Early last week, The Times ran this editorial on the transit ideas that have come out of the 2013 mayoral campaign, and I sat on the article for a few days. On the one hand, I’m thrilled that candidates have decided to focus, to some degree or another, on transit issues, but on the other, the editorial is incredibly disappointing. It praises the candidates for offering up their ideas without taking a critical look at how nearly all of the ideas have been bad ones.
In fact, the editorial proclaimed many of the transit ideas “good,” and I had to wonder if we were all paying attention to the same campaign. Without even acknowledging John Catsimatidis’ zany monorail plans, The Times praised Christine Quinn’s horrendous Triboro RX SBS route, the new-found love affair with ferries and many plans already in the works, including more Select Bus Service routes and the Penn Station Access plan. “It will take effort and political skill to turn ideas into reality, from the tiny — Ms. Quinn proposes countdown clocks outside subway stations, which would be quite nice — to the transformational. But few jobs are more important for the next mayor,” The Times said.
The worst part though isn’t the fawning over half-hearted attempts at avoiding the city’s serious mobility problems. Rather, it is the framing device The Times used to present it editorial. It launched the piece with praise of Rudy Giuliani’s move to make the Staten Island Ferries free. It is, they said, “a small daily improvement in commuters’ lives that, multiplied by millions of rides and many years, surely adds up to something monumental.” Even though the decision was “influenced as much by politics as by need,” it is “an example of what can happen when a New York mayor highlights and fixes a neglected transportation problem.” Except its not at all.
By making the Staten Island Ferry free, the city has foregone literally millions of dollars annually that could have been invested into the transit system. This money could have been used to improve other connections between Staten Island and the rest of the city. Even if the city had simply installed Metrocard machines and granted ferry riders a free transfer to the subway or bus, the annual take still would have been around $5 million. Over the course of 16 years, that’s around $80 million not available for other improvements for no good reason other than politics. Is it worth it?