While Gov. David Paterson called the latest Senate plan for the MTA “worth considering” and Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith claims he has the votes to pass it, the fate of this new funding plan is far from clear. Already today, I’ve delved into the taxi surcharge problem. That appears to be just one of many hurdles this new bill faces.

First up is internal dissent among the state Democrats. According to The Times, four Senate Dems will not support a payroll tax. The new plan calls for a payroll tax for all 12 MTA counties, but the tax will be lower in the outlying counties. This makes no sense on its surface because it actually costs more to the MTA to serve those areas further away from the New York City core, but whatever. If it wins votes, it wins votes

The problem is that it’s not winning votes. “I remain opposed to the imposition and use of a payroll tax,” Craig M. Johnson, Democratic senator from Nassau County, said. He — along with fellow Democrats Brian Foley (Suffolk County), Andrea Stewart-Cousins (Westchester) and Suzi Oppenheimer (Westchester) — remains opposed to any and all tax plans.

With these four Democrats in opposition, Malcolm Smith would have to pick up four members of the state G.O.P. Senate contingent. As we learned last night, though, right now Republicans are opposed to the tax plan as well with maybe one — Frank Padavan of Queens — open to supporting this funding plan. Maybe.

Today, Republicans voiced anew their opposition to the plan and raised some valid concerns that transcend ideological lines. “It’s an insult to upstate and downstate,” Martin Golden, Brooklyn Republican, said. “We’re going to put $200 million in taxes on the backs of the cabdrivers and the people who live in the City of New York.”

Martin’s point is echoed in a brief piece by NY1. This new plan has all sorts of mismatched priorities. Basically, the cab fare increase, a hyperlocal way of raising revenue, would go to upstate projects and districts that have never seen a yellow taxi. Meanwhile, New York City dwellers and drivers would get a reprieve from shouldering much of the burden because the licensing registration fee increases would apply to everyone across the board in all MTA counties. Those living outside of the city where car ownership rates are higher would be funding the subway system.

In an ideal world, the MTA funding plan would require money collected in New York City to be reinvested in New York City; money collected upstate to be funneled back upstate; and money collected in Westchester and Long Island to go toward transit and infrastructure there. This new plan accomplishes none of those goals and doesn’t seem to have the support it needs to pass the Senate. How utterly disappointing and how utterly typical.

Categories : Doomsday Budget
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The latest MTA funding package put forward by the Senate has a taxi problem. With taxi advocates agitating against the plan and practical collection problems cropping up, this reliance on a new taxi surcharge might just be enough to sink the whole thing.

The new plan — outlined here — is centered around a new taxi surcharge. The Senate will soon vote on whether or not to institute a $1 drop-off fee for all New York City taxi rides. This fee will lead to at least $190 million — and probably well over $200 million — in revenue. Half of that money will go to fund upstate roads and bridges, a point with which transit advocates have taken issue.

The eventual destination for those funds, though, is besides the point. Just how will the city collect this money to siphon off to the MTA and the upstate transportation infrastructure fund? Crain’s delved into the issue, and many aren’t sure it’s possible. “We can’t figure that out,” Ethan Gerber, a taxi lobbyist, said to the New York-based business journal. “Most people still pay by cash.”

Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith and his office punted on the issue. “I don’t think that has been worked out,” a spokesman for his office said. “There’s of course a technical aspect, just as there was for the collecting tolls.” That is, of course, a false argument as the collecting of tolls would have required the simple installation of high-speed tolling technology. Toll problem solved.

Daniel Massey and Erik Engquist have more from a taxi industry intent on protesting this hearty fee:

Taxi drivers said the $1 fee would eat into their already slim profit margins. “This is a wage cut on taxi drivers,” said Bhairavi Desai, executive director of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, which represents 12,000 drivers. “Drivers would really suffer for a long time if this were to pass.”

Ms. Desai was leading a delegation of drivers to Albany on Tuesday to give legislators an earful. Thousands more are expected to participate in a phone-in campaign to legislators’ offices. “Who has ever heard of a private industry bailing out a government agency?” she asked…

The Alliance also agrees there would be no easy way for the state to collect the surcharge and charges that lawmakers lack a fundamental understanding of the industry. “There is an underlying assumption here that the money will just be deducted from paychecks and easily collected by the state,” Ms. Desai wrote in a letter to Gov. David Paterson, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Mr. Smith. “This is absolutely false.”

As anyone with any inkling of a clue about the taxi industry knows, cab drivers rent their cars for a flat fee each day and keep all of the cash they make. Instituting a $1-per-ride fee will either lead to more off-the-books rides or rampantly inefficiently collecting practices. Yet again the Senate has shown an inability to understand how transportation works in New York City.

Outside of these practical concerns, cab drivers are concerned about their bottom lines. Some taxi driver advocates believed rides could drop as much as 33 percent, and it’s nearly undeniable that tips will continue to drop as they do every time taxi fares go up.

For its faults, the Ravitch Plan got it right. It penalized the people taking advantage of the free roads and did so in a way that would have benefited the MTA specifically and New York City on the whole. This latest plan is just a mess, and while it may have enough votes to pass, it’s just another bad political compromise from the Senate.

Categories : Doomsday Budget, Taxis
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As transit advocates and State Senators have a chance to digest the latest MTA funding plan, two questions have continued to pop up: Does this latest plan have a chance to pass the Senate? Does it accomplish what it needs to accomplish?

Unfortunately for transit advocates, these two questions often lead to different answers. We want to see a solid commitment to mass transit; we want to see measures to return the streets to pedestrians and transit; we want to discourage the car-owning minority in New York City from unnecessary driving.

In answer to the question of support among advocates, Ben Fried at Streetsblog comes down firmly on the side of no. He outlines his five reasons why this plan doesn’t do what it should:

  1. Raising tolls on MTA crossings while keeping East and Harlem River bridges free gives car commuters and truckers even more incentive to detour across city streets to the free crossings. Neighborhoods like Downtown Brooklyn, Long Island City, Williamsburg and the Lower East Side that are already pulverized by traffic will see things get worse.
  2. Raising fees on car ownership through higher registration and licensing fees does nothing to discourage car use, and may actually encourage people to drive more in order to get more bang for their buck. Using tolls or congestion fees to price driving would have the opposite effect.
  3. Raising the cost of car sharing, rentals and taxis makes it tougher to live without a car. And, like higher ownership fees, increasing these one-time charges encourages renters to maximize their driving. Congestion pricing or tolls are far superior.
  4. Unlike private motorists taxi drivers faced with higher fees will increase their driving. Why? Since passengers will choose to ride less, given the higher fare, cabbies will have to drive more to recoup the flat fee they pay to operate a taxi.
  5. Using cab fees to pay for highway and bridge projects outside of the city transfers wealth from the dense, environmentally sustainable city to the car-dependent suburbs. If anything, taxes on cabs should fund the city bridges and streets used by those cabs.

There’s not much left to add to Fried’s analysis. He hits all the key issues and the complaints that I’ve had with the plan — poorly thought-out licensing fees, encouraging driving — are reflected in Fried’s word.

So then if we’re going to settle for a less-than-stellar pro-transit funding plan, does it have the political support to pass muster in the Senate? The answer is maybe, according to Elizabeth Benjamin.

If the Senate Democrats were hoping to capture support among the city’s Republican senators with their latest MTA bailout plan, the early returns are not promising, the DN’s Glenn Blain reports.

Of the three, only Sen. Frank Padavan of Queens seemed open to supporting the plan. Brooklyn Sen. Martin Golden and Staten Island Sen. Andrew Lanza both said they haven’t yet had the opportunity to review the new plan in detail (as of last night, it existed only in the form of a concept and had not yet been drafted into a bill).

But upon hearing the details as they were presented to reporters by the Senate Democrats’ spokesman Austin Shafran, both Golden and Lanza expressed misgivings about the proposal – especially its reliance on a payroll tax. “I just don’t see how I could vote for that type of a tax increase again into the city of New York after what they’ve already done with the tax increase in this budget,” Golden said Monday night.

That’s not a positive prognosis for the bill really. It doesn’t really line up with what transit advocates want, and it doesn’t seem have to the support it may need. Once again, the State Senate has seemingly failed to deliver, and even if this bill passes, it’s tough to say that it addresses the MTA’s long-term funding needs. Where is the political will when we need it most?

Categories : Doomsday Budget
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  • Bloomie: You can count on me, maybe · Yesterday afternoon, I discussed how Mayor Bloomberg had been notably and intentionally missing from the MTA funding debate. The Mayor apparently didn’t like the article in The Times and responded in kind. “I did work very hard to get Democratic votes for congestion pricing,” he said on Monday, “and I’ll work very hard to get Republican votes for the current plan. But you don’t do that, once again, in front of the cameras. This is not about me.”

    Bloomberg may have a chance to make good on his promise as the Senate gears up to debate yet another MTA funding plan. All he has to do is deliver a few G.O.P. votes, and he can take some credit in rescuing transit. As politically uncomfortable a move it may be for the Mayor, the city needs him to do it. · (0)

Toward the end of the day on Monday, I reported on stirrings of yet another Senate Democratic funding plan for the MTA. When an aide to Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith introduced the plan — yet to be submitted as a bill — to the press today, the early word wasn’t too far off.

Before, we analyze, let’s run down the plan. Elizabeth Benjamin has the details, and I’m borrowing some of this from her.

  • Payroll Tax: 34 cents per $100 in the 12-county MTA region. However, the new proposal includes a graduated tax. The counties further away from the City will pay less. Revenue: $1.49 billion
  • Taxi Surcharge: $1 taxi drop-off fee. Revenue: $190 million (half for upstate debt service payments)
  • Motor Vehicle Registration Fee: $25. Revenue: $130 million
  • Auto Rental Surcharge: An increase from six to 11 percent. Revenue: $35 million
  • Licensing Fees: 25 percent increase. Revenue: $10.5 million
  • MTA Accountability: Required outside audit; merger of the CEO and chairman positions; two members, one each appointed by the Senate and Assembly; online publishing of the budget, capital plan and executive perks.
  • Fare Increase: 8 percent.

My first question is an obvious — and admittedly snarky — one: With the exception of the perks, the MTA budget and capital planning documents are already posted online. Has anyone in the Senate ever bothered to visit the MTA website? Anyway, that’s the plan.

The immediate question surrounding this proposal concerns the support of the rest of the Senate. Does the plan have the support of at least 32 members of the Senate? Does the Gang of Four support it? Will any state G.O.P. representatives voice their support of it? Jimmy Vielkind posed these questions and received no answers.

“We did not take a count,” Austin Shafran, a Senate spokesman, said. “What we felt we had to do was to do something that addressed the needs of the M.T.A. We’re confident that we’ll have 32 votes.”

Of course, the Senators were saying the same thing a few weeks ago when Smith was trying to cajole his party into supporting the tax-and-toll plan. We all know how that ended up.

On the Assembly side of the debate, Speaker Sheldon Silver all but guaranteed his chamber’s support for any MTA funding plan that gets through the Senate. “I am willing to support any plan that provides a stable, long term funding stream for mass transit and apportions the burden equitably among everyone who has a stake in the MTA’s future,” Silver said in a statement late Monday. “I have not had an opportunity to fully review the Senate’s plan, but if it can accomplish both of those objectives and command the support of the majority of Senators then it is an alternative we’re prepared to take very seriously.”

Procedurally, the bill will probably be introduced today and will require a three-day “aging” period. A vote could come at the end of this week, but in all likelihood, we won’t know the future of the MTA until next week.

For the MTA, his bill would shelve most, if not all, of the planned service cuts. We should still be stuck with a fare hike, and the bridges — the same bridges that cost me a Metrocard swipe each day to cross — would remain free. We would be hit with more driver’s licensing fees even if we don’t drive, and the taxi drivers are going to raise hell about this plan. But that’s that. Now let’s see the Senate actually pass it.

Categories : Doomsday Budget
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The Gang of Four have spoken. While rumors of a soda tax to help fund the MTA were swirling earlier today, the latest Senate financing plan for the MTA includes a series of surcharges, fees, fare hikes and taxes designed to close the transit agency’s budget gap.

The latest proposal, allegedly endorsed by the group of four state senators who refuse to endorse tolls, is an amalgamation of all of the proposed plans so far. It’s not clear how or even if it accomplish the goal of funding future MTA capital programs as the Ravitch Commission’s report did, and with payroll — and no exemptions for that tax — a centerpiece of the plan, it won’t have the support of the state G.O.P. either.

Jimmy Vielkind at Politcker NY had a rundown of the plan. According to Vielkind, the plan looks a little something like this:

  • A drop-off tax for taxis of either 50 cents or a dollar, depending upon how much is needed for upstate roads bridges.
  • A car registration surcharge.
  • A payroll tax, without exemption for school districts or non-profits.
  • A driver’s license surcharge.
  • The smaller fare hike proposed by the M.T.A.

So that’s that. The Democrats are willing to give some money to upstate roads while making cabs more expensive. That’s sure to go over well with Bhairavi Desai and the Taxi Workers Alliance. I hope the Democrats have shored up the support of upstate Democrats and at least some Republican if they’re willing to pork up this bill for upstate roads and bridges.

Meanwhile, this bill doesn’t do a terrible job of spreading the pain, but it targets the wrong people. By instituting a driver’s license surcharge, the state is penalizing people like me who have a license but rarely use it. They should be taxing the people who drive on unnecessarily free bridges and not those of us who want a government-issued identification card. It’s a fix that will impact far more people than the tolling plan and in worse ways.

Albany has taken a good idea and turned it into a bad one, but that’s the way New York State politics works. If there’s more on this bill today, I’ll have it. The plan should be written up by tomorrow, and then it’s just a matter of political support. Again.

Categories : Doomsday Budget
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  • Have you seen this man? · William Neuman, transit beat writer for The Times, profiled Mayor Bloomberg and his utter lack of visibility on the MTA budget issue. The reason of course is political. Bloomberg, an independent in 2005, is now running for re-election with the support of the Republicans, and as we all know far too well, Republicans do not support the Richard Ravitch tax-and-toll plan. Bloomberg, however, does, but to curry favor with his once and future G.O.P. supporters, Bloomberg can’t be a vocal proponent of the MTA funding plan. Straphangers lose a powerful ally, but Bloomberg gains some backroom political clout. It’s hardly worth the trade-off. · (6)

Vacation is over for the legislators in Albany, and as our not-so-esteemed Senators and Assembly representatives make their collective ways back from the break, one topic will dominate the conversation this week. That topic is of course near and dear to our hearts: It’s the return of the MTA Budget debate.

When last we checked in on the politicking four days ago, Richard Ravitch had just issued a modified proposal. The new plan — aimed at addressing Democrats’ concerns — provided for a business rebate for frequent drivers coupled with a 50-cent taxi surcharge and higher garage taxes in Manhattan. The Usual Gang of Idiots in the State Senate didn’t like it, and the city was left on edge, awaiting this week’s debates.

Over the weekend, state leaders engaged in a good amount of peremptory politicking. Carl Kruger, one of the bigger obstructionist Senators, is getting desperate in his anti-MTA attacks. “He wanted to make this the Ravitch Rescue Plan,” Kruger said about Richard Ravitch last week. “I think that in itself says something. I call it the MTA money grab. So consequentially, this is not a question of who’s going to be a hero. There are only victims.”

Why Kruger is attacking a public servant intent on providing some sensible funding solutions to the MTA’s woes is beyond. Kruger has yet to offer up a valid reason, and while he claims he doesn’t support higher fares, his actions speak louder than his misguided words. Crain’s, the New York-based business journal, has called upon its readers to contact Kruger’s office and express their displeasure with the Senator and his anti-MTA cronies.

“The blame,” Crain’s opined this weekend, “for this dismal state of affairs rests clearly with the New York Senate, which has been unable to come to grips with this crucial issue because narrow interests are trumping the needs of the region.”

While Kruger attempted an attack, David Paterson and Richard Ravitch fought back. Rumors have been swirling that Paterson would like to put a May 1 deadline on Senate action, but the governor has denied a firm deadline. He hasn’t, however, held his punches. Saying there will be “no excuses” if the talks go beyond this week, he took aim at Kruger and the Senate too. “[Ravitch] brought back a plan that won the approval of every reasonable point of view from different sides,” he said at a Regional Plan Association luncheon last week. “Except in Albany. It’s a different planet. As we like to point out, there is no gravity.”

Heading into the week, the Democrats are set to caucus for a plan, and Paterson will be wooing Republicans. It’s do-or-die time for the Senate, and pro-transit New Yorkers are awaiting the outcome with bated breath. If the Senate fails, transit advocates will have to reassess the way we approach the State Senate, and the city, while losers in the short-term, should gain some very active and angry voices.

Categories : Doomsday Budget
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For the fourth time this year, New York City Transit has come out on the wrong end of a lawsuit. As The Times detailed today, a jury awarded a woman injured in a bus accident $27.5 million.

The woman, Gloria Aguilar, lost her left leg when a bus ran her down while she was crossing a street in 2005. While the jury found her partially negligent for not looking before stepping out into the street, the bus driver was deemed to be the total cause of her accident. Transit is appealing what, on its face, appears to be a rather large sum.

This is not the first time this year Transit has faced multi-million-dollar judgments, and the agency is appealing all of them. Liz Robbins summarized the rest. The details are rather gruesome.

In February, Dustin Dibble was awarded $2.3 million after a subway train ran over him in Manhattan in 2006 and he had to have his right leg amputated. He was intoxicated, but a jury found that he was only 35 percent culpable because the subway operator did not stop, court records show.

In March, a jury awarded James Sanders $7 million after a subway train struck him when he stumbled onto the tracks in 2002. The jury found him to be 30 percent culpable. His right leg had to be amputated, and he also lost an eye, said his lawyer, Gary Pillersdorf.

And last month, Claude Williams was awarded $1.8 million, according to court records, because he was hit by a New York City Transit bus in 2003.

While sizable, these sums are not unexpected, and the agency has a fund dedicated to its legal costs. However, Transit is going to attempt to get this $27.5 million figure lowered. “This is just a jury verdict,” Wallace Gossett, an NYC Transit lawyer, said to The Times. “The appellate courts won’t sustain a verdict of this magnitude.”

* * *

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, April 18 to 5 a.m. Monday, April 20, uptown 1, 2 and 3 trains skip 96th Street due to station rehabilitation.

From 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., Saturday, April 18 and Sunday April 19, 3 trains run in two sections due to track repairs at Sutter and Rockaway Avenues:

  • Between 148th Street and Utica Avenue and
  • Between Utica and New Lots Avenue

From 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., Saturday, April 18 and Sunday April 19, 4 trains will terminate at Atlantic Avenue.

From 10:30 p.m. Friday, April 17 to 5 a.m. Monday, April 20, free shuttle buses replace A trains between Beach 90 Street and Far Rockaway due to track panel installation at Far Rockaway. Note: Trains to Far Rockaway-Mott Avenue run to Rockaway Park-Beach 116th Street instead.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, April 18, to 5 a.m. Monday, April 20, downtown A trains run local from 168th Street to 59th Street, then express to Canal Street, trains resume local service to Jay Street due to the station rehabilitation at Jay Street, the Chamber Street Signal Modernization project and station rehabilitation at 59th Street-Columbus Circle.
Note: C trains are not running at this time.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, April 18 to 5 a.m. Monday, April 20, uptown A trains run local from Jay Street to 125th Street, then express to 168th Street due to station rehab work at Jay Street and tunnel lighting work at 168th Street. Note: C trains are not running during this time.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, April 18, to 5 a.m. Monday, April 20, there are no C trains running due to station rehab work at Jay Street. A trains replace the C between 168th and Jay Street and F trains replace the C between Jay Street and Euclid Avenue.

From 11:30 p.m. Friday, April 17 to 5 a.m. Monday, April 20, free shuttle buses replace D trains between 205th Street and Bedford Park Blvd. due to a track chip-out of Bedford Park Blvd.

From 12:01 a.m. to 5 a.m. Saturday, April 18, Bronx-bound D trains skip 155th Street due to track cleaning.

From 12:01 a.m. to 5 a.m. Sunday, April 19, Bronx-bound D trains skip 174th-175th and 170th Streets due to track cleaning.

From 12:01 p.m. Saturday, April 18 to 5 a.m. Monday, April 20, there are no E trains between West 4th Street and World Trade Center due to the Chambers Street Signal Modernization project. Customers may take the A train instead.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, April 18 to 5 a.m. Monday, April 20, F trains run between 179th Street and the Euclid Avenue C station due to station rehabilitation at Jay Street.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, April 18 to 5 a.m. Monday, April 20, G trains replace the F between Hoyt-Schermerhorn Sts. and Stillwell Avenue due to station rehabilitation at Jay Street.

From 8:30 p.m. Friday, April 17 to 5 a.m. Monday, April 20 (until further notice), there are no G trains between Forest Hills-71st Avenue and Court Square. Customers should take the E or R instead.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, April 18 to 5 a.m. Monday, April 20, Brooklyn-bound N and R trains are rerouted over the Manhattan Bridge from Canal Street to DeKalb Avenue due to structural work between Whitehall and Canal Streets and for station rehab work at Lawrence Street. Customers may take the 4 at nearby stations.

Categories : Service Advisories
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I’m a devotee of the 30-day Unlimited Ride MetroCard. I take so many trips around the city that the $81 card basically costs me just over $1.00 a ride. But the 30-day card also leads to some of the more annoying subway moments around.

Picture this: It’s early in the morning, and your subway stop is really crowded. You hear — and see — the train you want pulling in, and you rush to swipe your 30-day card. You step forward…and slam into the turnstile bar. “Insufficient Fare” flashes the LCD display. Your time has expired, and while you try to keep track of when the 30 days are up, no one really marks it on your calendar.

Dejected, you head to the MetroCard Vending Machine and fill up your card. As you trudge down to the platform, it’s too late. That train you wanted was long gone, and you’ll just have to wait for the next one.

But no longer! This subway frustration has been eliminated. The MTA’s EasyPayXPress program — and auto-bill for your MetroCard — now features an unlimited card program. So far, more than 16,000 pay-per-ride users take advantage of the program, and with the debut of unlimited card service, more should do so.

“The addition of an Unlimited card option is the natural next step for the EasyPayXpress Program,” NYC Transit’s VP of Corporate Communications Paul Fleuranges said. “We expect that Unlimited MetroCard users will, as we’ve seen with our Pay-Per-Ride population, appreciate the fact that they never have to worry about their card running out of rides or standing on an MVM line with their credit card or cash to buy a new one.”

Here’s how it works: Straphangers can sign up here for an account. Submit your credit card info, and in a few days, you’ll receive a MetroCard — good for two years — in the mail. The program automatically bills the credit card every 30 days, and the MetroCard will not expire until the 24-month term is up. In effect, it’s a two-year unlimited ride card.

The renewal options are designed for the user as well. It’s easy to switch from an unlimited ride account to a pay-per-ride card. So if you’re going away for a long vacation, you won’t burn the money on an unused unlimited-ride card.

If you haven’t figured it out yet, I love this program. What’s not to like? It eliminates a key source of underground frustration, and it’s been a long time coming. So check it out.

Categories : MetroCard
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