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.