It’s fairly ironic that Sheldon Silver, New York State Assembly speaker, is earning kudos for his brave step in embracing East River Bridge tolls to save the MTA. A little less than a year ago, transit-watchers were railing on Silver for quashing congestion pricing in committee, and had Silver seen Mayor Bloomberg’s plan through the Assembly, the MTA wouldn’t be in nearly as dire financial straits as it is today.
But for now, we’ll have to let congestion pricing bygones be bygones. The MTA needs this bailout, and based on the misguided opposition of State Senate Democrats and illogical rumblings from Marty Markowitz, Silver and his proponents have an uphill battle.
To that end, Silver seems to have at least two of the major city newspapers lining up behind him. The Daily News begrudgingly embraced Silver’s plan while noting the absurdities in protecting drivers:
On the lower East Side, represented by Speaker Sheldon Silver, 82% of households do not own cars and more than half the commuters take mass transit to work. Across the river, in Williamsburg and Bushwick, represented by Assemblyman Vito Lopez, three-quarters of the households don’t own cars and less than 2% drive to work.
Even so, it took until last night for Silver to float a sketch of a plan for scaled-down tolls, and Lopez has trashed tolls. You’d expect better from pols with districts that would be hammered by service cuts. Silver’s constituents would lose the W line and get fewer trains on 10 other lines. Three bus routes (M6, B39 and X25) would be dumped, and others would have weekend and night service service chopped. Lopez’s district would lose the Z train and get fewer runs on the M, J and L. The B39 bus would vanish, and weekend and night service on other lines would be wiped out.
The transportation patterns are similar in legislative districts across the city. Lawmakers must come to their senses and protect the well-being of the bulk of their constituents with properly funded mass transit. To reject tolls without a smart alternative would betray the greater good.
Today, The Times opines in favor of the Silver plan as well. Like the News, the Gray Lady’s editorial board is less than thrilled with the watered down version of the plan but sees it as the MTA’s last hope. While recognizing that Silver is “probably the only one in Albany with enough clout to sell such a compromise,” the paper calls his efforts to deliver this toll “mak[ing] amends” for killing congestion pricing.
At this point, it doesn’t matter how it gets done or who does it. It doesn’t matter what Silver did ten months ago or how he’ll feel ten months from now. If he is the one with the political will to save the MTA, we’ll have to hope for the best. MTA officials know that Silver’s plan won’t go far enough, but that’s a bridge we’ll have to cross after we toll it.