, if he knows that the governor would back him up and the Chairman would have to back off.

          • Andrew

            This.

            Also, the MTA receives substantial financial aid from outside parties, including the state. Some of the aid is purely voluntary; some of it is earmarked for the MTA, but a we’ve seen, the state treats even the earmarked funds as voluntary. The position of Chairman is largely one of negotiation.

            But we are conversing with someone who obviously lost the confidence of his boss early on and never realized the problem.

          • Allan Rosen

            How is it a position of negotiation if the Governor orders and the Chairman must oblige.? That was your previous position. You were arguing that no negotiations took place between the Chairman and the governor as I alleged. Now all of a sudden he is master negotiator. Being a little inconsistent, aren’t we?

            I will just ignore your personal insult. I thought you stopped with the insults all ready. I should have known a tiger never changes his stripes. Just keep it up and see what doesn’t happen.

          • Andrew

            Negotiations take place on multiple levels. Our current governor seems to be particularly dictatorial, less open to negotiation than most., but that doesn’t mean that Prendergast never has the opportunity to negotiate with anybody.

            Not a personal insult. Just a simple statement of fact that I don’t think you’d deny.

          • Andrew

            I don’t want the MTA to be responsive to loudmouth politicians who don’t care in the slightest about the system’s long-term health or who treat some city residents as more important than others. The MTA should, as much as possible, take a systemwide, systematic approach.

          • Allan Rosen

            And the way to take a systematic systemwide approach involves listening to what the customers and politicians have to say. That does not mean doing everything they suggest. You, like the MTA, are of the the opinion that the MTA is infallible and knows best in every situation. They are frequently are wrong and prove that over and over again. Just because someone is a loudmouth does not mean they should be ignored. As far as you were concerned, the B44 SBS was perfectly planned and all the bus routes go where they shoud be going. That is far from the truth. You only have loudmouth politicians because the MTA is so obstinate in taking positive suggestions from the public and even its employees.

            And which loudmouth politicians do not care about the systems long term health except for Cuomo? Are you including the ones who fought for the return of the B37 which in your opinion shoudn’t exist, but differs from the residents who used it and requested its return?

          • Andrew

            I have no objection to listening to what customers and politicians have to say – and then considering it in the broader context. Many (not all, but almost certainly most) elected officials are only looking out for their reelection campaigns. That’s neither a systematic nor a systemwide approach. Stealing funding from the MTA and then demanding the restoration of a weak, poorly performing, relatively unimportant bus line does nothing to advance the cause of transit in New York City.

            I have never said that the MTA is infallible or that the MTA always knows best, and neither represents my opinion.

            I stated quite clearly over the years leading up to B44 SBS that it probably wasn’t perfect but that there was still room to make adjustments after it started in response to actual conditions.

          • Subway Stinker

            The entire reason for setting up public authorities was to avoid the state’s debt limit. Any other explanation is not credible.

            Richard Ravitch said at a panel that took place a fortnight ago that then-Mayor was overjoyed when the state took over the subways and busses. The chances of the city regaining control are about the same as the Dodgers coming back to Crooklyn.

          • Allan Rosen

            At the mayoral debate I reported on, De Blasio was non-committal regarding city takeover of subways and buses.

            Why should the mayor have been overjoyed? It wasn’t under the mayor anyway since 1953. One of the major reasons for the MTA was to get power away from Moses.