• 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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A Cemusa bus shelter on Manhattan’s East Side. Similar bus shelters have recently gone up along soon-to-be-axed routes in Brooklyn. (Photo by flickr user animalvegetable)

The bureaucracy in New York City is famed for its lack of interagency coordination. The MTA and Department of Transportation may cover similar ground, but prior to the last few years, the two agencies were rarely in tune with each other. Since Mayor Bloomberg has put forward his desire to make the city more pedestrian- and environmentally-friendly, NYCDOT and the MTA have been more cooperative. The recent Select Bus Service/Bus Rapid Transit plans are indicative of this effort, but now and then, the old bureaucratic mess reasserts itself.

Such was the case recently when Cemusa, the company that has contracted with the city to install bus shelters and newstands across the five boroughs, replaced some old bus stops along the B23 route on Courtelyou Road in Brooklyn. While the neighborhood appreciated the new shelters, there was one not-so-minor problem: In less than six months, the B23 will cease to exist as a bus. It is one of the lines slated for the impending service cuts. Oops.

James Barron of The Times covered this amusing story of bureaucratic snafus and transit woes recently. He writes:

Two bus shelters on Cortelyou Road in Brooklyn — one at Ocean Parkway, the other at East Fifth Street — were replaced this week with shiny new steel-and-glass structures that can keep passengers on the B23 bus line dry on rainy days and unmussed on windy ones.

But the B23 is one of six bus lines in Brooklyn that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority says it will eliminate unless it gets a financial lifeline from the State Legislature.

Asked why new shelters were being installed along a line that could soon disappear, Seth Solomonow, a spokesman for the Transportation Department, noted that the proposed service changes were not definite. “But we will postpone any further installations on affected routes until the situation is clarified,” he said.

Amusingly enough, the area’s residents had a better idea of what was going on than the Cemusa workers did — that is, until the new shelters popped up. “I figured they were just beginning to prepare for the service shutdown,” Antonio Rosario said to The Times. “This makes no sense.”

Of course, Cemusa has since halted shelter replacement along the doomed line, but I wonder what will become of the new shiny stops. They’ll sit there, bright and unused, until the MTA has the money and political capital to restore the cut services. They’ll sit there as a monument to services we have lost and a reminder of our State Senate’s unwillingness to support transit. How fitting.

Categories : Brooklyn, Buses
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  • Official: Hudson Yards to take ‘decades’ to complete · The Hudson Yards project is quickly turning into a giant bust. While city officials are still optimistic that something will happen there, Deputy Mayor Robert Lieber said earlier this week that it will take decades to complete it. Meanwhile, Lieber also stressed the importance of the city-funded 7 line extension to the success of the project.

    “We knew, and part of the plan all along was that you weren’t going to have companies relocating their headquarters, offices, or their employees to a place that people couldn’t get to,” Lieber said at an economic development forum on Tuesday. “So key to that is being able to deliver the mass transit to be able to accommodate the commuters.”

    With this admission of an ambiguous start or end date for the project, I still this is as nothing more than a subway to nowhere. The MTA claims the project will be completed by 2013, and there’s a good chance nothing will be at the Hudson Yards site by then. Meanwhile, the state and transit agency are still embroiled in a dispute over the cost overruns that have, for now, shelved the proposed station at 41st St. and 10th Ave. Right now, the city then is paying over $2 billion for a train that doesn’t go anywhere and may not even serve a real development for decades. That’s just a terrible allocation of money and resources. · (10)

At this point, only a willfully ignorant person would claim that the MTA should not be rescued. Just a few weeks before the MTA is set to jack up fares and start cutting services, the MTA announced a higher-than-expected deficit for 2009. The future is not rosy.

Meanwhile, Albany remains deadlocked and on vacation. Some Senators won’t support tolls; others won’t support taxes; and as a NY Magazine graphic showed, nothing is going anywhere in the Senate.

This stalemate, though, isn’t for a lack of trying on behalf of the transit supporters. In an effort to bridge some of the gaps in the Senate, Richard Ravitch, the architect of the tax-and-toll plan aimed as spreading the pain around, unveiled an amended plan that reduces some toll burdens in exchange for a few other fees. Still, the same old reactionary state Senators refuse to support a plan. Still, they pretend as though driving and tolls — and not a fully funded transit system — is some populist cause. It’s frankly getting embarrassing and angering at the same time.

William Neuman of The Times outlined the new fees and a plan to refund tolls for businesses reliant on automobile traffic across the East River bridge spans. He writes:

Seeking to win over State Senate opponents of a plan to create new bridge tolls on the East and Harlem Rivers, supporters of a financial rescue for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority offered a compromise on Wednesday that would give toll rebates to drivers traveling to medical appointments and to businesses that frequently use the river crossings…

To pay for the rebates, the state commission proposed two additional charges: a 50-cent surcharge on yellow-cab rides and an increase in the Manhattan parking garage tax. Those additional charges would raise an estimated $150 million a year.

The compromise was intended to overcome the objections of half a dozen Democratic opponents of the toll measure who have blocked the rescue plan in the State Senate, where Democrats hold a 32-to-30 margin. Senate Republicans have so far refused to support the plan and have said they have been left out of discussions.

What Neuman doesn’t say is that this compromise, crafted to address a lot of the pro-business concerns, is also aimed at attracting Republican support for the MTA. It should work; it needs to work. But the same old politicians are at it again.

We already know what the reactionary Taxi Workers Alliance thinks about this proposed plan. They won’t like it, but the real problem are the State Senators. Glenn Blain and Pete Donohue tracked down some of the more colorful and off-putting quotes from the Gang of Senate Idiots who won’t support an MTA funding plan.

Sen. Carl Kruger (D-Brooklyn), called the proposed amendment “ridiculous” and “not even worthy of comment.”

Sen. Pedro Espada (D-Bronx) said exemptions would likely be lifted at a later date, presumably by the state Legislature, and everyone would get tolled. “It just fundamentally wrong,” he said. “It is anti business. It is anti small business.”

Sen. Ruben Diaz, also of the Bronx, echoed Espada’s comments. “I am opposed to any toll,” Diaz told The Times. “They’re going to do a rebate? After two years they’re going to say no rebate. It’s a gimmick.”

Again, we have Senators from districts that rely overwhelming on mass transit — about 70 percent of Diaz’s and Espada’s constituents commute via subway — who are resorting to faux-populist arguments. At least the TWA’s position is somewhat defensible. Espada, Diaz and Kruger are simply showing why they should never have been elected in the first place.

When transit fails in the city — and it will if no funding plan is implemented — those are the men to blame. Pro transit advocates have done everything they can, but if they can’t convince the blind gatekeepers, we’re all lost.

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