Home MTA Politics Voters: Bloomberg failing on public transportation

Voters: Bloomberg failing on public transportation

by Benjamin Kabak

When Michael Bloomberg upending term limits and ran for a third four-year stint as Mayor of New York City, he did so on a platform of reforming mass transit in New York City. Less than six months after Election Day, voters are already indicted Bloomberg for his public transportation failures.

Bloomberg’s plan was a fairly straight-forward one. It included 33 points that ranged from subway expansion plans pushed by transit advocates – F express, for instance – to controversial calls to make all bus rides free to the amorphous “overhauling the MTA” and “trimming the fat” that have become transit buzzwords in New York City over the past 10-15 years. Generally, as I noted in August, because Bloomberg controls just 4 of the 14 votes on the MTA’s board, his plan was a populist appeal for votes from disgruntled New York City subway riders and not something he could actually implement.

Yet, despite this political reality, Bloomberg pushed the plan in TV spots and Internet ads. He railed against the state of transit, and despite a less-than-stellar transit record during his first two terms, he made his campaign about improving transit in the city. After earning his reelection, he quickly cooled talk on his transit promises, and since then, we’ve heard little from Bloomberg on his late-summer promises to help the cash-starved MTA.

Yesterday, a Marist revealed that New Yorkers aren’t keen with the Mayor’s transit record but that they also don’t care too much about it. The poll – available in full here – gave Bloomberg a 56 percent approval rating, and 38 percent of respondents called Bloomie the best mayor in New York City in three decades.

While voters say overall quality of life has improved, New Yorkers’ views of transportation have not. The poll asked voters if, in the past eight years since Bloomberg became better, public transit had gotten better, worse or stayed the same. While in 2006 voters thought transit had improved under Bloomberg’s watch, this time around 46 percent believed the subways and buses have gotten worse. Of the remaining 54 percent, 18 percent said the options are better, and 36 percent said transit has stayed the same.

In response, the Straphangers Campaign tried to spin as though New Yorkers are making a connection. “Not surprisingly,” Gene Russianoff said, “voters hold the Mayor accountable for the bad news about transit.”

The problem, however, is that voters do not hold the Mayor accountable for the bad news about transit. Voters don’t hold the mayor accountable; they don’t hold their State Senators accountable; they don’t hold the Assembly accountable; they don’t hold anyone accountable. New Yorkers prefer to complain about the MTA – offering similar services for a higher nominal-dollar but not inflation-adjusted dollar price today than they did eight years ago – than actually do something or vote someone into office who will do something about it.

Over the last six months, Mayor Bloomberg has been an abject failure on transit. In fact, since his congestion pricing plan failed to garner approval in Albany, Bloomberg has been a non-entity when it comes to helping the MTA. He hasn’t expressed support for a permanent funding plan based on bridge tolls or a renewed congestion pricing push. He hasn’t vowed to fund student transit as the municipality that schools children should. He hasn’t made noises in Albany to help rescue the MTA, and he hasn’t done much of anything in New York. Still, New Yorkers view him favorable, and they clearly do not hold him accountable for bad news about transit.

As the MTA falters, political apathy on the part of voters is just another force with which those who want transit investment must contend. New Yorkers recognize the importance of public transportation to New York City, and they recognize that it isn’t as good as it should be or once was. Yet, the fingers are pointed not at our elected officials but at an MTA too poor to do much about it. These poll results reflect badly on Bloomberg, but no one would hold him accountable.

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20 comments

Alon Levy April 14, 2010 - 3:32 am

If you let politicians buy your vote, don’t be surprised that they turn out to have lied to you.

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Andrew April 14, 2010 - 6:51 am

But I think people do hold Bloomberg responsible, because I think people think the MTA is a city agency. What’s changed since 2006? Aside from the completion of some capital projects and some minor service changes (mostly improvements, but small ones), the only change is that a bunch of service cuts are about to be implemented.

And people blame Bloomberg not because the city hasn’t contributed properly to the MTA but because, in the people’s mind, the MTA is a part of the city.

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Dave April 14, 2010 - 8:55 am

You are a fool if A) you voted for Bloomberg and believed this or B) you voted for Bloomberg.

This guy is as full of hot air as any politician out there. Nice job New Yorkers!

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E. Aron April 14, 2010 - 9:02 am

Indeed, had Bill Thompson – the man with 0 ideas on anything, been elected, we’d all live in a tax-free paradise where we could teleport everywhere.

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Rob April 14, 2010 - 8:56 am

Dave is right. Bloomberg is a big schmuck. He is just like Obama. A politicial who will say and do anything to get elected and then screw the public. If you fell for this, you are indeed a sap.

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E. Aron April 14, 2010 - 9:06 am

Name a few ways in which you’re being “screwed,” considering your federal taxes have likely been cut recently. I also challenge you to list ways in which you would be less screwed had you voted for either of their challengers. You wont be able to.

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Benjamin Kabak April 14, 2010 - 9:19 am

Don’t expect a reply. Dave, Rob and Dan are the same person, and I have no tolerance for people who do that. This person has been banned from commenting.

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E. Aron April 14, 2010 - 9:40 am

Fair – banal, apathetic remarks like this just drive me nuts.

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Dan April 14, 2010 - 8:57 am

If you voted for him, you get what you deserve. Idiots.

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E. Aron April 14, 2010 - 9:00 am

“46 percent believed the subways and buses have gotten worse”

I find this interesting since transit has not changed much yet. It’s an unfounded perception. I presume people will be in an absolute uproar when the cutbacks actually take place?

What is Bloomberg to do with significantly less tax money coming to the city? Where is the money supposed to come from? He’s for congestion pricing and tolling East River bridges – the 2 most immediate new sources of income that could go to transit. It’s up to the state to pass those through.

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Alon Levy April 15, 2010 - 4:43 am

Bloomberg’s for congestion pricing and tolling as long as he gets the credit. He did jack shit to support tolling when it was part of the MTA bailout and not his personal signature policy. And the CP failure was entirely due to his political incompetence.

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Streetsblog New York City » Today’s Headlines April 14, 2010 - 9:35 am

[…] Voters: Bloomberg MIA on Transit (2nd Ave Sagas) […]

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ed April 14, 2010 - 10:20 am

Minor quibble: you use “real-dollar” to mean nominal dollar, which is confusing because “real” specifically means inflation-adjusted. It made that sentence really confusing.

Otherwise I don’t disagree. People need to hold the mayor and ESPECIALLY their state level officials accountable for this crap. It’s amazing to me how people will ignore local politics but care deeply about federal issues, even though the local pols have way more of an effect on their lives.

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Justin Samuels April 14, 2010 - 10:30 am

The mayor won reelection with only 15% of people who could have voted participating, and even then he got only 51% of the vote. And that completely floored the predictions of pollsters. Its not too good an idea to put too much faith in polls. For starters, they poll at the most say 1000 people, who may not be a good representation of what the 8 million people in NYC really think. It also depends on how the pollsters word the questions, etc.

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Benjamin Kabak April 14, 2010 - 10:34 am

Nitpick: 1000 people is, if the selected properly, a significant random sample significant for polling purposes. Otherwise, the fact that so few people voted in the mayoral race this year is an indictment of New Yorkers who, as I said, prefer to complain than actually vote to do something about their problems.

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Al D April 14, 2010 - 11:35 am

People who know, knew Bloomberg was blowing hot air during the campaign about the MTA and transit because he cannot do a thing.

I think for congestion pricing, he put out a solution, Shelly said, “See ya” and Bloomberg then said OK, let him deal with this from now on.

Another observation about the article is that people still after all these years cannot quite figure out the accountability of the MTA, and therefore do not know WHO to blame, so they just complain. It’s easy if the garbage doesn’t get collected, it’s the Mayor’s fault. But the subway, well wait a second, it’s the MTa, no it’s the Mayor, no it’s the Governor, no it’s the State government, you know, the House of Representatives up there. (Yes, I know it’s the Assembly and Senate, but really, how many other NY’ers actually know this?)

It is pretty, darned confusing.

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Frank B. April 14, 2010 - 10:31 pm

I honestly never had a significant amount of belief that Bloomberg would do the things he promised regarding transit, but I had a small hope. He is a fantastic mayor in many other senses; the man is a financial genius, and ultimately the city is much better off under his leadership than Thompson, both transit-wise, and all matters city-wide. Thompson actually rallied against a bus rapid transit lane since it would cut parking. The moron clearly wasn’t that decent of a comptroller; anyone with knowledge of basic arithmetic could add up that the businesses where the bus lane was being built would actually benefit from more people taking the bus and seeing their shops along the way.

Bloomberg may have reneged on many of his transit ideas; he may be extending the 7 train in the wrong direction; but at least he seems dedicated to keeping the 2nd Avenue subway from going the way of the dodo, and at least he tried to get money for the MTA through congestion pricing. His ideas are radical, and that’s what this city needs; too bad too many people are behind the times.

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Alon Levy April 15, 2010 - 4:44 am

Whenever I hear the phrase “financial genius,” I think of the people in charge of Citigroup and Lehman Brothers.

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BrooklynBus April 15, 2010 - 4:56 pm

New York does not need radical ideas. New York needs sensible ideas. When Bloomberg was first elected he promised to be a revolutionary mayor with brand new ideas using the latest technology. He was a good mayor when times were good. But when financial conditions worsened, he was no different from the rest solving the crisis through higher taxes and fees, layoffs, higher fines, closing firehouses, etc. and a big disappointment. No revolutionary ideas from his financial background. Statistics relating to his biggest accomplishments. improving education and lowering crime have both been called into question and appear to be exxagerated.

As far as the Number 7 extension, a recent story suggested that there may not be enough money to finish that also. Personally, I don’t believe we will ever see the Second Avenue subway before 2040 which is beyond my lifetime. The MTA will declare the Select Bus Service as so successfull, that it will not matter if it is delayed again. And does it make any sense that they cut the M42 to the Javits Center due to lack of ridership, at the same time they are extending the Number 7?

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Alon Levy April 15, 2010 - 11:41 pm

It makes perfect sense that they’re cutting the M42. Remember, the 7 extension doesn’t serve any existing transit need. It’s a loss leader for the Hudson Yards megaproject. Think of it as a corporate welfare scheme rather than a transportation program. The M42, which does not have the same pizzazz as a subway, cannot serve as a development subsidy as well.

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