Despite a late surge in support for Bill Thompson, brought about by previously undecided voters nearly all picking the Democrat, Mayor Michael Bloomberg will, for better or worse, be New York’s mayor for another four years. A centerpiece to his reelection campaign was a not-so-ambitious plan for a better New York City transit system.
I never believed the plan to be all that original, and I’ve already explored Bloomberg’s less-than-impressive transit record. With four more years on tap, though, Bloomberg can now go about delivering on his promises.
Of course, there’s one little problem: Bloomberg’s plan won’t come cheap. At a time when the city has no money and after eight years of Bloomberg’s cutting city contributions to the MTA, Mayor Mike will have to figure out a way to pay for his transit reform plan. Yesterday morning, Larry Penner of The Queens Courier wrote at length on this very issue. He explores which projects are worth funding and which aren’t. It’s a rather wordy take on Bloomberg, but the overall point is a good one. Someone will have to figure out a way to pay for these upgrades.
Some of the upgrades can be covered in non-MTA monies. The Department of Transportation can reassign roads and convert the necessary space into dedicated bus lanes. DOT can fund the signal upgrades and the construction of physical barriers to separate lanes. The MTA will have to supply the physical equipment and man power to run more buses, but that’s cheap compared to, say, the Second Ave. Subway.
But other plans require a commitment from the MTA. Increased ParaTransit service, for example, would represent a huge cost to the cash-strapped agency. F express service, a potential reality in 2014, would require more rolling stock and more train drivers and conductors.
Other options simply require more money. The Mayor wants the MTA to “fix stations more efficiently and cost effectively to ensure existing stations are in a state of good repair.” The agency plans to do exactly that with its new component replacement plan. However, for these repairs and renovations to go forward at a quick pace, the agency simply needs more money. It needs more investment in construction designed to maintain its current infrastructure.
That is where Bloomberg steps in. He should decide to up the city’s contributions to the MTA. That, however, would require a city nearly in the red to find more money. The mayor isn’t really in a position to raise taxes, and New Yorkers may revolt is taxes go up so soon during a third term.
The answer, as it often does, comes back to bridge tolls or congestion pricing. Bloomberg could try again to lead a charge for user fees for these bridges. It seems likely that we will have bridge tolls within a few years anyway, and his lasting legacy could be one of sound transit investment. It might be a dream, but after running a campaign based in part around reform at the MTA, the least Bloomberg could is deliver.