Jan
05

Pondering PATH and the Christie/Cuomo Port Authority veto

By

I’m still marveling over Gov. Christie’s and Cuomo’s dual veto of the Port Authority reform measure. From its timing late on a Saturday night between Christmas and New Year’s to the fact that their counter-proposal contained a brazen plan to curtail overnight PATH service between Manhattan and New Jersey, this thing reeks of politics. Despite their wishes too, this story hasn’t gone away.

As the first real full-time workday dawns since the veto, New Jersey legislators are threatening to an override vote while New York representatives, and in particular the embattled Sheldon Silver, have been mum on their intentions in the new legislative session. Furthermore, although the Governors’ report featured 90 pages of recommendations, the PATH proposal is still drawing headlines. Matt Chaban spoke with late-night PATH riders for an article that appears in today’s Times, and they are uniformly against the move.

Many riders spoke about the convenience of the trip and how it drove their decisions to move to New Jersey’s waterfront cities. Others note that it allows them to work in certain sectors — particularly service jobs — while paying rent. As one said, “If there was no PATH train, that would change everything. I guess I’d have to buy a car, or move to the city, neither of which I want to do.”

Late last week, the editorial page director of The Record penned a signed opinion column speaking out against the PATH cuts. It included a gem of a line: “Christie and Cuomo know more than I do about many things, but commuting on a budget isn’t one of them. I expect that holds true for the members of the governors’ special panel.”

Doblin makes many good points regarding subsidized fares; affordable commutes; the inability of New Jersey Transit to run its own house, let alone someone else; and Port Authority priorities. He also drops a few good zingers: “And if the Port Authority wants to reduce PATH expenses, why is it building a $4 billion station at the World Trade Center where even the platforms at track level are marble? Before someone asks me to pay five bucks for a subway ride, I would like someone to explain marble train platforms.”

But what if we’re focused on the wrong thing? What if this isn’t really about the PATH train cutbacks at all? Even current Port Authority commissioners have been quick to point out that the elimination of overnight PATH service would be “a last resort.” Still, it’s garnered a lot of headlines while the real story has almost — but not quite — been forgotten.

So before we forget entirely, let’s revisit the real story: After a bipartisan, two-state push to reform Port Authority through legislative mandates, Governors Christie and Cuomo both vetoed their respective state measures at 11 p.m. on the Saturday night after Christmas. In its place, they proposed non-binding reform measures that wouldn’t have the weight of law or the bite of legislative oversight or legal enforcement. As Doblin ultimately concludes, “The process will not change unless laws change. Christie and Cuomo do not want that to happen. Unchecked authority at the Port Authority was how a $4 billion subway station resembling a gigantic gull in flight was approved and constructed. When it comes to the Port Authority, the governors of New Jersey and New York will do what they want while the public, well, they get the bird.” That — and not a misguided two paragraphs regarding 24/7 PATH service — is the real takeaway. The PATH train is just a ruse.



Categories : PANYNJ

35 Responses to “Pondering PATH and the Christie/Cuomo Port Authority veto”

  1. Steve says:

    Does the prospect of a private operator coming in not interest anyone?

    • Eric F says:

      I understand that this was floated as a possibility, but why would a private operator take over a loss-making facility? Perhaps a private operator could do it for a fee. It’s hard to imagine that such a plan would be politically viable.

    • Bolwerk says:

      Agreed with Eric, but private operators expect profit, so they cost more unless they have liberty to cut costs somewhere. Where do you see a private operator being allowed to cut costs?

      • Phillip Roncoroni says:

        They would need to essentially fire all PATH staff, and re-hire them at lower wages with garbage benefit packages, like Veoila did with MTA Long Island Bus.

  2. Frank says:

    I guess the governors of New York and New Jersey need someone to blame if something goes wrong so they don’t get blamed. The same is true with the MTA.

    I doubt the new WTC PATH station is the cause of PATH’s financial problems.

    • Spencer K says:

      And yet, $10MM a year in savings is going to fix a $300MM operating deficit? You missed the points here. The recommendations are barely a drop in the bucket, affect a lot of people, and yet they spend and raise tolls with impunity.

      Again, though, this is NOT about PATH.

  3. Spencer K says:

    This is what I said from the start. Most of the press has focused entirely on the wrong story. It was never about PATH cuts, it was about the vetoing of a bi-partisan, dual-state legislation with A LOT of public support. It’s about two men who are supposed to be pretty opposite politically, continuing to operate as if they are the same person, particularly when it comes to transit.

    This is about vetoing ARC, and illegally spending the funds on Polaski; or about vetoing ARC, and no plan B for over two year, or about the PA running the AC airport, or about the PATH to nowhere to service so few people that it shouldn’t even be a discussion point (let along a priority), or about yet another toll hike without accountability. PATH cuts are a fear-mongering story for the press, and an unhelpful distraction for daily commuters.

    • SEAN says:

      Well said.

    • Eric F says:

      “Most of the press has focused entirely on the wrong story. It was never about PATH cuts, it was about the vetoing of a bi-partisan, dual-state legislation with A LOT of public support.”

      I doubt 1% of the public was even aware of the bill.

      “It’s about two men who are supposed to be pretty opposite politically, continuing to operate as if they are the same person, particularly when it comes to transit.”

      That should trigger a hard look at whether they have a point. Was the bill actually good? I just keep hearing “reform” was vetoed. That’s quite non-specific.

      “This is about vetoing ARC, and illegally spending the funds on Polaski; or about vetoing ARC, and no plan B for over two year, or about the PA running the AC airport, or about the PATH to nowhere to service so few people that it shouldn’t even be a discussion point (let along a priority), or about yet another toll hike without accountability.”

      ARC would take money out of the PA and once up and running provide no revenue to the PA. I’m not sure how “reform” would somehow solve that. PA running the AC airport was a quid pro quo for its running Stewart Airport in NY, which you don’t mention.

      • adirondacker12800 says:

        There’s plenty of space in the Lincoln Tunnel and the PABT to run more buses instead?
        Part of what they studied for ARC was using buses. To get the same capacity the Port Authority has to build new tubes next to the Lincoln Tunnel and more Port Authority bus terminal. Which would cost them more. There’s that fiddly bit about carving a new road out to the New Jersey Turnpike too. Which because it has more buses on it needs to be widened. So suburban New Jerseyans can go to the train station to catch a bus to New York. They could give NJTransit 3 billion dollars or they could build new road tunnel for more buses and more bus terminal to put them in. It’s cheaper to give NJTransit 3 billion dollars.
        Running trains is much cheaper than running buses over the long term. NJTransit can run 10 buses a rush houre from the suburban train station to New York. Or it can run trains during rush hour that pick up 10 buses of passengers. Since next suburb up the line can do the same thing and the one after that they can fill whole trains fairly frequently. In local traffic while the bus gets to the highway.

        • Tower18 says:

          What makes you think there’s plenty of room at PABT for more buses? Or in the tunnel for that matter? I mean yes there’s of course more room in the tunnel if you take another lane away from cars and dedicate it to buses, but that’s a tough sell, and besides, you don’t have room in PABT for those extra buses anyway.

        • Eric F says:

          I believe we need at least two new tunnel going from NJ to Manhattan. That does not mean that the PA should be a financing source for them.

          Your bus vs. trains points are entirely debatable, but besides the point. I also think that using PA funds for the Skyway, etc., was also ill-advised, but if anything fiscally sounder. The ARC tunnel overruns would have bankrupted the PA, whereas the costs of the roads rehab projects are much more visible.

          • Bolwerk says:

            Comparing the costs of unbuilt infrastructure to the rehab costs of existing infrastructure is silly. New infrastructure creates new value. Old infrastructure needs to be periodically refurbished or replaced, which is what most capital spending is. That process is necessary, but for the most part doesn’t create new value.

            The PA wouldn’t have been on the hook for any ARC overruns, if there were any. NJ Transit was the lead agency.

            • Eric F says:

              The access road stuff the PA is doing has, I think, three elements. One is the idiotic Skyway rehab., and approach road rehab. (Iidiotic to me because you are taking a substandard road with no shoulders, narrow lanes and center merges (!) and simply making sure it won’t fall down. For the money, I’d build a new one up to current specs). The other two are a replacement of the Wittpenn bridge and the building of a new truck road to parallel 1/9 in Hudson County. So there, is some new stuff there, but nothing on the order of an ARC project.

              • adirondacker12800 says:

                The reason the Skyway was built is that the Holland Tunnel opened and Jersey City gridlocked,
                The Skyway gets closed people can’t get to and from the Holland Tunnel to pay the tolls that funded the contribution.
                The Skyway wouldn’t be there if the Holland Tunnel didn’t exist.

      • Bolwerk says:

        If that last bit is true, the quid pro quo of “another airport for NY for more rail for NJ” at least involves two things that are rationally related to the PA’s decades-standing transpo mission – and both Hudson rail and airport capacity in the region are somewhere near crisis level. Both help both states.

        Things like fixing long-existing highways and forcing the PA to manage far-away Atlantic City’s airport is just a future-selling money grab.

        • Eric F says:

          Both Stewart and A.C. are outside the PA’s geographic zone of control. It makes no sense to have the PA run either. Westchester airport is closer to if not within the zone, but is not under PA control.

          • Bolwerk says:

            Not saying Stewart is the right choice, but I at least see a logic to the argument for relieving the zone’s airports. Afterall, there are millions of people living in the northern reaches of the NYC metro who lean on the three relevant commercial airports.

            Atlantic City can’t possibly be said to do such a thing. (No idea if you can make a strong case for the relief claim either.)

            • adirondacker12800 says:

              It was built to relieve the region’s airports. They were going to be overwhelmed by the 80s.
              It’s been open for commercial service for 25 years. It’s had commercial service for 25.

              From Wikipedia:
              Federal Aviation Administration records say the airport had 392,464 passenger boardings (enplanements) in calendar year 2008, 197,655 in 2009 and 201,684 in 2010.

      • Spencer K says:

        “I doubt 1% of the public was even aware of the bill.”

        I bet there were a lot more people aware of the bill than would be affected by cutting overnight PATH service.

        “That should trigger a hard look at whether they have a point. Was the bill actually good? I just keep hearing “reform” was vetoed. That’s quite non-specific.”

        The hard look was made. I’d advise you to get informed and maybe read some of the bill, or even the numerous overviews, instead of just saying you heard it was needed, what is EXACTLY non-specific, and completely irrelevant.

        “ARC would take money out of the PA and once up and running provide no revenue to the PA. I’m not sure how “reform” would somehow solve that.”

        Uhm, what? There’s no mandate to the PA to only build projects which provide revenue. The PA is a cross-cutting entity to operate on the port of NY and NJ, and address infrastructure and transit issues. Reform wouldn’t have created revenue from ARC or any alternate solution. It was about providing an alternate solution when the project was nixed, and provide transparency and accountability for why it was nixed and how the outstanding issue would still be resolved.

        “PA running the AC airport was a quid pro quo for its running Stewart Airport in NY, which you don’t mention.”

        And what does that change? It’s still a waste of resources which does nothing for the commuting region. Stewart Airport might only marginally enhance the region versus the AC airport (maybe even more so, now that United is no long flying out of AC).

  4. Christopher says:

    I’m not entirely sure this wasn’t the end game from the beginning: legislatures could look like heroes but knowing full well the governors would veto their bill and also knowing they wouldn’t have time/the votes to override the veto (but could blame it on the time aspect). I don’t trust Christie/Cuomo but I also don’t trust either the NJ or NY legislatures.

  5. Eric F says:

    I get that there was a bill with the word “reform” slapped on it. But that doesn’t mean it was a good bill.

  6. Chekpeds says:

    The veto is upsetting but the report both governors endorsed puts the PA on the right track . Divest from real estate unrelated to the operation like the World Trade Center, being the first of them. Increasing capacity in bus terminal and TRANS hudson transportation which is critical and hire a professional CEO .
    The report also recommends to redo the capital plan

    • VLM says:

      I think you’ve missed the point Ben made. The report is just a report. It’s not binding legislation; it’s just a series of recommendations that can be implemented voluntarily and overruled on a whim. The legislation would have taken the slush-fund power away from the governors and given the Port Authority teeth and the legislatures oversight. That’s why it was vetoed.

  7. Alan K says:

    Insofar as the impetus for Port Authority reform was the Bridgegate scandal, I don’t think you can dismiss cutting overnight PATH service as a non-story. Publicly considering an end to overnight PATH service is a clear threat to Jersey City and Hoboken mayors Fulop and Zimmer, neither of whom are integrated into the Hudson County political machine, and a clear threat to Jersey City and Hoboken voters: don’t vote outside the machine if you care about state and regional services.

    I guess I would break out these threads from the PATH story:
    1) Christie is using the PA as a political weapon against independently-minded mayors. Again.
    2) Cuomo is assenting to the use of the PA as a political weapon against anti-Christie Democrats.
    3) The gubernatorially-endorsed reform package prioritizes the use of the PA as a political weapon over the transit needs of the region.

    • Douglas John Bowen says:

      Alan K. sees clearly on this, but so far the political feedback in New Jersey on this level of the issue suggests that the two mayors come off looking a bit better (maybe even stronger) on the matter than the two governors do. I’ll acknowledge that can change, of course.

      That said, I think Mr. Kabak’s focus addressed here is the correct one, and the use of PATH’s future status as a distraction, while not a blanket success, has obscured the larger picture in play. I find this true within myself at times as I get into discussions with others over this.

  8. JJJJ says:

    Good job voting for these two guys.

  9. Alex says:

    Seems like Christie and Cuomo took a page out of the MTA fair raising handbook.

    MTA: “We’re going to raise fairs!”
    Public: “We must stand our ground.”
    MTA: “…Maybe by $5 a ride!”
    Public: “Outrageous! We’ll revolt!”
    MTA: JK, we’re only raising it $0.50.
    Public: “Yay, we won!”
    MTA: (Under breath) “Suckers.”

  10. Nick T. says:

    I was hoping they would address the tolls. Even though I’ve taken the PATH only once, I think it’s a ridiculous idea to end 24-hour service while attempting to justify a $4 billion station that will serve not as many commuters as projected.

    However, as someone who commutes to Staten Island and Manhattan from NJ fairly regularly, I think they really, really need to do something about the tolls at the crossings. Sometime this year, they’re all going up to $15! Look, I know the Port Authority has other projects to take care of that are actually important such as rebuilding the Bayonne Bridge and fully replacing the nightmare Goethals Bridge. Still, I’m tired of having to pay more than $20 round-trip to get to an island that has all crossings requiring $14-15 for a toll.
    Though cars are often frowned upon in the city, I don’t think commuters should pay out the rear end for a complex where each skyscraper costs over $2 billion.

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