A closer look at Bloomie’s transit proposals


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.

23 Responses to “A closer look at Bloomie’s transit proposals”

  1. rhywun says:

    This weekend I was looking at some pics of Berlin’s U-Bahn stations–dating from the same era as ours, 1900’s to 1930’s. And they looked sparkling clean and new. As did all the trains. I’ve had my disagreements with Bloomberg over the years, but if he wants to get re-elected all he has to do is show those pictures and ask “Why can’t we do this?” True, he doesn’t have the power to make any improvements but at least it would get the public’s imagination going. We’ve put up with disgusting trains and stations falling apart for too long.

    • George says:

      Let’s not forget that Bloomberg was the one who pushed for the original congestion pricing plan the hardest. Its just that his powers were limited, but he does have good intentions with regards to transit policy.

      • Alon Levy says:

        It’s not that his powers were limited; it’s that he insisted that CP be done his way and no other, pissing off everyone in the Assembly.

        • Andrew says:

          He did? Funny, I thought the proposed congestion pricing plan was modified around January or February 2008, with some pretty substantial changes (e.g., north cordon moved from 86th Street to 60th Street).

          Besides – while both plans were far from perfect, they were still far better than the situation we’re in now. I would have been thrilled to get either.

  2. Ray says:

    More money!? Perhaps I’m missing Bloomberg’s point. Isn’t mayoral control of NYC Transit ultimately what he’s after?

    Sure, the MTA has wins under its belt (new cars). But it also has many in the loss column. Far too many.

    Just for example: the MTA allocated $160MM toward count-down clocks. Spent $45MM of it with Siemens (as of 10/2006). We have nothing but blank electronic signs and silence from the MTA on the project.

    Bloomberg is highlighting this wasted financial resource and silence. Good job Mayor.

    • Working Class says:

      Bloomberg does NOT want mayoral control of the TA. He would then be held accountable. All of the polititians like the fact none of them are held accountable for the gross mismanagement of the MTA by it’s upper level managers.

      This is nothing more than a PR stunt by Bloomberg the tyrant cheat!

    • I’d say there’s no way Bloomberg wants mayoral control of NYC Transit. Doing so would require a huge monetary investment in transit by the city, and that is something, as we’ve seen via the 7 line extension, Bloomberg has been loathe to dole out.

      He deserves praise for highlighting wasted resources, but he has at his disposal the means to make some of these items a reality. Will he deploy them?

  3. Scott E says:

    If you look closely at the full-page ads that Bloomberg ran last week in Metro and amNY (I wish I could fine one online), you’ll see that he writes “If the MTA adopts my proposals…” or something like that. That basically tells me that he plans to make a couple of suggestions to the MTA, but that’s it — he doesn’t plan to actively participate in getting it done (which, given the political structure, he can’t).

    Good to have you back Ben — hope you enjoyd your trip.

  4. Gary Reilly says:

    Ben, welcome back!

    “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.”

    The point I keep coming back to on this is that Bloomberg HAD an extra $1 Billion in treasury – which he dispersed as a discretionary tax rebate. Something I have carped about in the past:


    He could have made these things a reality. He did not.

  5. Kai says:

    He could use city money to build/rebuild those lower Mauntauk stations and then persuade the MTA to run more than one train on that branch. The city could cover the capital cost, similar to the 7-line extension. Same goes for the Brooklyn trolley trial and possibly the Staten Island plans. Other than that, true, in most cases the MTA would soley responsible.

    • petey says:

      “He could use city money to build/rebuild those lower Mauntauk stations and then persuade the MTA to run more than one train on that branch.”

      i’ve been riding that train some fridays; there is decent usage. but the NYT reported the lack of ridership when the stops other than LIC were discontinued. the station nearest jamaica (can’t think of the name just now) is in a residential neighborhood where there might be a constituency and it’s still there. i’ve wondered if it might be re-opened.

  6. StationStops says:

    I agree, I love seeing transit at the top Bloomies agenda, and I love the idea of countdown timers at all stations – one of my favorite features of DC’s transit system.

    I have argued before on my blog about stop information boards at Metro-North stations as well.

    I also love his Big Apps program which will put public data online for mobile developers to create useful applications from.

    It was because of these two initiatives that I decided to go forward with my public battle against MTA in their horrific licensing program for mobile developers.

    Gotta strike while the iron is hot.


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