Home MTA Politics From a mayoral candidate, an idea on MTA control

From a mayoral candidate, an idea on MTA control

by Benjamin Kabak

It’s too early in the mayoral race for the current slate of candidates to begin their usual diatribes about transit in New York City. No one has yet made any promises they can’t fulfill, and none of the candidates are close enough to securing a nomination to engage in a truly serious discussion of transportation issues under city control. But one candidate has enough experience in the field to raise some thought-provoking ideas.

That candidate, of course, is the MTA’s last permanent CEO/Chairman. Running for the GOP nomination on the strength of his handling of the MTA during Sandy, Joe Lhota enters the field with the most hands-on transit experience of anyone else, and a few times over the past few weeks, he’s discussed transit funding and control. Essentially, Lhota has said he wants to remove elements of the MTA — bridges and tunnels, notably — from state control. The idea still seems to be in the developmental stages, but he elaborated a bit last night.

Courtesy of Dana Rubinstein, we have a transcript:

By the way, all of the bridges and tunnels that are controlled by the M.T.A. are within the five boroughs. None of them connect anything other than the five boroughs. It now costs $15 round-trip to go from the Bronx to Queens. It costs $15 to go from Brooklyn to Staten Island. The reality is, right now, I can’t think of anything that’s reducing economic development as much. It begs the question, what are they doing with all that money, the $600 million of surplus which is going to subsidize mass transit?

I think mass transit needs to be subsidized. But when you look at the numbers, New York State actually ranks last in the country in the subsidy-per-rider that they provide. You can look at what they do in Massachusetts for the T or what they do for Metro in Washington or MARTA in Atlanta. Those states give more money per rider than in New York State. New York State shouldn’t be last in anything. It should be first. But I also believe that if you ever want to have any issues of talking about congestion pricing or anything like that, it would be great to get the M.T.A. out of the picture, let the City of New York control every bridge and tunnel in the City of New York.

I think I see where Lhota wants to go with this, but he’s muddling up some points. On the one hand, there’s a compelling argument to be made that the city — not the state — should have control over its transit infrastructure. Not only should that include bridges and tunnels, but it should encompass subways and buses as well.

On the other hand, as he’s arguing for more city control, he wants higher state subsidies. It’s a political balancing act that’s likely impossible to realize. Albany won’t agree to forking over more money while relinquishing control. It just won’t work that way. I’ve always been convinced Albany will in fact agree to relinquishing control if the city is willing to pick up the funding slack, but that’s a non-starter for a lot of reasons.

One other aspect of Lhota’s statement bothers me as well. He may be geographically correct that the MTA’s bridges and tunnels connect boroughs with each other, but that’s a rather provincial way of looking at the network. The city’s roads and the city’s rails are part of a wider network that connects us to other areas outside of New York City and even neighboring states. City residents and businesses are the primary drivers, but ours is a regional economy. It’s within such a context should any discussion on proper control over transit take place.

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39 comments

Bolwerk April 5, 2013 - 1:52 pm

Lhota sounds very muddled here to me. Probably it’s because he can’t tell the truth, that the tolls are necessary but the unfairness of not having them standardized is awful. The low-IQ cretins who reflexively vote Republikan in mayoral races are probably the core of the group that thinks there should be “free” bridges to provide alternatives to tolled bridges.

Anyway, he had an entire year at the job, and came away with virtually no meaningful accomplishments besides not fucking up. The “strength” of his Sandy response isn’t a strength. Unless you have exceptionally bad instincts, it’s easier to respond to an imminent crisis than it is to a long-term problem. Sadly, he may well be the best candidate for transit. Still, if he thinks Sandy qualifies him to be mayor, he’s delusional.

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D.R. Graham April 5, 2013 - 2:01 pm

Guliani thought 9/11 qualified him to be President. So now you know why Lhota is running for Mayor.

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Conspiracy Nut April 5, 2013 - 2:49 pm

You mean letting 9/11 happen?

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Bolwerk April 5, 2013 - 3:07 pm

How did Giuliani let 9/11 happen?

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Alex C April 5, 2013 - 9:51 pm

His username suggests to me that he’s joking.

Bolwerk April 6, 2013 - 12:16 pm

Yeah, I was really just curious about the train of thought.

BoerumBum April 5, 2013 - 3:10 pm

Hi, Someone

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Ryan April 5, 2013 - 3:36 pm

What the hell do you mean, “letting 9/11 happen”?

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Ryan April 5, 2013 - 3:44 pm

If Giuliani really did let 9/11 happen (which I am not convinced) of, then it could also be said that Lhota was at fault for letting the Rockaway Beach Branch and South Ferry station flood during Hurricane Sandy.

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D.R. Graham April 5, 2013 - 1:58 pm

Yet even with the muddling of the message he makes a great point. The bridges and tunnels are under state control, but not being managed by the state. It’s managed by the MTA. The state comes in for the photo and political op when convenient for them. However where are they when problems arise? Pointing the finger at the MTA! Look at Cuomo. Running victory laps after the Sandy service restorations and most recently touting South Ferry as almost his personal accomplishment, but have anything go wrong and he will be as absent as Bloomberg is on weekends.

I’ve argued this point for years yet I don’t know how anyone goes about solving it at this point. I just don’t see a real solution that can come to the table and be agreed upon.

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llqbtt April 5, 2013 - 2:45 pm

“It begs the question, what are they doing with all that money, the $600 million of surplus which is going to subsidize mass transit?”

Let’s hope that after being MTA CEO & Chair that he actually knows the answer to this!!

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Joe April 5, 2013 - 3:49 pm

Ha, yeah, that was my immediate reaction as well.

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Sharon April 6, 2013 - 12:39 am

He is asking a rhetorical question. The answer is that without the unions participation in revamping the mta operations, the money will continue to be squandered . The labor unions can not have their cake and eat it too. They can not have top of the market wages and benefits and also have ancient work rules that run up the costs. They have been getting away with it because they has been Bribing politicians and other activist groups for years. I know that the above claim is bold but it is true.

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John-2 April 5, 2013 - 2:47 pm

It really would come down to how much the new mayor would want to take responsibility not just for the cash inflow from the bridges and tunnels, but what they would do with those and the mass transit infrastructure and the underlying operation of both.

The city never really has had control of the bridges and tunnels in the truest sense, unless you consider Robert Moses as ‘the city’ in the 1934-68 period, while New York lost control of the buses and subways because John Lindsay didn’t have the nerve to stand up to anyone in contract negotiations, and didn’t want to have to deal with TWU a second time (If Lindsay could have figured out how to get Nelson Rockefeller to take over the city’s police, fire and sanitation departments as well as the TA, he would have had no problems with the Albany-run Metropolitan Police Authority, the Metropolitan Fire Authority and the Metropolitan Sanitation Authority if that meant Albany now had to make the hard choices). Move control back to City Hall and you presumably move the hard decisions back there to, and out of the hands of the appointed MTA scapegoat chairman, who currently is the main target when bad things happen.

If you’re going to get the vehicular and mass transit infrastructure back from Albany, you’re going to have to convince the upstate pols that when the next big union scuffle or other unforseen problems hits, you’re not simply going to run to Albany for a bail-out. If that’s the deal, nobody on the Republican or the Democratic side at the capitol is going to agree to give up control of the MTA units inside New York while then still having to subsidize it, if you end up another mayor like Lindsay who can’t control budget costs.

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Sharon April 6, 2013 - 12:51 am

Some of the money for the tolls should go to help subsidize metro north and LIRR. These two railroads bring in riders that work in the city and thus there employment pays taxes and makes the city viable.

The mta needs to cut 25% out of the labor cost of their operations. There are tons of ways to do this without taking away a FAIR pension (no PADDING)

This includes part time bus drivers, eliminating conductor positions on both NYCT and LIRR where possible and other cost saving. Why not explore contracting out some of the bus operations as Li bus did. LI bus is delivering almost as good service at MUCH LOWER COST. You can hold this possibility over the TWU as a bargaining chip to get needed concessions .

Additional revenue can had by brokering a deal for the MTA to keep a portion all money from summons for issues that take place on their property. This could lead to stepped up enforcement of the fare, littering and other offenses. Why shouldn’t a rider who hold a subway door get a $100 fine. The act hold up the train . Double parked cars get tickets for blocking traffic.

Also it is time to say good bye to all station agents and have the NYPD or other security enforcement monitor cameras and act in real time to apprehend any criminals. This would reduce crime far more than a person in a booth. The NYPD already does this in and around some public housing developments

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John-2 April 6, 2013 - 11:11 am

To do any of that — either with or without the city regaining control of its transit system — you’d need politicians at the top who were willing to take the flack that would come from getting into a very public fight with the TWU. And the voters would have to keep electing politicians willing to push for those reforms.

Mike Quill left John Lindsay naked and wearing a barrel after the 1966 contract talks; they other union leaders saw that and the rush to empty the cookie jar was on; turning the buses and subways over to Albany was a way for Lindsay to led daddy Nelson be the bad guy, and Rockefeller used William Ronan and the new MTA to act as the ones to take the worst of the flack, which is a policy that continues to this day (i.e. Andrew Cuomo takes credit for all the good things that happen, like reopening South Ferry, while Fernando Ferrer or Tom Prendergast get to deliver any bad news to the public).

Having MTA control in Albany does give the governor and his appointed chairman the ability to have a little more backbone in angling work rule changes out of the TWU, because the TWU (and the LIRR and Metro North unions) only have a major role in the 10-county downstate area (whether they show more backbone or not is another story). But the union has more pull within the city, especially in a situation like the current one, where you have a multi-candidate race for mayor and a situation where key support from a few groups can make the difference in a primary race.

That would be the main question/problem with giving the city back it’s transit system and control of the old TBTA toll money pot — the urge for a candidate for mayor to pander to try and get elected could make the ability to reform the current operations even more difficult than they are now, while the number of people pushing to find new, ‘wonderful’ uses for the bridge and tunnel toll cash could also ramp up if you have a weak/pandering mayor with the fiscal restraint of a Kardashian sister.

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Tower18 April 6, 2013 - 1:51 pm

LI bus is delivering almost as good service at MUCH LOWER COST

Oh yeah? That’s not what I’ve seen on this site in the past.

Double parked cars get tickets for blocking traffic

What? No they don’t.

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Larry Littlefield April 5, 2013 - 3:11 pm

Game plan:

1) Promise drivers that the toll to transit subsidy will be ended.

2) Promise transit riders that the state will make up the difference.

3) When #2 doesn’t happen and the transit system collapses, blame someone else.

Bullshit. We are long past the point where it is tolerable for anyone to promise something for nothing, and well into the era in which people will pay more with less and less in return as a result of Generation Greed. So Lhota wants another state tax increase? I don’t think so.

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Scott April 5, 2013 - 3:22 pm

Quite honestly, all the bridges and tunnels should have a toll. Traffic on the BQE by Hamilton Ave would disappear if the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges cost the same as the tunnel.

Then you could lower the toll across the board, even on the outer borough bridges.

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Ryan April 5, 2013 - 3:41 pm

You mean, require a toll to enter Manhattan, and Brooklyn and Queens, as well as Staten Island.

Besides, Hamilton Avenue is only so congested because of 1) people wanting to avoid the the Battery tunnel, and 2) the damn construction on the BQE.

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Sharon April 6, 2013 - 12:58 am

You mean to add yet another tax to the over taxed middle and working class new yorker. And worst off add extra cost to every good and service that has to cross the bridge affecting EVERY NEW YORKER. Back wards thinking that has created the mess that is NYC
Lower skilled workers are forced into poverty by the lack of manufacturing and other lower skill jobs because of high taxes, tolls and fees on everything. The cost of electricity and natural gas in NYC is twice what is in many places. This makes it harder to make anything in NYC at a profit. All the people thrown into poverty increases the taxes and make more jobs lead.

A two adult household in florida with both adults working at Walmart can own a home and live a nice life because of no income tax and almost none of the hidden “union taxes” that drive up the cost of everything including rent, the cost of mortgage, electicity, nat gas(which your land lord pays) everything

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Bolwerk April 6, 2013 - 12:06 pm

You’re making things up. Reducing the number of people crossing the bridge by tolling automobiles would only make goods flow across the bridges more easily. It’s a savings for anyone who needs to use the bridge because they avoid traffic.

A two adult household in florida with both adults working at Walmart can own a home and live a nice life because of no income tax and almost none of the hidden “union taxes” that drive up the cost of everything including rent, the cost of mortgage, electicity, nat gas(which your land lord pays) everything

It’s not a nice life. It’s Florida, working at Wal-Mart. Granted, cars are subsidized more than transit, but living in a trailer at Wal-Mart wages with car payments on top is hardly a win in life. Think I’ll stay somewhere nominally civilized, thank you.

And what are unions doing to rent and mortgages? Is there a bankers union now too?

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Ryan April 5, 2013 - 3:39 pm

This is only tangentially related, but Bloomberg should reconsider congestion pricing while he’s still in office.

This would make revenue for the city, and it would relieve some of congestion.

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Sharon April 6, 2013 - 1:08 am

Once again, all the money collected will just get eaten up by sky high labor cost and work rules as it has always happened.

$15 for the VZ bridge should be a wake up call. If that tall fee can’t right the financial ship no amount will.

What people don’t get about congestion pricing is that it will drive out any business that does not need to be in NYC. It is not the answer if there are other options. It is not the answer if the money will just be squandered .

The mta currently has a $40 million surplus which will grow if the economy grows. If they use the money wisely to pay down debt and then negotiate a fair contract (for both riders and employees) the mta money situation will get better without any new taxes or fees .

If the mta can step up enforcement on paying fares on buses and trains, rework it work rules to make real world sense and punish riders with fines who do not follow mta rules, we can talk about lowering some of the economy killing taxes and fees that we charge on everything from cell phone bills to baseball tickets and have a well funded mta.

The facts are simple, the mta does not need as large a subsidy per rider because it fills a higher % of it’s vehicles per trip with riders. The mta leaves countless millions in untapped revenue that it could gleem from these riders selling ads and products on subways and buses. How much could it make selling wi-fi in subway tunnels for instance . Most riders would by in.

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Ryan April 5, 2013 - 3:46 pm

By the way, all of the bridges and tunnels that are controlled by the M.T.A. are within the five boroughs. None of them connect anything other than the five boroughs…. It costs $15 to go from Brooklyn to Staten Island.

I though the Verrazano Bridge was toll-free in the direction of Brooklyn.

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John April 5, 2013 - 4:00 pm

It is. Why don’t you reread the quote you posted?

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Ryan April 5, 2013 - 4:07 pm

It costs $15 to go to Staten Island? Wow, I must not have been there in a while.

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Benjamin Kabak April 5, 2013 - 4:02 pm

This is a great example of one of those comments I’ve been urging you to re-read before deciding to post.

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Ryan April 5, 2013 - 4:12 pm

It also said, ” It now costs $15 round-trip to go from the Bronx to Queens. It costs $15 to go from Brooklyn to Staten Island. “ I assumed the latter was also round-trip and that there were tools in both directions.

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Nestor April 5, 2013 - 7:14 pm

15$ to go to Staten Island from Brooklyn and 0$ to go from Staten Island to Brooklyn is 15$ roundtrip. I’m just being pedantic.

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Sharon April 6, 2013 - 1:11 am

you pay double going towards SI which is the reason the holland and Lincoln tunnels are loaded with trucks.

Cars pay $15 but truckers pay FAR MORE THAN CARS. They pay per axle.

What does this mean, all goods an services produced in NYC cost more to ship out of state thus kills manufacturing jobs.

All products shipped into NYC cost more

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Tower18 April 6, 2013 - 1:54 pm

Blame SI for this situation. They wanted the tolls to be reversed from the usual pattern.

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BrooklynBus April 6, 2013 - 11:04 pm

The one way tolls for trucks never should have been abolished and should be reinstated.

Also lowering the toll for SI residents while going up for everyone else was ridiculous. I’m all for commuter discounts, but using a facility three times in a month does not make you a commuter.

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Nathanael April 7, 2013 - 12:19 am

Sharon, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey was founded with an explicit instruction to construct a rail crossing for freight from New Jersey to Long Island. That would alleviate this issue by getting the freight traffic off the roads and onto the rails where it belongs.

For some reason, close to a century later, they still haven’t built that rail tunnel.

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Bolwerk April 7, 2013 - 8:12 am

Ward was pretty forward-thinking on matters about freight for reasons the hurr, tolls drive up freight costs crowd probably can’t understand. Cuomo and Christie, two leaders of the hurr, there aren’t enough roads crowd didn’t think much of having someone forward-thinking around.

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Justin Samuels April 7, 2013 - 11:09 am

Number one, a few years ago when there were proposals to build freight trains from NY to NJ, there was massive public opposition along the proposed routes. Freight trains are noisy, and people complain about them.

Number 2, everything shipped by train still is going to end up on a truck to go its final destination. So you’d still have the same number of trucks ultimately on the roads delivering things to retail stores and other businesses, doing what trains can’t do (final delivery).

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Bolwerk April 7, 2013 - 11:42 am

More hurrrr. #1, freight noise complainers who simultaneously inflict automobile noises on others need a punch in the junk. Pretty much the same measures that make passenger rail so quiet you can’t hear it can be employed to make freight rail quiet, though FRA regulations admittedly get in the way of this. #2, even if trucks are still a component in last mile deliveries, doing more of the loading on Long Island, including in Queens and Brooklyn, greatly reduces the amount of freight that needs to use the automobile crossings, which was in fact part of the controversy.

And, trains can do final delivery. Again, FRA regulations probably limit the possibilities here, but it’s not impossible or even always impractical.

Adirondacker12800 April 7, 2013 - 2:15 pm

I’ve always been convinced Albany will in fact agree to relinquishing control if the city is willing to pick up the funding slack

New York City should secede. 40% of the population of New York State lives in New York City. 60% of the revenue Albany collects comes from New York City. Why should New York City send money to Albany to spend Upstate and not expect Albany to spend money in New York City?

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Alon Levy April 9, 2013 - 12:08 am

It requires the permission of the Congressional monkey squad.

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