Archive for Ravitch Commission

sander

Elliot Sander poses with some of the subway system’s aging infrastructure. He hopes for the funds to start some much-needed system modernization. (Photo courtesy of Crain’s.)

The venerable business journal Crain’s hosts regular breakfasts featuring major city players. Yesterday, MTA CEO and Executive Director Elliot “Lee” Sander took the stage to give his “Save the MTA” speech. Sander explained what the MTA plans to do with federal stimulus funding but reiterated the need for Albany to fund the authority’s operating budget.

Daniel Massey from Crain’s New York Business Journal was on hand to report on the talk:

The agency plans to reduce overhead and save $30 million to $40 million by consolidating its back-office administrative offices from seven locations to one, at 370 Jay St., in Brooklyn. And it expects to rake in $1.5 billion to $3 billion from the federal government’s stimulus package. The MTA would use that money to begin the next phase in rehabilitation of the Atlantic Avenue viaduct, which carries Long Island Railroad passengers between Jamaica and downtown Brooklyn; rehabilitate subway stations; overhaul shops and yards; and bolster mega-projects like the Second Avenue Subway and East Side Access, which would connect LIRR trains to Grand Central Terminal.

But those savings and additional funds won’t mean much if the state does not adopt the Ravitch Commission’s plan, which would boost MTA coffers by putting tolls on East River bridges and adding a regional business tax that would amount to 33 cents on every $100 of payroll, Mr. Sander said. Administration represents only 7% of the MTA budget, and the federal dollars would be only about 5% to 10% of the agency’s capital needs. “While the key elements of the plan…are painful without question, the alternative of failing to adequately invest in the MTA is far worse: much higher fares and less service, both of which are unacceptable,” he said…

Mr. Sander said Gov. David Paterson will soon introduce a bill containing the commission’s recommendations, and that it needs to pass before March. He said he thought the plan was fair in its current form and rejected a proposal from some New York City elected officials that the payroll tax be increased further instead of tolling the bridges.

Sander ended the speech with a warning directed at the state legislature. He has long noted that New York has been challenged as one of the world’s leading cities by transit expansion in China and Europe. He reiterated that claim yesterday. “Other than an increase in crime, I can’t think of anything that will start the death knell for New York,” he said.

For the most part, Sander’s speech isn’t a new one. While he did offer a dire update on the Hudson Yards project — and we’ll touch on that later — he has continued to press for the Ravitch Committee recommendations even as the public piles on during the fare hike/service cuts hearings. As the head of the MTA, he’s doing all he can to stave off the cuts, and for that, he deserves support. Hopefully, Albany will heed his calls.

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With the ever-popular clock ticking its way toward March 25, MTA bigwigs boarded an Amtrak train yesterday morning to pay a lobbying call to Albany. While visiting our state’s illustrious capital, the MTA officials urged the state’s legislators to pick up the issue of the Ravitch Recommendations before the Board is forced to implement rampant service cuts and fare hikes.

“We represent the riders, and we’re here to make their case, not our case. Hopefully the legislators are listening very carefully because they are elected by those very same people,” MTA Chair Dale Hemmerdinger said.

While Sheldon Silver, the scourge of congestion pricing, feels his Assembly will take action before the end of March — can we please remember this on Election Day next time around? — he did manage to punt on the biggest issue. When the topic of the East River Bridge Tolls came up, Silver urged the city to act. NY1’s Bobby Cuza was on hand in Albany to report on the hearings:

One of the solutions recently proposed by the Ravitch Commission to help fund the system is proving to be a tough sell — the plan to put tolls on the East River and Harlem River bridges, which are owned by the city.

The state Assembly appears unlikely to address the issue, just as it didn’t vote on the mayor’s congestion pricing plan last year. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said if the city wants East River bridge tolls, it can simply transfer those bridges to the MTA.

“We can’t just go in and impose tolls as a state, but the city can transfer to the MTA, lease to the MTA. There’s no legislation required for it to be done and it should just get done by the city,” said Silver.

Silver said the Assembly is ready to implement a new payroll tax, as recommended by the Ravitch Commission. The Senate leadership has so far not taken a position.

So it seems to me that the Assembly is willing to shoulder its share of the deal. I’m not going to don my party hat, though, until the payroll tax bill clears the two legislative bodies in Albany and David Paterson affixes his name to it. They really better hurry up on that.

Meanwhile, if this trip can be considered a guarded success, the MTA ought to act quickly to lobby the City Council. New York’s governing body will, much to the chagrin of MTA supporters, have to approve a sale of the bridges from the City to the MTA so that the transit authority could implement a tolling plan. Considering the overwhelming opposition to a plan that would impact far fewer people than a fare hike, that sale is far from guaranteed.

Later tonight at 6 p.m., the MTA will host the first of its public hearings on the fare hike. It’s time for our voices to be heard. As Silver said, the city must act to save the MTA.

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patterson

In what is being called a rather somber speech, Gov. David Paterson laid out the economic outlook for New York in his first State of the State address. While the state is tight on money and new projects are being pushed aside, Paterson stressed his commitment to a sound transit policy, pleasing MTA officials and firmly tossing the ball into the state legislature’s court.

While New York, like much of the U.S., is facing a budget, Paterson recognized yesterday that focusing on infrastructure investment and development is a sound way to build an economy stimulus plan. In his vision, the Ravitch Commission’s recommendations will become a reality, and the Second Ave. Subway will continue its journey down Manhattan.

“To build a brighter future, we need a smarter, better infrastructure,” he said. “We should complete signature projects all across our State including the Peace Bridge, the Tappan Zee Bridge, the Second Avenue Subway, and the East Side Access. And we should implement the Ravitch Commission recommendations to improve an essential piece of our infrastructure, the MTA.”

MTA officials, facing a March 25 drop-dead date for their Doomsday budget, expressed relief that the city’s top statesman is on their side. “I was delighted. The governor’s been great, in terms of supporting the MTA and called for the Ravitch Commission, MTA Executive Director and CEO Elliot Sander said to NY’s Bobby Cuza: [I] just was thrilled that he mentioned it in the State of the State.”

More optimistic though is the growing support the plan seems to have from a few key Assembly members. Cuza reports:

The challenge now is winning the support of the legislature. The Ravitch recommendations include both new tolls on the East River bridges, and a new payroll tax. Assembly leaders said improvements to the plan can be made.

“There are controversial elements of it, but in the end, I think you’re going to see this legislature and this governor work to provide more money to save the fares on the trains, subways and buses, to make sure we build out the capital program of the MTA, so we have a good system 10 years from now,” said Assemblyman Richard Brodsky (D-Westchester).

Clearly, there are controversial elements to it. Any plan designed to ensure the long-term health of a transit system through a dedicated and non-variable source is bound to have costs and controversies. At some point, some elected official besides Paterson will have to recognize that far more people are impacted by a bad MTA than East River Bridge tools and that the region depends on the MTA far more than it depends on free access to Manhattan via the East River crossings.

For now, the MTA has some big names lining up behind this recommendation, but time’s a-wastin’. We have 10 weeks until the MTA starts implementing service cuts and fare hikes. No one wants to see that happen, but will someone step up to lead the effort to save the beleaguered transit agency?

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Based on news coverage of the Ravitch Commission’s report, you could be forgiven for believing that most of Brooklyn commutes into Manhattan via automobile over the East River bridges. After all, reporters and sources act as though tolling the East River bridges represents a direct challenge to our American way of life.

But it’s simply not true. In a survey a long time coming, the Tri-State Transportation Campaign noted the grave inequities among the numbers of commuters who drive and those who ride the subway. The report — released on Friday — is telling. “For example, according to the 2000 Census, only 3.1% of Brooklyn workers, 3.5% of Nassau County workers, and 4.4% of Westchester County workers drive alone to Manhattan to work,” Steven Higashide wrote on the TSC’s Mobilizing the Region.

The fact sheets are just as telling. In Brooklyn, the borough potentially hardest hit by the tolls, 37.9 percent of all commuters head into Manhattan each day. In total, 4.6 percent of Brooklyn residents drive into Manhattan each day either alone (3.1 percent) or via carpool (1.5 percent). On the flip side, 32.6 percent of borough residents rely on the subway. That’s 86 percent of all Manhattan-bound commuters on the train as opposed to 14 percent on the road. The numbers are rather similar across the entirety of the MTA’s Metropolitan Commuter Transportation District.

Furthermore, those who drive make, on average, over $30,000 a year more than those who take the train. So not only do few people commute via car each day, but they do as a luxury. They should be, in other words, the people paying the tolls. It would be regressive, as always, to tax the straphanging public and not the driving few.

This whole debate, then, is fairly ridiculous. It would be far, far better to raise the bridge tolls and avoid service cuts and huge fare hikes than it would be to keep the sacred East River bridges free while the vast majority of commuters would be stuck with longer wait times and more crowded trains. Streetsblog called the gap between those who drive and those who straphang “cavernous” and noted that “the populist ‘defense’ of the driving public is a bunch of hokum that no reporter should let go unchallenged.”

Now, if only the politicians who control the fate of transportation in New York would awake to these realities, we could have hope yet. For some reason, though, I get the feeling that the fare hikes and service cuts will stay while the East River bridge tolls will remain free for the small percentage of people who use the bridges each day. That is backwards indeed.

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Dec
11

What’s the better idea?

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While I study for my 1L law school exams, I’ve recruited a guest post or two for the next few weeks. Today, Chris Carrera, better know as the East Village Idiot, offers up his take on the response to the Ravitch Plan. As a general note, if anyone reading wants to contribute to SAS, feel free to contact me.

Now that the Ravich Report is out, New York’s politicians are lashing out in defense of “the little guy.” Unfortunately, it seems that those speaking out against the recommendations aren’t clear on who “the little guy” is. Here’s a glimpse of their perception of this mysterious citizen:

“Raising annual fees for driver licenses to $50 would yield nearly $300 million.” – Micah Kellner, Assemblyman (D-Manhattan)

Kellner’s perception of the little guy: a Manhattanite in his district who never, ever drives, and sees absolutely no need for a drivers’ license. He never drives for work, he never drives when he travels, and he never drives to relocate. Everyone else, however, should be forced to pay outrageous annual fees – nearly five times what any other state’s resident pays – isn’t the little guy, and should be screwed, even though they too rely daily on the transit system that this fee would fund.

“Placing tolls along these bridges penalizes people for living in The Bronx, Queens, Staten Island and Brooklyn boroughs, especially those who don’t have the best access to subway and bus transportation.” – William Thompson, New York City Comptroller

Thompson’s perception of the little guy: someone who lives in the outer boroughs who travels to Manhattan for work who doesn’t have “the best access” to subway or bus transportation. Never mind that in Brooklyn, for example, 97.5% of those who commute to Manhattan travel by mass transit. (Ed. note: This figure varies. Some say it’s closer to 80 percent; others higher. The point remains the same.) Never mind this penalized “little guy” represents the tiniest percentage of New Yorkers, while the benefits of Ravitch’s recommendations would be reaped by a large majority of New Yorkers. And please, forget about the fact that these same “little guys” would benefit from the East River Tolls, which would fund improved mass transit to underserved neighborhoods.

“It is just bad public policy to ask people who live and work in the outer boroughs to fill our budget gaps, regardless of their financial ability to do so.” – Bill DeBlasio, City Councilman (D-Brooklyn)

DeBlasio’s perception of the little guy: someone lives and works in the outer boroughs. If you live and work in the same outer borough, East River tolls are of no consequence to you. If you live in, say, Queens and work in the Bronx, you have to pay $10 in tolls every day during your commute (unless you severely inconvenience yourself via the Queensboro Bridge, FDR, and Harlem River bridges). If you live in, say, Brooklyn and work on Staten Island, you have to pay a $10 toll every day during your commute. Forget about those people, because the real “little guy” is the one who lives in Brooklyn or Queens and works in Manhattan, an island with quite possibly the best mass transit in the world… who doesn’t take the Queens Midtown or Brooklyn Battery Tunnel (also $10 in tolls every day).

“How can you tax people to enter Manhattan when you don’t provide them reasonable alternatives?” – Simcha Felder, City Councilman (D-Brooklyn)

Felder’s perception of the little guy: someone who lives in an outer borough and wants to get to Manhattan who lacks “reasonable alternatives.” This “little guy” does not find 23 subway lines, 38 express and local bus routes, or 5 commuter rail lines to be “reasonable alternatives.” These are all infinitely less expensive alternatives than driving to Manhattan under any circumstances now, before any tolls are instituted on East River crossings. But they’re unreasonable to this “little guy,” and are therefore not the best choice for solving the MTA’s fiscal crisis.

It’s time for opponents to the Ravich plan to fess up: They don’t have a good explanation as to why they’re against tolling the East River crossings, they don’t have a reasonable suggestion to raise the revenue needed otherwise, and they don’t really know or care that a small group of people, if any at all, will be inconvenienced by the Ravich plan, which literally millions of New Yorkers will stand to benefit from. “Just because” is not a reason to block a plan that will keep our city’s lifeline from falling into an irreparable fiscal crisis.

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Remember the Kheel plan, a Ted Kheel-funded study by Charles Komanoff and other transit experts? In it, the study’s creators proposed a way to fund the MTA via a steep congestion fee while keeping transit free. While it’s a very revolutionary plan, it hasn’t been embraced politically.

Well, as Ben Fried at Streetsblog reported this morning, Kheel is unveiling a new version of the plan. Kheel apparently doesn’t like the Ravitch plan. He calls it an immobility tax and doesn’t think it addresses the problems of congestion and car overuse that plague New York.

“The Ravitch Immobility Tax is a 1970’s-era plan that disconnects transit and traffic, making no real impact on the congestion problem that chokes our regional economy,” Kheel said in a press release. “The Ravitch Plan ignores the staggering social cost to the city of automobile traffic, leaving drivers to pay little for mass transit, and imposing the burden instead on vulnerable segments of our society that can ill afford it in these times. Instead of taxing jobs during the largest period of unemployment in recent history, we need an innovative plan that fuels economic growth, fixes traffic, and provides long-term benefit for working New Yorkers.”

Rather, Kheel proposes free subways except at rush hour and higher tolls for all. Kheel’s new plan, according to Fried, includes the following:

  • A dramatic cut in subway fares (75 percent on average), including a complete fare elimination on weekends and holidays, overnight and mid-day,
  • A variable fare during the weekday peak periods that’s lower than the current fare;
  • Complete fare elimination on all NYC Transit buses at all times;
  • Congestion pricing on car and truck traffic into the Manhattan Central Business District (CBD), with tolls varying sharply by time of day and averaging $16 per trip;
  • A 46% surcharge on medallion taxi fares (note that medallion taxis, and no other vehicles, would be exempt from the congestion pricing charge);
  • 25% higher tolls on MTA bridges that don’t directly access the Manhattan CBD.

Using their comprehensive proprietary model of the city’s transit system and road network, Kheel’s team concluded that the plan would:

  • Yield over $1 billion in net revenue — sufficient to wipe out more than three-fourths of the MTA’s projected FY-2009 deficit;
  • Increase overall subway ridership by 12% even as use of the system shrinks by 6% in the morning peak hour (8-9 a.m.) and 10% in the evening peak hour (5-6 p.m.);
  • Raise traffic speeds in the chronically gridlocked CBD by one-third during the day and one-quarter overall, while also boosting travel speeds throughout the City.

I want to like this plan, and I want to support. But something gnaws at me. Maybe it’s the fact that Ravitch’s plan generates more than the MTA needs so they can help fund the capital campaign. Maybe it’s the fact that Kheel’s plan is just too far out there for most New Yorkers to appreciate. Sadly, I think Kheel’s plan will forever remain a good idea in principle but will never be a New York reality.

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Let’s talk New York State drivers licenses for a bit. They have become quite the hot topic on the transit front lately.

Right now, it seem as though the most popular alternate to the Ravitch proposal concerns drivers licenses. As I discussed last week, a group led by Assembly rep Micah Kellner and New York City Comptroller William Thompson have proposed increased fees for car registrations and licensing fees in lieu of the controversial East River tolls.

A few readers e-mailed me skeptically about the registration fee plan, noting that the numbers did not quite seem to add up. So I ran the numbers. There are, according to the 2007 DMV records, 6.78 million licensed drivers in the 12 counties served by the MTA and 5.59 million licensed automobiles. It was then that I realized the catch.

Right now, those of us with New York State drivers licenses pay, more or less, around $50 once every eight years to renew our licenses. It was my understanding that this alternate plan would simply raise this rate to $100 every eight years. The way I figured it, this new fee would generate an additional $42 million a year and not the promise $300 million Kellner and Thompson had noted.

The catch, you see, is that Kellner and Thompson would charge New Yorkers that $50 fee every year. Instead of paying $50 for eight years, we would instead be paying $400 extra over that eight-year period to enjoy the privileges and benefits of having a drivers license no matter how little or how much we drive.

To me, this doesn’t quite get at the heart of the problem. It certainly provides an alternate source of revenue and wouldn’t require tolling the East River bridges, but it’s an unfair demand. In fact, while Thompson claims that the East River crossing tolls would hit those who cannot afford to pay them the hardest, I believe his alternate registration plan would.

Take me, for example. I have a New York State drivers license, and I always will. The last time I personally drove a vehicle across one of the East River bridges was in 2006 when I had to drive a van from Manhattan to Brooklyn. Under the Ravitch plan, I would pay $0 a year to cross the East River bridges because I take the subway to Manhattan every day. It’s significantly cheaper than owning a car; it’s convenient; it’s quick. But I’m not going to give up my drivers license.

Under the Kellner/Thompson plan, I would be paying an additional $50 a year to own a form of government identification. The people who can afford this plan will shrug it off and pass the costs on; the people who can’t will have to decide between relinquishing a drivers license of paying more. It’s not really equitable.

On the other hand, the Ravitch proposal would charge you for use. If you use the East River bridge tolls —  if you avail yourself of a service that isn’t free to New York City but that the city refuses to charge for right now — you should have to pay. My ownership of a drivers license shouldn’t fund mass transit, but your use of the roads at the economic, social and environmental expense to everyone else should. And that’s why this registration fee plan is bogus.

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Richard Ravitch has heard the critics over the last few days, and he doesn’t like it. Responding to those who are skeptical of his bailout plan, Ravitch took a hardline position in an interview with the Daily News.

“Obviously, I have to assume they must know of some secret fairy godmother who has piles of money she is going to send and solve the problem,” Ravitch said. “Otherwise, they’d better damn well explain how the system is going to be paid.”

For the most part, these critics are pushing the standard line. As City Comptroller Bill Thomson has argued, the tolls will supposedly penalize those who don’t have access to the buses and subways. Never mind that every toll will be along a route that has ample bus and subway service. Never mind that people who can’t afford these tolls generally can’t afford a car in New York City either. Tolling roads in New York — actually charging people for the city services they use — has become some political taboo. No wonder Ravitch is a bit feisty.

But of course there are other concerns beyond obstructionist politicians. William Neuman highlights some of the legal challenges facing implementation of the Ravitch proposals. No one seems to know quite yet who has the ability to transfer control of the bridges from the city to the MTA or how the city could go about doing so.

“Our conclusion is that the city would not be permitted to transfer the bridges to the M.T.A. without a new state law,” Kate O’Brien Ahlers, the communications director for the city’s Law Department, said in a written statement on Friday.

City officials said that under state law, the bridges were similar to streets and parks, which are inalienable properties of the city. It is a status that requires state legislative action if they are to be sold, leased or otherwise removed from city control.

There is a law that allows the city to transfer property to the authority if it is to be used for transit purposes, such as land for a subway station. But the city officials said they did not believe that would apply to the bridges.

In reality, this is more of a political issue than it is a legal issue. If the impetus is there, city and state officials will work to affect the transfer. But as Neuman explores, the political impetus just isn’t there.

At some point, we’ll have to pay. Someone will have to shoulder the costs of running a transit system. It could be all of us; it could be some of us. Sadly, this decision will wind up in the hands of New York’s risk-averse politicians.

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Now that we’ve all had a weekend to digest the Ravitch Report, let’s check in with the prevailing opinion. How the wind blows in the pages of New York’s editorial pages will go a long way toward determining the success or failure of this plan as it hits the state legislature.

Let’s start with the Paper of Record. The New York Times voiced its unconditional support for the plan:

Almost every commuter recognizes that a fare increase is inevitable, but that is unnecessarily onerous. The cost of a vibrant city, fed by its daily influx of commuters, should be shared by others who benefit. That means drivers, who face less traffic because so many other people leave their cars at home. And businesses that can draw employees from across the metropolitan area should also contribute…

Some of New York City’s most vocal politicians complained about how the Ravitch plan affects local drivers, especially in Queens and Brooklyn. Vetoing new tolls makes little sense unless these officials can come up with other ways to maintain and improve the enormous city transportation network.

Governor Paterson said New Yorkers face “one source of pain or another” to keep the M.T.A. up to speed. The right choice would be to spread that pain around beyond those who take public transit.

The Daily News, somewhat surprisingly but very pragmatically, liked the plan as well:

It is particularly sensible to build long-term fiscal stability on the three-legged stool of reasonably increased fares for riders, a modest tax on businesses and new tolls for drivers. Without effective and functioning mass transit, businesses might as well relocate to Toledo. A small additional per-employee fee would yield huge dividends.

Drivers coming over the bridges benefit from the reduced traffic and cleaner air that trains, buses and subways help provide. Which was the idea behind the congestion pricing proposal Mayor Bloomberg put forward – though without the $354 million in federal transit money the city would have gotten along with it. And for those who use public transportation every day – well, an 8% increase is far, far preferable to the doomsday 23% hike that would be required if Ravitch hadn’t found a way to spread responsibility around. Plus, the predictability of biannual fare hikes, tagged to inflation, makes sense for family budgets.

Paterson is right to have come out in support of this plan. Now, it falls to lawmakers to have the courage to implement it, even as they face the massive, still-outstanding challenge of grappling with gallons of red ink.

On the other side of the aisle, The Post wrote a disjointed piece bemoaning the tax increases. They write:

Think about it: Do companies need further incentive to cut labor costs in New York’s current recession economy?

It would be one thing if Ravitch had suggested sharing the pain – by squeezing some concessions from the MTA’s labor force, for example, but he does not. And while there is a lot of talk about cutting state and city spending, very little has actually happened – and very little is likely to happen.

Finally, Newsday thinks Ravitch was too kind on the MTA, and the Long Island paper voices its support for the alternative licensing and registration fee increase proposal that I will get around to debating as soon as the demands of my finals allow me to:

A report delivered last week by a high-profile commission, intended to solve the MTA’s funding problems for good, dances around the integrity issue but never addresses it head-on. The problem with the MTA is not just lack of money but lack of faith.

In this respect, the report is a disappointment. It offers no reassurance that management has wrung wasteful expense out of the behemoth agency. Yet, one after another, news stories suggest there are savings to be had. A report by State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli last month found the agency weighted down with 70,000 employees, many in redundant jobs, with plans to hire hundreds more. In marketing and public relations alone, the MTA employs 444…

The commission, headed by the highly respected former MTA chief Richard Ravitch, was charged with finding new revenue sources to cover a $1.2-billion shortfall next year, as well as a five-year construction and maintenance program. The Ravitch Commission should have looked internally first. How about a five-point plan, outlining how the agency would be restructured, top to bottom?

I’m particularly intrigued by the Newsday suggestion. I know some commenters here and on Streetsblog were a bit shocked that the report did not advocate more internal cost-cutting measures at the MTA. But otherwise, support is shaking down as expected. While Newsday’s support is lukewarm, three papers champion the East River tolling plan while one out-right dismisses the whole endeavor. Hopefully, the voices for change can outshine those clamoring for a disastrous status quo.

In the end, we’ll either get slammed with a huge fare hike or everyone can bear the costs. I know what I prefer. Do you?

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Dec
05

What Ravitch hath wrought

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Getting his committee’s ambitious plan to save the MTA out in front of the public was easy for Richard Ravitch. A public desperate to avoid the MTA’s doomsday scenario hadn’t been this excited for a government report in ages. But now that we have all the details and a few supporters, the hard part — convincing both the properly suspicious and misguided skeptics — begins.

Reaction to the plan was both swift and all over the place with groups coming out, for, against and in mixed support of the plan. As expected, the MTA seemed accepting of it. “The MTA is pleased that the commission appointed by Governor Paterson and led by Richard Ravitch has identified a comprehensive plan for putting the MTA back on sound financial footing. We thank Governor Paterson, Mayor Bloomberg and all of the commission members for their support of increased funding for the critical operating and capital needs of the transit system that powers the state’s economy,” the agency said in a statement e-mailed out to reporters this afternoon.

But beyond the MTA’s unconditional support, battle lines were swiftly drawn. For the most part, public advocacy organizations such as the Straphangers Campaign and the New York League of Conservation Voters issued statements in favor of the Ravitch recommendations while elected officials issued the tired, knee-jerk reaction to tolling the East River bridges and higher taxes.

At some point, these officials will understand that driving isn’t free in any social aspect and that funding mass transit, a more important part of the tri-state area than unnecessarily cheap tolls, is more vital to the area’s health. Perhaps, they’ll also understand that tolling the currently-free East River bridges would result in no increases in the cost of the current East River tolls. This is a subtle but important point the plan’s proponents will have to propagate.

CityRoom posted a full array of statements yesterday afternoon. In today’s New York Times, William Neuman and Jeremy Peters offer up a more nuanced look at the reactions.

State legislators, mainly from Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx, said the plan by a state commission headed by Richard Ravitch, a former authority chairman, would unfairly burden drivers from their districts.

But many of those same legislators, along with some business leaders, were more supportive of another part of the plan: a proposed tax of one-third of 1 percent on payrolls in the 12-county region served by the authority, which includes New York City, Long Island and five counties north of the city…

“Any solution that disproportionately burdens middle- and working-class people who live in the Bronx, Queens and Brooklyn is not a fair way to deal with this, and that’s what tolling the bridges would do,” said Assemblyman Michael N. Gianaris, a Democrat from Queens.

Gianaris was one of many assembly representatives and City Council members to pursue this line of thinking. One day, he and others will understand that New York’s lower class residents are the ones who rely on the subway most of all. They don’t owe cars; they can’t afford gas. In fact, they stand to benefit the most from a healthy and vibrant mass transit system.

But beyond that, it seems as though the politicians who matter here are going to ask for more oversight of the MTA and try to lobby for lower or no East River tolls and higher payroll taxes. The pols really don’t like the East River tolls. The issue of the driver licensing and car registration fees will rear it’s ugly head too. (Look for more on that this afternoon.)

Meanwhile, Ted Kheel promises another plan focusing around mass transit, and Roger Tussaint warns about ensuring that any recommendations are a-OK with his Transit Workers Union Local 100. Some things never change.

For now, things are shaking down as expected. The tough work begins right away though. The MTA has to present a balanced budget before December is out, and the legislature needs to act quickly. Can New York finally look forward to a progressive solution to its transit woes? We’ll find out soon.

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