Fourteen years ago, the 47th District in Brooklyn elected William Colton, a Democrat, to to serve as its Assembly representative. His district includes Bensonhurst, Gravesend, Bath Beach, Dyker Heights and Midwood, transit-heavy areas that depend on numerous subway lines and bus routes to connect it with the rest of New York City.
Colton’s district is a minority in New York City in that more than 50 percent of his constituents are car owners. According to stale numbers, 46.1 percent of households in District 47 do not own cars while 53.9 percent do. However, only 3.2 percent of drivers head into Manhattan’s Central Business District from Colton’s area while 31.2 percent of workers take transit to that CBD. Still, Assembly representative Colton can join the long and growing list of Albany representatives who are happy to bash the MTA with one hand while taking the agency’s money away with the other.
Colton’s comments come to us from the Brooklyn Eagle in what appears to be a press release. The Assembly rep is upset about the elimination of numerous station agents. “The MTA has been going down a dangerous path of reducing front-line personnel to a minimum,” Colton said. “Leaving booths in portions of major stations closed inconveniences people from all walks of life, including the elderly, disabled and other persons needing assistance. Closing these booths, some of which are the only booths serving a station entrance, is a disgrace.”
He continued with a typical rant about the MTA’s service becoming akin to that offered in the 1970s when track fires, massive delays and rampant problems were the norm. With new rolling stock and an investment into the physical plant of the subways, no comparison less apt. “It’s time to look at reorganizing the MTA into an agency which is focused on improving transit and increasing service, not raising fares and cutting service. If we fail to change course, we risk our subway degrading into a crime-ridden, unreliable service such as existed in the 1970s.”
The MTA is doing everything Colton accuses it of doing, but for someone who has shown no willingness to support transit, his moralizing rubs me the wrong. Colton, who claims that the MTA is “failing to meet the public need for safe and reliable public transit,” has been nothing but bad for transit. In 2008, despite the make-up of his district, he didn’t support congestion pricing and couched his opposition in populist terms. At the time, he said that the city’s “real goal of the proposal is to provide a new revenue source from the middle class and working poor.” Never mind the fact that middle and working class residents simply do not own cars or, if they do, do not drive into Manhattan’s CBD during the congestion pricing hours. Never mind the fact that these residents would stand to benefit from investments in transit.
His finest moment came when he levied this claim, using what I would call reverse logic to take apart congestion pricing:
In fact passage of this plan will almost guarantee a large fare increase because whatever monies which are given to the MTA will not be used to pay for public transit improvements but instead will be used to collateralize borrowing which will result in higher future interest payments which public transit users will need to repay with higher fares. Therefore it will not encourage people to use cars since use of mass transit will be almost as expensive. The congestion fee will impact on those with low and middle incomes and will have little impact on the wealthy who will simply use it as a business deduction.
Colton did not stop in 2008 or start bashing the MTA yesterday. Earlier this year, he called for the authority to inform community boards of changes to station staffing levels and has, as Cap’n Transit noted, called for eliminating waste and corruption. He also voted for removing $143 million in earmarked money from the MTA’s coffers late last year.
The problem with Colton’s position is the noise. The MTA should be more willing to talk about the safety impact of cutting station agents. MTA leadership has engaged in an extensive effort to cut waste at all levels. But the MTA can’t fund station agents without money, and Colton is just one of many who has worked to undercut the MTA’s funding streams. He hasn’t approved measures — such as congestion pricing — that the majority of New Yorkers support, and he voted to take away earmarked dollars. His left hand is criticizing the MTA for actions of his right, and that cannot stand.