Home MTA Politics On Candidate Weiner’s lackluster transportation plan

On Candidate Weiner’s lackluster transportation plan

by Benjamin Kabak

Click the image to read Anthony Weiner’s Keys to the City.

It finally happened, and we have to talk about it. Last night, shortly before midnight, Anthony Weiner’s YouTube video announcing his mayoral candidacy leaked, and today, his website is up to date. Polling just behind Christine Quinn — though with high unfavorables — Weiner has the name recognition to be a major player in this year’s mediocre mayoral field and a $4 million war chest to buy his way to the top. So how’s his platform look?

Based on the video and early campaign literature, Weiner is running on an appeal to the middle class. He grew up middle class and wants to return the focus of New York City politics to a group of residents who have increasingly felt left out and marginalized. Anything middle class-related in NYC should focus on transportation, and although Weiner recognizes that the subways are “the great equalizer, used by New Yorkers at every point on the economic spectrum,” his proposals do not underscore real improvements. “Modernizing our infrastructure and transportation systems needs to be a high priority,” he says. “In the most densely populated region in the country, we need to look at alternative modes of moving people from Point A to Point B.”

“Alternative modes of moving people” is a buzzword these days for kitschy ideas that don’t solve any real mobility problems, and Weiner’s platform highlights just that approach. First up are ferries. Weiner wants to launch ferry service in all five boroughts — which essentially means bringing ferry service to the Bronx since the other four boroughs already have ferries. “What about Rockaway, Sheepshead Bay, Riverdale, and Harlem? Ferries are good for the environment, reduce congestion, and are vital lifelines in an emergency.”

The environmental arguments are the least compelling; fuel-burning ferries pollute the air and water. But from a practical standpoint, do these areas need ferries and can they support the service? The Bronx is hardly lacking in subways or express buses, and the Rockaway/Sheepshead Bay ferry idea has long suffered from lack of ridership. The idea of a Harlem ferry is simply strange.

Next up, Weiner is proposing something that’s been in the works for years at the behest of state agencies over which the mayor has no control: He wants cell service on every subway platform. It is a tried-and-true voting-trolling technique to put forward a plan already in the works and then attempt to take credit for it later on.

His last two ideas are worthwhile but of a rather marginal impact. Weiner wants to extend tax credits to employers who encouraging biking to work, and he wants to replace Access-A-Ride with 2000 new medallions that would be reserved only for handicapped-accessible yellow cabs dispatched to all corners of the city. A full Access-A-Rode replacement could save the MTA upwards of $400 million annually, but such an initiative would face a steep uphill climb. Additionally, for better or worse, it impacts the majority of New Yorkers only tangentially.

And that’s it. On the one hand, Weiner doesn’t argue for pie-in-the-sky impracticalities as Christine Quinn did when she requested city control over the MTA. He seems to recognize the limits of the office and is planning accordingly. On the other, he doesn’t go even a quarter as far as Sal Albanese does. There is nothing about safe streets. DOT and its ability to dictate bus lanes and speed up the Select Bus Service rollout is roundly ignored. The only nod to congestion pricing is to call it “dead,” and East River Bridge tolls garner nary a mention. Weiner proposes smart parking meters and thinking hard about stemming truck traffic in the form of a “renewed focus” as ways to improve traffic flaw in the city.

All in all, it’s a disappointing early platform. If someone wants to champion the middle class in New York — or any class, for that matter — a grand vision for transportation improvements has to be a part of that plan, and we’ve yet to see that from any mayoral candidate with a real shot at claiming the crown.

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JAR May 22, 2013 - 1:08 pm

Agreed that lots of this is fluff.
But would you really describe $400M potential savings from scrapping Access-A-Ride marginal? That’s your (or Weiner’s) number, but even if it comes out lower, this sounds great.
The uphill climb probably wouldn’t be from user complaints. It’s difficult to imagine users preferring the existing system to calling an accessible private cab.

And the plan is also clear about having alternatives to the non-hybrid Taxi of Tomorrow. Well worth a mention.

Benjamin Kabak May 22, 2013 - 1:10 pm

That’s my number, not Weiner’s. It’s not marginal, but it’s tough to see how he’s going to fulfill the mandates of the ADA with a yellow cab system. It will require a lot more thought than what has been presented in the documents from his campaign.

AK May 23, 2013 - 9:12 am

If taxis were handicap accessible in NY, as they are in London, nearly 100% of current Access-a-Ride passengers would be served by cabs, especially if the Mayor’s Borough Taxi Plan goes into effect (as that would expand service outside the Manhattan Core dramatically).

One other note on the bike/tax issue. As most folks who read this site know, under the fiscal cliff deal, Congress extended Qualified Transportation Fringe Benefits (Section 132(f)) through December 31, 2013 (i.e. most employers can provide transit and vanpool tax free benefits to their employees up to $245 per month (in the alternative, employees can deduct the expenses on their tax form I believe)).

That benefit now extends to “reasonable expenses” associated with commuting by bicycle. Typically, these expenses involved the purchase/repair of a bike or a helmet/lock/etc. But it is worth noting that nothing in the law suggests that an annual bike share membership isn’t a “reasonable expense” under the code, so long as the employee “regularly uses the bicycle for a substantial portion of the travel between the employee’s residence and place of employment.”

paulb May 22, 2013 - 1:13 pm

The guy who swore he’d rip out all those effing bike lanes now plans to offer tax credits for biking to work? Well, it’s one small turnaround, at any rate.

Daniel May 22, 2013 - 1:39 pm

I’m kind of surprised that he calls congestion pricing “dead,” yet endorses one of the few things – outer borough ferries – that would make it palatable to outer borough residents. (Though the Bronx and Harlem ferries sound odd – maybe an extension of the East River Ferry to Randall’s Island and then to Hunts Point would allow for greater use of those areas from folks in Dumbo and Williamsburg, but that’s about it. No idea why a Harlem ferry would be necessary or wanted.)

The Access-A-Ride is an interesting issue given on the one hand the savings and on the other the ADA hoops Weiner would have to jump through, but it’s a novel thought.

Otherwise I just find it lacking in insight, a sort of reluctant movement to 21st century transportation policy instead of a reliance on cars.

Bolwerk May 22, 2013 - 1:48 pm

Are ferries any dirtier than buses? IIRC, they can have incredibly low per-passenger mile energy consumption – maybe lower than trains, though they aren’t as fuel agnostic as trains.

Not that I think ferries are a very useful idea, under current circumstances. The most useful modes are(/would be) subways and light rail, and Weiner doesn’t seem to give a sweet damn about either.

When demagogues like Weiner talk about the middle class, he means he’s pandering to semi-literate, low-skill twits with enough of an education to push paper (e.g., Sharon), who unfortunately have most of the votes in the USA if not NYC, while actually doing what he can to make sure the status quo stays in place for his privileged friends. Meanwhile, he’ll completely ignore the needs of the actual working poor and lumpen, both of whom are more or less excluded from politics.

Alon Levy May 22, 2013 - 2:56 pm

Ben, I think you’re playing into the same tired old feudal politics of urban American when you say,

Anything middle class-related in NYC should focus on transportation, and although Weiner recognizes that the subways are “the great equalizer, used by New Yorkers at every point on the economic spectrum,” his proposals do not underscore real improvements.

In reality, the urban middle class has many other issues to worry about that are no less important: declining state support for colleges (though CUNY is improving in quality at least), affordable housing, health care, jobs, wage stagnation, police brutality and racial profiling, the K-12 school system, regulations on small business. The grudges of Staten Island and outer Brooklyn and Queens against the inner half to two thirds of the city aren’t really at play here. So let’s ask Weiner why he was nationally an advocate of single-payer health care while locally he’s content to run on grudge matches and the medieval politics of personality.

If you look at the agenda of people who run on an overarching ideology, it does include transportation policy as one component, and when this ideology is progressive the transportation policy is strongly pro-transit at all levels. Mayors who run on a progressive ideology in a democratic system push for more investment in transit at the expense of cars, as happened in London. Even some Bloombergian neo-liberals, such as Sarkozy, have embraced rail for the largest cities and high-speed rail between the largest city pairs, due to their transportation benefits for business and lower carbon emissions. But in US urban politics there are personalities and no ideologies, so Quinn and Weiner square off about small differences in policy. You’re not going to see any effort for mode shift from there, because people who view themselves as elected feudal lords won’t change the status quo.

Benjamin Kabak May 22, 2013 - 2:59 pm

It’s likely my fault for the sloppy short-hand, but I don’t mean to imply that a mayor’s policy proposals should prioritize transit over other issues impacting the middle class. But as you summarize, a progressive policy book aimed at boosting the middle class should include robust and progressive transit efforts. Weiner’s does not.

tacony palmyra May 22, 2013 - 4:14 pm

Remember Bloomberg’s 2009 transit platform? Free crosstown buses! An F express in Brooklyn! I wouldn’t take the specifics too literally as even the candidates know they’re not serious ambitions. They’re just bait for certain constituencies that every politician knows you have to pander to.

(To be fair, a lot of Bloomberg’s transportation goals for the first term have panned out. And he actually called for mayoral control of NYCT too.)

David Brown May 22, 2013 - 4:47 pm

I actually support Weiner. Not because I like him ( I am a Conservative), but he is the only Democrat in the race who is not to the left of Pluto. With that kind of anti police and anti business Mayor, you will see a return to the 1970’s real quick. Without question the worst candidate is Quinn. She is a spineless individual who will do whatever NIMBY’s want just so she can look good (she makes Al Sharpton look like Churchill and Reagan ( at least Sharpton is a leader)). Her idea of the City taking over the MTA,will not be going anywhere ( even from her it was a trial balloon that fizzled out real quick. Why? No one wants to put a lightweight like her in charge of subways (least of all Cuomo who wants to be President). We need a tough person (which Koch, Gulliani and Bloomberg were), in order to get the major transportation needs of the next decade such as the Second Ave Subway Phases 2 & 3 and expansion of the LIRR (Queens & Manhattan) & Metro North ( The Bronx & Manhattan) started and yes, completed.

Alon Levy May 22, 2013 - 5:07 pm

Interesting you say this about Quinn, when left-wing interest groups hate her. The unions and anti-poverty people hate her over her opposition to a living wage law and her longtime opposition to paid family leave, on which she only relented recently by passing the weakest possible bill after Gloria Steinem threatened not to endorse her. The civil liberties people hate her over her support of mosque surveillance and a ban on BDS conferences at CUNY.

Personally among the people who poll above zero I most want to see Liu win, and among the people who are running I most want to see Albanese.

Benjamin Kabak May 22, 2013 - 5:12 pm

Curious to hear your defense of Liu. I think he’s a crook who has shown a stunning lack of knowledge about NYC policy and politics and has somehow been successful despite himself.

Bolwerk May 22, 2013 - 6:48 pm

The most delusionally authoritarian elements in the city are beelining to Quinn like flies to shit. Just look at this David Brown guy for evidence of that. They probably feel the same way he does too: she isn’t authoritarian enough, but they’ll take her.

Liu probably is a bit more corrupt, but he also arguably panders less and he might actually be more empathetic. Weiner is mostly just a buffoon. I’d probably take de Blasio out of the major candidates, but that’s a pretty grudging preference.

llqbtt May 23, 2013 - 9:31 am

What? No love here at SAS for Mr. Lhota? Didn’t he single-handedly ‘save’ our transit network from utter destruction? Where’s his cape? And why can’t we reward him with a post in City Hall? That thing with the Brooklyn Museum was a long time ago now…

Bolwerk May 23, 2013 - 11:31 am

He was rewarded with a post as head of the MTA, but decided some good press made him qualified to be mayor.

Alon Levy May 23, 2013 - 9:04 pm

How exactly did he save the transit system from anything? Sandy was not his doing; the MTA employees credit Prendergast with the plan and only give Lhota a minor role.

Bolwerk May 24, 2013 - 1:50 am

I wish the press would stop giving pols a pass for handling disasters well. It’s not a hard thing for a politician to do. It’s hard to plan against the slow-moving train wreck of the next few decades of transportation and energy policy, and Christie and Cuomo are utter failures in that regard, while Lhota has little to show either.

Alon Levy May 23, 2013 - 8:22 am

Liu has been the most consistent opponent of stop-and-frisk and the only opponent of mosque surveillance.

On civil liberties I don’t think he’s necessarily better than Albanese, who is almost as big an opponent of stop-and-frisk as currently practiced (he explicitly accused NYPD of engaging in racial profiling) and proposed to decriminalize marijuana. On other issues he’s a lot worse. But Albanese is polling at 0-2% unfortunately.

David Brown May 22, 2013 - 5:22 pm

Mr. Levy you just made my point, she is supporting things not out of principle but out of fear. This is not the person I want to be in a foxhole with. Do I support a left-wing agenda? Anyone who has ever read anything I wrote knows I don’t ( I was the only person who took Madison Square Garden’s side on this blog vs Penn Station). But even an anti business anti cop anarchist like Liu is better than her. The very reason we have out of control spending is politicians who have no concept of the word NO, and that is unlikely to change. But at least Weiner understands the average guy from Queens ( where I grew up) and Brooklyn, which is about as good as we can possibly get.

Nyland8 May 23, 2013 - 6:09 am

I suspect that the “Harlem Ferry” being referred to is not in East Harlem, but right on the Hudson. In fact, the West Harlem Piers project has already built that excursion pier, which has been sitting unused for at least three years now. It’s at 40?49′ 09 N by 73?57′ 44.5 W – and there is another one already in operation directly across the estuary at Grand Cove Marina in Edgewater. All that’s needed to start ferry service is to put up a ticket kiosk and build a fence around it. It’s a done deal.

Then the only thing required to make it an uptown transportation hub is to ensure that Phase 2 of SAS continues all the way across 125th Street to the river. That Manhattanville location, coincidentally, is exactly where the proposed 125 Street MetroNorth station would be built if they ever get around to running trains into NYPenn on the Empire Corridor. There’s plenty of room for a station in the shadow of the Riverside Drive trestle right over the Fairway parking lots.

With any luck, by 2020, the cross-town leg of the “T” train could be picking up passengers from the proposed Nyack NY Ferry.

Eric F May 23, 2013 - 8:43 am

Has anyone running for mayor actually had a job in the private sector at some point, or is that now doing anything besides than living off the tax dollars of others viewed as utterly gauche?

Bolwerk May 23, 2013 - 11:36 am

Giving the relative ineptitude of Bloomberg in dealing with the public sector, I don’t see why you think private sector experience is very useful.

Sal ALbanese has private sector experience. Obviously Lhota does. Liu was a manager in a financial firm.

Subutay Musluoglu May 23, 2013 - 9:06 am

Several years ago, during the height of the debate over congestion pricing, I ran into then Congressman Weiner as he was leaving my local diner in Queens. I asked him if he had a position on Mayor Bloomberg’s initiative, to which he responded that he was completely opposed to it. When I asked him why, he trotted out the usual talking points that it’s an assault on the middle class and favors Manhattan’s needs over that of the outer boroughs. I pointed out to him that while there may be exceptions, middle class drivers from the outer reaches of Queens and Brooklyn are generally not in a position to drive alone daily into Manhattan and afford to park in a garage and afford the gas prices that were prevalently high at the time. He countered that those drivers had little to to no viable mass transit options and had no choice but to drive. For the sake of time and the fact that an aide was trying to get him to move along with his day, I did not engage him on the simplistic and inaccurate perspective he had on this, so instead I reminded him that the revenues that would be collected by congestion pricing would directly benefit those very same people that he was referring to, by eventually allowing for an expansion of the subway and bus system, once pressing state of good repair needs were addressed. I pointed to London where congestion pricing revenues were going to to a dedicated account to fund the expansion of the Underground and the bus network. He disagreed strongly, stating instead that the improvements in London were already in place prior to the start of congestion pricing. When I then asked him how we were going to fund the MTA Capital Program and projects such as Second Avenue Subway, he responded with the usual attacks on MTA mismanagement, and the need for more efficiencies.

As a transportation professional, I was very disappointed. Yes, while the London bus network was reconfigured and moderately expanded, and service on a handful of Underground lines was increased (on those that had the ability to absorb extra trains), there no real capital expansion carried out before the congestion charge was assessed. For reasons that can be better described elsewhere, the Jubilee Line extension of the early 2000s doesn’t count. The very reason why congestion pricing was being carried out in London was to help fund projects such as Crossrail and the new Overground network, as well as much needed expansions of stations that were dangerously overcrowded. My takeaway from my exchange with Weiner was this – while I did not expect him to know the specifics of London transport policy, his general transit position was uninformed and nothing more than pandering to the lowest common denominator, playing on the fears of outer borough car drivers that the Manhattan CBD was off limits to them. Their ability to drive anywhere at anytime without any regards to costs or the affects on the rest of us and the long term consequences to livability in NYC did not appear to even register with Mr. Weiner. I don’t know if he’s had a change of heart since then, but in general the mass transit positions that have been revealed so far from the current crop of candidates show a lack of deep thought and real world solutions to our pressing needs here in NYC.

paulb May 23, 2013 - 9:29 am

Very informative.

Marc Shepherd May 23, 2013 - 11:08 am

Mayoral candidates with dumb transit policies don’t suffer at the ballot box. When was the last time being smart on transit got someone elected? It hasn’t happened, at least not in the last 20-30 years.

Jonathan May 25, 2013 - 9:51 am

The Bronx is behind the other boroughs in safe and convenient access to the waterfront. What point ferries if they are impossible to get to on foot or mass transit?


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