Unintentionally, it’s turned into Mayor Bloomberg Day here on SAS. This morning, I examined Bloomberg’s claims about the 7 line extension and questioned whether or not this project represents a needed expansion and a good use of dollars. This afternoon, let’s look at this overall transit record.
Yesterday, Graham Beck of the Gotham Gazette offered up his take on Bloomberg’s transportation record. Generally, says Beck, Bloomberg has a strong transportation record for pedestrians and bicyclists. His Department of Transportation under Janette Sadik-Kahn has reclaimed public spaces and streets for pedestrians, and he has put a strong emphasis on making New York City more bike-friendly. Although congestion pricing failed, non-auto modes account for all of the transportation growth in the city, and New York, a walker’s heaven, is far more friendly to pedestrians than it has been since the advent of the automobile.
Yet, Bloomberg’s record on the MTA is far from stellar. In fact, as Beck says, the MTA’s financial straits have come about “at least in part because of funding choices made by the mayor.” The most visible public transportation moment of Bloomberg’s first eight years came in 2005 when the city faced a transit workers strike. As Beck reports, “Fifty-one percent [of city residents] said his handling of the situation was not so good or poor, while 45 percent said it was great or good.”
Although Bloomberg controls just four of the 17 seats on the MTA Board and four of its 13 votes, his record on public transit is decided mixed. Beck’s overall analysis of Bloomberg’s direct contributions to the MTA bears repeating:
During [the] long-gone good years, Bloomberg cut the city’s contribution to the MTA. It is now about $60 million a year, or just 1 percent of the authority’s capital budget. Previously, the city’s contribution equaled about 10 percent of the MTA’s capital budget. The cut has inspired some advocates, like John Petro of the Drum Major Institute, to claim that Bloomberg is “shortchanging mass transit” and others like Veronica Vanterpool of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign to call for the city to increase its aid to the MTA.
Certainly, Bloomberg has campaigned as though the decrease hadn’t happened. In August he released Moving NYC, a populist, voter-friendly, MTA-dependant transit platform that suggests a slew of new proposals, like free cross-town buses, that are either inspired ideas or empty promises.
If the voters re-elect Bloomberg in November, we’ll have four more years to find out if he is really the MetroCard Mayor or merely another politician in a big black SUV.
Bloomberg is basing much of his campaign on that Moving NYC proposal, and I’ve already questioned the originality of his place. He is basically repacking ideas that are already out there and supported by transit advocates as a campaign proposal. Many of the ideas — such as the F express plan — are already on the MTA’s “to do” list, and others require something — money — with which the mayor has been seemingly loathe to provide the MTA.
That, as Beck notes, is the rub. If Bloomberg is serious about transit, if he wants to be that MetroCard Mayor, he will find a way to deliver the bucks to the MTA. If not, then he is all talk and little action, concerned more with a 7 line extension that benefits his real estate developer plans than any true overhaul that improves transit in New York City. Only time will tell.
Tomorrow, we’ll talk a look at William Thompson, currently comptroller and Democratic mayoral hopeful, and his plan for transit. Although it is not nearly as extensive as Bloomberg’s, he too is putting transportation reform on his agenda.