A closer look at Bloomie’s transit proposalsBy
While I was away last week, Mayor Michael Bloomberg decided to jump into the well-trodden transit fray. Bill covered Bloomberg’s 33-point plan for a better transit system in a guest post last week, but I want to offer up a few of my own thoughts on this plan. I’ll have a few more posts on the specifics of Bloomberg’s plan as this week goes on.
The main gist behind Bloomberg’s call is a desire to see mass transit improvements in and around New York City. To that end, Bloomberg’s mayoral campaign has released a comprehensive list of suggestions that aren’t too original. He wants to take on the “bloated bureaucracy” of the MTA in a “cost-effective and responsible manner.” He also wants the authority to embrace some new and some not-so-new technologies that “would reduce costs and provide better service for riders.”
Platitudes aside, Bloomberg’s plan has some concrete ideas. He wants to add F Express service to Brooklyn — a plan for which I have advocated for a few years and one that can’t be implemented until the Culver Viaduct work is finished. He wants countdown clocks on every platform, and each station in a state of good repair. He wants more bus rapid transit service, more ParaTransit service, free crosstown buses and a comprehensive bus-tracking system. The plan also includes expanded ferry routes and more high-occupancy car lanes.
From a policy perspective, Bloomberg’s plan sounds great. He is, after all, pushing many proposals I and many other transit advocates have called for over the last few years. Yet, something about it seems less than sincere. It’s a populist plan designed to tap into public sentiment over the MTA at a time when Bloomberg needs to appear to be a mayor of the people. The MTA always has made for a great whipping boy.
Politically, though, and practically, Bloomberg’s plan runs into some trouble. He controls just four of the MTA Board’s 17 seats, and most of his top-line initiatives — the administrative trimming that the MTA really needs — are out of his hands. He can’t cut the bureaucratic tape; he can’t implement the technology via any other city-run agencies; he can’t control fare policies. He can push his plan in TV spots and campaign appearances, but his hands are mostly tied.
I say “mostly tied” because Bloomberg has a few economic options at his disposal should he choose to pursue them. First, Bloomberg must recognize that many of the roadblocks his proposals face are monetary in nature. The MTA simply does not have the money to install countdown clocks at every station or implement a city-wide bus tracking system. To get these much-needed improvements back on track, the MTA needs money, and Bloomberg could deliver the bucks by upping the city’s contributions to authority. With the city strapped for cash though, I wouldn’t hold my breath here.
Second, Bloomberg could tighten the ability of cars to get around the city. He could push for congestion pricing. He can push for bridge tolls. He can push for higher on-street parking rates, higher registration fees and generally higher anything that taxes car drivers. By doing so, he would be putting a lot of indirect political pressure on the state and the MTA to provide better and more comprehensive service to the region.
As a transit advocate, I love Bloomberg’s ideas. I love seeing transit proposals dominate the mayoral race. I love seeing papers giving serious attention to transit policy and proposals. I know that it is not really feasible for Bloomberg to push his plan through, and I know he’s putting this out there for political purposes. Maybe though it’s the start we need for a comprehensive transit overhaul to arrive.