• Bloomberg: ‘I don’t have a bridge to sell you’ · While selling the East River bridges to the MTA and tolling them could provide the beleaguered transportation agency with a quick fix to its economic problems and discourage Manhattan-bound traffic, the Bloomberg Administration has rejected the very practical idea. Relying on the faulty assumption that tolling these bridges would simply send more cars through the few remaining free river crossings, Mayor Bloomberg said the bridges are not for sale for the purposes of tolling them.

    Opined the mayor, “It is very impractical to only toll a couple of bridges. You would create chaos in people trying to avoid the tolled bridges.” In case after case, this theory espoused by Bloomberg has been proven false, and the city will once eschew an opportunity to help out the MTA financially. · (4)

Second Ave. Sagas wasn’t around when the MTA unveiled architectural renderings of the 96th St. rehab on the West Side IRT. But we are around today, and Curbed has a great a great illustration, above, of what the completed station will look like.

The scan is from a union trade magazine that, amusingly, predicts a future in which MTA construction projects are completed on time. But utopia New York aside, that’s a pretty sweet picture considering the disastrous state of the station in renovation right now.

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While we spent much of Tuesday discussing the controversial and brilliant idea to turn over control of the East River bridges to the MTA, not every bit of testimony from the first Ravitch Commission hearings were as sensational as that one. Yet, each idea will be given equal weight by Ravitch as he attempts to come up with some grand fix.

Over at Streetsblog, Ben Fried ran down the day’s other themes. I’ve excerpted the relevant parts:

Responsibility for adequately funding the MTA should fall on those who benefit from its services. This encompasses a fairly broad swath of people, including straphangers, the real estate industry, and car commuters (who get less traffic on the street when more people use transit)…Several people testified that some form of road pricing or bridge tolling would be an additional stream of revenue consistent with this philosophy.

The MTA needs more consistent and reliable revenue streams. Congestion pricing fits the bill in this regard, too. The need for predictable revenue also led speakers to suggest more broad-based taxes…Kevin Corbett of the Empire State Transportation Alliance recommended both road pricing and a payroll tax…

The city and state have been derelict in their contributions to the MTA, and debt financing has gone too far. [Ed. Note: I've covered this issue in depth over the last few months. It is a point worth repeating.]

It is reasonable, even desirable, to institute regular and predictable fare increases, but straphangers are currently shouldering too much of the burden… Through the farebox, MTA riders fund 55 percent of the agency’s operating costs, the highest share in the nation…Corbett appeared to encapsulate the general sentiment when he called for “modest and regularly scheduled [fare increases], not more than once every other year.”

The MTA must become more efficient and financially transparent. Many speakers praised the progress Lee Sander has made in streamlining the MTA, and just as many wanted to see further opportunities for efficiency identified. Two speakers, Gene Russianoff of the Straphangers Campaign and City Comptroller Bill Thompson, recommended creating an independent watchdog agency to monitor the MTA’s finances.

These suggestions clearly run the gamut from desirable (congestion pricing) to politically unfeasible (payroll taxes) to guardedly unnecessary — an independent watchdog would just add another layer of bureaucracy to an organization trying to shed unnecessary positions.

What these ideas do suggest, however, is that the MTA has options other than a fare hike that they need to explore in full. The agency big wigs would have to lobby our state legislature and city leaders to secure more funding and a congestion pricing; they could reorganize the entire MTA agency. But in the end, these ideas must be exhausted before a fare hike is instituted.

I don’t know what Ravitch’s final recommendations will look like. For the committee to be effective and for the MTA to have a chance at securing some kind of governmental approval to a controversial plan such as congestion pricing, Ravitch’s final report will have to take a strong position on one recommendation. Anything more than that will become a muddled mix of solid policy that doesn’t make for a good talking point, and the MTA would face the same issues with which the Barack Obama campaign is grappling when it comes to the economy.

But no matter the outcome, the MTA should follow up on and each every bit of testimony they hear this week. Congestion pricing may be the best outcome for the MTA and for the city, but they should explore selling the bridges and streamlining agency operations too. Every little — and big — bit helps.

Categories : MTA Economics
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  • A Quick Fix: Selling the bridges · While much of yesterday’s Ravitch Committee hearings focused around city and state contributions to the MTA, a former New York City transportation commissioner had a different suggestion. In his testimony in front of the committee, Lucius J. Riccio suggested that the city sell its bridges to the MTA for $1. The MTA would then be in charge of maintaining the bridge but could then collect tolls on all river crossings.

    This sale would both generate millions of dollars in revenue for the MTA and serve to discourage traffic into Manhattan via river-crossing tolls. Ravitch himself was less than enthusiastic about the idea, and the City Council has long resisted implementing tolls on the free East River bridges and tunnels. However, the Bloomberg Administration is amenable to this idea, and it would help solve the MTA’s financial crisis. · (18)

While Wall Street was suffering through its worse day since Sept. 2001, leading transit advocates gathered at NYU to testify on the state of the MTA’s finances. In the first Ravitch Commission hearing, leaders from all walks of New York public life stressed the need for a lifeline of money from New York City and State. The MTA, they warned, could face dire consequences if the MTA’s fiscal health is not restored.

I spent much of Monday at NYU but in classes. So I missed the hearings. Luckily, the good folks from the Tri-State Transportation Campaign were on hand to report on the testimony:

Leading transportation, environmental and labor groups warned today that New York faced major fare hikes, and cuts in transit service and vital repairs unless new City and State aid is raised to address the MTA’s “titanic” financial problems.

The warning came at the first public hearing of the State Commission on MTA Financing. The Commission – appointed by Governor David Paterson and headed by former MTA Chairman Richard Ravitch – is charged with recommending ways to meet the MTA’s financial needs over the next ten years. Its report is due out by December 5th.

In July, the MTA officially announced major operating deficits in its $6 billion operating budgets for 2009 and 2010. The deficits are caused in large part by declining tax revenues in a bad economy; rising fuel costs; and the impact of years of massive borrowing to finance badly needed repairs.

More alarming, TSTC reports, is the current state of the MTA as one of the nation’s leading debtors. At a time when the country is falling into crippling debts, the MTA is the country’s fifth leading public debtor. Only New York City and three states owe more money. Clearly, the MTA cannot remain solvent and operate a viable transit network for a region of nearly 19 million people.

“Years of borrowing as a result of the City and State’s disinvestment in mass transit are coming to a head as the price of fuel has drawn many new people to transit, with total ridership up in the last year by more than 5% on the subways. What’s more, the proposed hikes would come at a time when working and middle class New Yorkers are already struggling with a rising cost of living, and real economic hardship,” TWU President Roger Toussaint said.

Toussaint testified on Monday along with prominent activits such as Gene Russianoff of the Straphangers Campaign, Kevin Crobett of the Empire State Transportation Alliance, Robert Yaro of the Regional Plan Association and Kate Slevin of TSTC. As each organization head passed through the commission sessions, they all had the same message.

“Failure to make the necessary investments in the critical transportation infrastructure would severely hamper New York’s economic viability. We simply can’t allow this to happen,” Corbett said.

As Monday’s market crash proceeded as expected — and Tuesday promises to be no better — the MTA is certainly facing an uphill battle. New York State doesn’t have any money; New York City doesn’t have any money; and the Federal Government is too busy bailing out the country’s housing market to focus on the New York City transit network. But the ramifications for our region and for our nation are just as drastic.

Without a viable transit network, New York City will face a precipitous decline. In all sectors, the New York economy will suffer, and as we’re seeing on Wall Street, when New York suffers, the rest of the nation will suffer. It doesn’t have the cachet of a Fannie Mae or a Freddie Mac, but in its own way, more than just New Yorkers rely on the MTA.

In the end, the Ravitch Comission will probably tell the city and state to spend more money. The panel will probably recommend a congestion fee as well. And in the end, our elected officials won’t respond. As Paul S. White, head of Transportation Alternatives said, “The MTA’s problem is clear: The City and State have inadequately funded mass transit for years. The formula for funding mass transportation should be changed.”

Categories : MTA Economics
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Five months, the New York City Department of Transportation and the MTA unveiled plans for Select Bus Service along 34th Street. As part of the plans, buses would enjoy camera-enforced dedicated lanes up and down the crowded 34th Street corridor.

Well, along came David Gantt and his murder of our efforts at home rule. Gantt, as you may recall, resides in Rochester, a town with a profitable transit system (but more on that coincidence later).

Today, New York has triumphed over Gantt as DOT and the MTA launched the 34th Street bus service this morning. Streetsblog’s Brad Aaron reports:

The 34th Street route stretches from 1st to 11th Avenues, and its lanes will be enforced from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. — unlike those on the Bx12 SBS line, which are only enforced during morning and evening rush. The lanes are in effect as of today.

Sources tell Streetsblog that the city is bypassing Albany by installing stationary automated traffic cameras to keep taxis out of the lanes, but DOT would not confirm ahead of the presser. The media release says that the red SBS lanes are “the first step in a series of improvements planned to improve bus speeds and reliability” along the corridor.

I’m not quite sure how the city is able to bypass Albany. It must have something to do with the nature of stationary cameras as opposed to the plan Gantt shot down which would have allowed for cameras on buses to combat cars in the BRT lanes.

All told, this is a positive step for the city as it attempts to make public transit more efficient while discouraging driving without the benefits of a congestion fee. Until the congestion fee movement rises up again, these little steps should be applauded.

Categories : Buses
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  • Fun, fun, fun ’til the MTA takes their T-Birds away · Hot on the heels of the MetroCard scandal, the MTA is now taking away company cars from employers making more than enough money to afford their own transportation. As part of MTA CEO and Executive Director Lee Sander’s cost-cutting efforts, 59 company cars have been recalled from the field, according to The Daily News. The MTA is attempting to limit non-rider miles and gas expenditures. Perhaps, these executives and high-ranking officials can now take the subway. · (1)

Oh, how time flies. Remember the glory days of August 2007 when the MTA released the the first results from their rider report cards? Well, the agency is back at it again.

According to a sign I spotted in the 42nd St./Bryant Park subway station on Saturday morning, the MTA will be distributing Rider Report Cards some time this week. A few readers have told me that these signs are a few days old, but I’m pretty sure we’ll see a new batch of the cards hit the streets within the next few days. But is it too soon?

When NYC Transit President Howard Roberts unveiled the Rider Report Cards as a way of hearing from the people who use and rely on the New York City subways, he was taking a step few, if any, transit heads had taken before. He was putting the agency out there and asking people to be honest in their assessments of it. The results were less than stellar. The MTA pulled in a series of grades in the D and C range with only the 42nd St. shuttle managing a B-minus.

As a part of Roberts’ initiative, the MTA added service on the 7 and L lines and eventually launched a pilot line manager program along those two lines. Over time, transit watchers and experts expressed their doubts about both the line manager program and the rider report cards. Most of us believed the cards to be nothing more than a six-month publicity stunt that would, in the end, have little impact on an organization short on the funds needed to address the problems the riders identified.

And now here we are, a little past the one-year anniversary of the first results from the rider report cards with a new set in sight. Considering how little time has past and how it’s fairly clear that service has not improved, I have to wonder if the MTA should better direct its resources elsewhere. Over the last six months, we’ve heard a constant barrage of complaints about funding. The MTA doesn’t have enough money to meet its operational budget; it doesn’t have the funds it needs for its capital investment. Trains are more delayed than they have been in years; stations are in desperate need of an overhaul.

Yet, the MTA has the money to send out a bunch of rider report cards in the slim hope that some riders will rate the subways higher this year than they did ten months ago. Color me skeptical.

Instead, I would propose that Roberts hold on to last year’s results and use those findings to persuade the government to invest more heavily in New York City’s mass transit infrastructure. The subways aren’t in great shape right now from a physical and a monetary point of view. Yet, record-breaking numbers of people are flocking to the trains.

If the MTA can leverage these first results into more money and then run the report card program every five years to assess the next level of investment, they will have created a solid program of evaluation. Instead, as the new report cards are distributed this week, I’ll just sit back and wait for the news to sound awfully similar to what we heard last year. The subways are slow, crowded and, at times, unreliable. Riders want modern technology, cleaner stations, wait-time boards (a la the L train) and a seat. That’s all there is to it.

Categories : Rider Report Cards
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I spotted this sign hanging up in the 42nd St./Bryant Park station this morning. With September upon us, New York City Transit is going to re-grade the subway after riders last year gave the system a whole series of C grades. I’ll have more about these rider report cards, but to whet your appetite, I have to wonder if the timing for the next round is not ideal. NYC Transit hasn’t had the time to implement changes, and riders won’t be as keen to grade the subways a year after doing so for the first time.

Categories : Rider Report Cards
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As the U.S. economy weakens and gas prices rise, urban areas — and some suburban regions — have noticed a steady and substantial increase in mass transit ridership figures. Now, as Think Progress’ Matthew Yglesias noted earlier this week, a crowd swell of fiscal support for transit is building in Congress.

In another left-leaning forum, The American Prospect takes a look at how conservatives and conservative ideology should support urban infrastructure investment. Wrote Dana Goldstein:

Policies in favor of dense development shouldn’t be viewed on a left-right spectrum and certainly needn’t be filtered through culture-war rhetoric… In fact, one doesn’t have to be concerned about climate change at all in order to support such policies; values of fiscal conservatism and localism, both key to Republican ideology, can be better realized through population-dense development than through sprawl.

Tom Darden, a developer of urban and close-in suburban properties, said Wednesday, “I’m a Republican and have been my whole life. I consider myself a very conservative person. But it never made sense to me why we would tax ordinary people in order to subsidize this form of development, sprawl.” Darden told the story of a road-paving project approved by North Carolina when he served on the state’s transportation board. A dirt road that handled just five trips per day was paved at taxpayer expense, with money that could have gone toward mass transit benefiting millions of people.

“Those were driveways, in my view, not roads,” Darden said.

More common sense came from Congressman John Mica of Florida, the ranking Republican on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. “I can’t just continue to pave over every metro area,” he said. “Our goal is to reduce the negative impact on the environment and also reduce our dependence on energy.”

Perhaps the tide is starting to turn in transit’s favor. Perhaps New York’s transit infrastructure, short on cash, can look to the future for more government funding and fewer fare hikes. At least, we have reason to hope.

For now, though, work continues ad infinitum during the weekends in New York. Click through for the weekend service changes.

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