Home Asides Albanese: Mayor should control NYC transit system

Albanese: Mayor should control NYC transit system

by Benjamin Kabak

Sal Albanese, a former City Council representative, is staging a long-shot bid for mayor from his home in Bay Ridge, and although he’s unlikely to land in City Hall come November, he’s become one of the few mayoral hopefuls to acknowledge transit issues. In an interview with a Brooklyn community paper, Albanese called for city control of the subway and bus system. “Too often, we have to go begging to the state legislature to get things done,” he said. “It’s a city service, and the mayor is the voice of the people of New York City, so it should be under mayoral control and the mayor should be accountable for it.”

Albanese said he envisions establishing a London-style system where the mayor is solely responsible for the transit system. The new city agency’s board would then be staffed with transit experts. “I wouldn’t have appointed Lhota. He’s a good administrator, but he doesn’t know anything about transit. It doesn’t make any sense,” he said of a potential GOP mayoral candidate and one-time MTA head.

City control over the Transit Authority has been a low-level concern on and off for years. It would bring local decision-making back to the city but could also absolve the state of funding commitments and more comprehensive regional planning. Whether or not Albanese is on the right track, however, is nearly immaterial as he is at least considering the issue. His opponents are not. Despite calling for middle class reform in her State of the City speech today, for instance, Christine Quinn uttered nary a word on transit. As Albanese said, “If we can’t move people around the city, properly, the economy is going to suffer.”

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ason February 11, 2013 - 2:43 pm

Is there any way to stop Quinn at this point? New York politics is so disheartening.
Why is that LA’s mayoral elections have so much more discussion about transportation (see: Villaraigosa, Garcetti) but New York’s election see nary a mention of transit issues from top-tier candidates? Are that many NYers content with second-class system they have right now?

Berk32 February 11, 2013 - 3:04 pm

since the city doesnt control much of its transit – there isn’t much to talk about.

Someone February 11, 2013 - 4:48 pm

“Second class”? It’s actually the sixth best transit system in the world.

Bolwerk February 11, 2013 - 6:34 pm

It has potential to be the best in the world, perhaps, but it falls woefully short on too many counts. NYC surface transit is a sad, sad joke. Philly is better, and it would be polite to Philly to say it has the economic problems of New York circa 1993.

Someone February 11, 2013 - 7:59 pm

At this point, I’m compelled to say that even the Moscow Metro is doing better than the NYC subway. (It does look better, aesthetically.)

Someone February 11, 2013 - 4:40 pm

No way! Let different private operators operate different lines on a shared system, like Seoul does.

Alex C February 11, 2013 - 6:01 pm

American corporate culture would ensure that such an experiment would be a disaster. You think the G train is bad now? At least the MTA actually runs it. Veolia would cut the G train the second they sign a contract to run some lines.

Bolwerk February 11, 2013 - 6:36 pm

If people are going to propose privatization schemes, they better have a damn good reason. Because, by itself, privatization does nothing but make it more expensive to finance improvements while adding corporate overlords who want to find ways to skim things off the top.

Alex C February 11, 2013 - 7:01 pm

Hey, it’s working great for Nassau county! Well, except for the part where buses are supposed to show up. But hey, they’ll be pocketing some more state cash this year (without any increase in service). Shows ya what the clowns in Albany think is a good transit system.

Someone February 11, 2013 - 7:57 pm

I have a feeling that those fools in Albany really don’t give a crap about NY transit systems nowadays

BBnet3000 February 12, 2013 - 6:50 am

The privatization of transit in Nassau county is the county’s doing.

Alex C February 12, 2013 - 2:01 pm

I’m well aware of that, I’m just pointing out the insanity of that operation actually getting more state funding while the MTA has $20 million taken from them.

Miles Bader February 14, 2013 - 3:49 am

“Privatization” is pretty vague. It can be done well, and it can be done badly. Well-run private transit systems (e.g. in Tokyo) can be very, very, good; badly run, well… as you said.

So, details matter.

Ok, I guess it’s pretty much a given that they’d screw it up… ><

Bolwerk February 11, 2013 - 6:51 pm

Nice to hear Albanese say this, but the next mayor and the governor need to start playing with ways to entirely re-evaluate NYC’s relationship with NYS in a lot of ways. It’s incredibly wasteful to have most important decisions by assented to by a body that also represents Buffalo; if something is so important that Albany needs to override, they should have to make a special effort to do so. Otherwise, they shouldn’t bug us.

Larry Littlefield February 11, 2013 - 8:16 pm

New York City has been much better run that New York State for going on a couple of decades.

But historically, that wasn’t the case, and the rest of the state often saved NYC from its own bad political culture.

In fact, you could say that bad NYC political culture is what wrecked the state. The grifters moved to the suburbs, became Republicans instead of Democrats, but are basically the same. And they still control most state offices in the city.

Thank God for NYC term limits. You might complain about Quinn et al. But compare them with the state.

Bolwerk February 11, 2013 - 8:36 pm

Hmm, not sure I entirely agree with that narrative.

The dynamic I mention is not unique. I think you see parallels to the NYS/NYC dynamic in other places: Chicago/Illinois, Paris/Metropolitan France, and arguably the UK/London are examples. The “primate city” becomes so vital that it integrates with the national/state government. Even corrupt Italy doesn’t see this happen so much, at least in part because no city or region can entirely dominate.

John-2 February 11, 2013 - 9:47 pm

John Lindsay gave away the subway system to Nelson Rockefeller and Bill “The Mad Rail Car Painter” Ronan in 1968, and the truth is no mayor since then has really wanted it back.

Mike Quill took the Lindsay Administration to the cleaners in 1966, and basically gave all the other municipal unions the word that the cookie jar was open, leading to the contracts that in turn led to the city’s near-bankruptcy a decade later. Lindsey probably would have managed to lose the negotiations to Mike Quill again in 1969 (Mike’s death notwithstanding) and pretty much just threw the subway into the state’s lap, which Rockefeller and Ronan then used to run a power play on Robert Moses and oust him as head of the TBTA.

The advantage for the mayors are the same as they were for Lindsay — Problem with the subway? Go talk to Albany. Some mayors may put on a little better act about wanting to take control, but in the end, none have wanted to deal with that headache as the point-man, as opposed to the cheerleader, as with Koch in 1980 and Bloomberg seven years ago.

At the other end, because half the people in New York State use the subway and half don’t, the governor has more latitude to treat the subways with less interest or play harder ball with the TWU. The gov’s not going to lose that many votes in Buffalo or Binghamton if the trains are idled for a week or if speeds slow down to 10 mph entering stations, especially since he has the extra layer of an MTA chairman to shield him from any blame (that is, when the chairman actually hangs around). You’ve got to get all the way down to the condition Hugh Carey’s MTA left the subways in by the early 1980s before it’s so awful the governor has to make it a prime issue, as Cuomo did in 1983.

A mayor couldn’t get away with dumping the blame off on someone else under a resurrected autonomous New York City Transit Authority — TA board chairman or not, the focus would end up at City Hall and a far high percentage of people voting for mayor as opposed to voting for governor care about the issue.

lawhawk February 12, 2013 - 9:06 am

The MTA is a regional agency that handles mass transit and tunnels and subways throughout the NYC Metro area. There’s no way that it will ever return to mayoral control unless it’s broken up into its constituent pieces.

That will add significant costs to any mass transit or infrastructure undertaking, but the fact is that the governor is simply not paying sufficient attention to mass transit in NYC. Doing so would highlight the fact that the mass transit system needs significant funding – and the only way to get that done is to provide a similar amount of funding to upstate communities regardless of their need. It’s a purely political consideration – to elicit the votes and support for mass transit and infrastructure spending in the most populous area of the state, the Governor and Legislature have to strike a deal that gives upstate a say (and I’d argue veto power) to upstate legislators who want a piece of the pie because they don’t want to see more money going to downstate.

Infrastructure spending in the state is skewed by this, and Cuomo has paid only lip service to improving infrastructure in NYC metro.

Even his push to replace the TZB is marred by the refusal/reluctance to include mass transit in the opening phase of the bridge replacement (claiming higher costs). Bus rapid transit would significantly improve cross Hudson traffic flows, and could improve traffic along the 287/87 corridor, but without the funding commitment, all we’ll see is a replacement span with the potential for mass transit that will never be built out in anything resembling a reasonable time frame.

At the same time, we (the US, and not just NYC/NYS) need to address the exorbitantly high costs for infrastructure costs as compared to similar projects in Europe. It shouldn’t be costing several times more to do a rail project in the US than a comparable project to tunnel a single mile in Europe. The higher costs sap the ability to get big projects done, and that means that critical projects simply stay on the drawing board for lack of funding and political will to see them done.

As Sandy and the snowstorms have shown, the only way to move people in the numbers necessary to keep the city humming is by mass transit – failing to maintain and expand that infrastructure saps the long term growth of the region (and for the union, the focus should be on expanding the system – not on featherbedding jobs that ought to be phased out).


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