Home MTA Politics When reality and rhetoric do not line up

When reality and rhetoric do not line up

by Benjamin Kabak

For the last two and a half weeks, New Yorkers have been bombarded with Mayor Bloomberg’s plan to Reform the MTA. Constant TV and radio ads as well as a ubiquitous Internet campaign have left astute political observers with little doubt about Bloomberg’s plan. From the pandering to the practical and everything in between, I’ve given Bloomberg’s the plan the once-over as well.

Yesterday, though, New York Times columnist Jim Dwyer succinctly eviscerated Mayor Bloomberg’s commitment to mass transit. He did so in a piece ostensibly about the ceiling collapse at 181st St., but a few paragraphs nearly overshadowed his overall point. Wrote Dwyer:

Under Mr. Bloomberg, what role has the city planned in subway maintenance? His priority has been to finance the expansion of the No. 7 line to the Far West Side of Manhattan — not to maintain the existing stations. The M.T.A. receives capital funds from a number of sources, including the city government. In the mid-1980s, the city contributed about $200 million annually, said Gene Russianoff, the staff lawyer for the Straphangers Campaign. In recent years, the city’s contribution has dropped to $75 million. Since the buying power of the dollar has eroded over the last 20 years, that means the city today is contributing only about 20 cents for every dollar it gave during the 1980s.

That last sentence says it all. Twenty years ago, the city would contribute five times as much money to the MTA than it does today. That $200 million in today’s dollars would be more than enough to issue bonds for construction projects, to close budget deficits, to upgrade technology. That $200 million would be a real commitment to mass transit from the mayor and the city of New York.

As Bloomberg gears up for his second reelection campaign, it is nearly inevitable that he will win. He has more money than Democratic hopeful William Thompson will ever see, and Thompson frankly is a dud of a candidate, barely able to keep reporters engaged for more than a story or two at a time.

It seems, though, that Bloomberg is hitching his ride to mass transit. He is committing to this MTA reform plan, and he is doing so in a very public matter. But as a wrote last week and as Dwyer noted yesterday, as long as the mayor continues to withhold city funding from the MTA, as long as he continues to dither over the 7 Line Extension, refuse to pony up money for student MetorCards and continue to hold city funding levels at 20 percent of what it was two decades ago, it’s hard to believe Bloomberg’s new found desire to fix transit in New York City.

Call my cynical or skepitcal, but it is all about the money. Right now, Bloomberg has the purse strings, and he’s not loosening them notwithstanding the populist anti-MTA rhetoric he will espouse until his reelection.

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Alon Levy August 20, 2009 - 3:55 am

On the off chance I ever get to talk with random people here on the Upper East Side, I’m going to ask them what they think about SAS. Because I’ll bet there’s some “Why is the city blowing money on the 7 extension when our 80-year-old subway line’s first phase’s completion date has been pushed back 5 years in the last 2 years?” sentiment here that can be stoked.

ScottC August 20, 2009 - 7:56 am

Bloomberg is a complete tool.

Larry Littlefield August 20, 2009 - 9:50 am

There isn’t going to be any money because the city is going broke, and other public services are going to be gutted too.

The crime was the money that was not invested in the future when the money was rolling in, from 1995 to 2000 under Giuliani and 2004 to 2008 under Bloomberg.

The MTA is ideal for politicians. Everyone takes more out, no one is willing to put more in (including riders as well as taxpayers to the city and state), so the board obligingly borrows, and we head for the abyss.

zgori August 20, 2009 - 10:18 am

I don’t necessarily doubt Bloomberg’s commitment to mass transit. He wanted to fund it with congestion pricing, etc. And I don’t think any mayor could find more money for the MTA in this political climate. But his hands are 98 percent tied in regards to the MTA. It’s all Albany. His propaganda is disingenuous, but relatively harmless and could even help if it ends up moving some decent ideas into the public’s mindset. I don’t think Bloomberg’s been perfect, and I probably wouldn’t vote for him a third time if there was a viable alternative (which there doesn’t seem to be). But he’s at least tried when it comes to the MTA, and he’s also been far more bike- and pedestrian-friendly than I ever imagined.

Josh K August 20, 2009 - 12:07 pm

Why is the Bloomberg administration wasting money buying up swaths of College Point and Coney Island for redevelopment? Why do the police seem to need new vehicles every 2-4 years? If the current ones they buy don’t hold up, why aren’t they bidding contracts for ones that will? The MTA makes it’s rolling stock out of stainless steel, why doesn’t the FDNY and NYPD? Invest now, spend less over time.

Alon Levy August 20, 2009 - 5:10 pm

There’s general inertia leading to more use of substandard American cars in fleets – for example, NYC taxis are mostly Crown Vics; they’re replacing them with Priuses very slowly, and even then they also insist on getting hybrid Ford SUVs. The only reason the MTA gets good equipment is that after the R44 and R46 disasters, the remaining American rolling stock manufacturers went bankrupt, so the city was free to buy high-quality foreign trains.

Jerrold August 20, 2009 - 2:27 pm

Not about Bloomberg, but still a SAS-related issue:

Did anybody else notice how THIS page:


on the MTA website, is not even being kept up-to-date anymore?

The info on that page is still about a time period that ends on Aug. 2.
Maybe somebody went on vacation for the entire month of August.
If so, you would think that that person would have arranged for somebody else to keep the page updated during his absence.

herenthere August 20, 2009 - 7:12 pm

Wait a minute, let’s not forget that in the 80s the MTA needed it for infrastructure rehab, but now it is in a better shape than before. Not in great shape, but better than back then, so it makes sense for the city to not give as much. Of course, I agree with the notion that cities should give $ to mass transit, but I can’t argue for specifically what amount they should be giving.

TC August 23, 2009 - 12:44 am

Small math mistake above, Ben: if the MTA is receiving $75M in current dollars, and that represents 20% of what they used to get ($200M in 1980s dollars), then we’re talking about $300M in current dollars that the MTA isn’t getting from the city, not $200M.

Either way, Bloomberg’s “plan to save NYC transit” is a huge crock, and he knows it.


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