Home MTA Bridges and Tunnels Quick Hits: Cashless tolling; transit enforcement amidst an NYPD slowdown; GCT protests

Quick Hits: Cashless tolling; transit enforcement amidst an NYPD slowdown; GCT protests

by Benjamin Kabak

A few updates for you tonight, some concerning hot-button political issues of the day. You had to know it would be hard for the MTA to escape these.

Ironing out the challenges of cashless tolling

It’s hard to believe that it’s been nearly four years since the MTA introduced cashless tolling on the Henry Hudson Parkway, but here we are. While I had originally hoped this would do away with a major objection to congestion pricing, the MTA hasn’t yet expanded this long-running pilot beyond the bridge over the Spuyten Duyvil. Now we learn why.

In a piece illustrative of the zany deals the MTA has to strike with states to which it provides various services, Andrew Tangel explores how gaps in enforcement, particularly with respect to Connecticut drivers, is slowing the process. The MTA, you say, is barred by deals it has with Connecticut from sending collections agencies after drivers who do not pay bills they receive. Although the vast majority have E-ZPasses, Connecticut drivers owe the MTA half a million dollars.

Admittedly, this is small change for one river crossing, but it’s holding up implementation at more crowded spots such as the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel and the Verrazano Bridge. “Until we have legislation in place, it really doesn’t make a lot of sense to do it out at the larger facilities,” Don Spero, MTA Bridge & Tunnel CFO, said to The Journal.

The MTA is working to change these arrangements, but Board members are getting restless. “It’s stupid that we’re not doing this,” Staten Island’s Allen Cappelli said. “To have to sit there because you’re using antiquated equipment is insulting.” The pilot meanwhile has been a marked success as 99 percent of cars now travel across the bridge at speeds of 30 mph or more.

Transit and the NYPD slowdown

As the NYPD rank-and-file enter their third week of their unorganized-but-somehow-coordinated enforcement slowdown, transit riders seem to be shouldering the effects of the precipitous decline of “Broken Windows”-style police work. Crime isn’t up underground; in fact, subway crime — as with all city crime — is at a low. But while cops aren’t eying law-abiding New Yorkers these days, they’re also not pursuing those breaking the rules.

Vivian Yee of The Times has this:

Below ground, the slowdown has been even more profound.

Police Commissioner William J. Bratton urges officers to target minor offenses that could be preludes to more serious crimes. Last week, however, besides the lax enforcement of turnstile-jumping, a highly visible emblem of urban disorder, officers made only one arrest in the subway system in the category of “peddler/panhandler”; none for unsafe riding (down from 68 for the same period last year); none for narcotics (down from 23); and one for a knife or other cutting instrument (down from 18).

Drivers think they’ve died and gone to heaven as well as they can now park with impunity. These numbers, and the relative lack of anarchism I’ve seen in New York City lately, raise questions of what exactly constitutes the appropriate level of police work, but that’s part of a larger dialogue. As temperatures drop into the single digits this week, crime is at a low anyway. I’ll keep an eye on this story as it relates to transit riders.

MTA kills GCT ‘Die-In’ protests

It is, apparently, against MTA rules — wherever they may be posted — to lie down in Grand Central, but for the past month, the MTA has not enforced this regulation. As protesters have staged nightly “Die-Ins” to voice their displeasure with the Eric Garner Grand Jury decision, the MTA has not made a move to clear out those who choose to lie down. Now, according to The Journal, the MTA will enforce their rules, and the Die-Ins must stop.

The MTA says they’ve reassessed this decision when protestors started placing placards on the ground, but the protestors aren’t convinced. One way or another, I’m surprised at this decision as it seems to be another First Amendment beehive into which the MTA is sticking its hand. I’m no expert on right-to-assembly jurisprudence, but the MTA has lost nearly every free speech case it has faced recently. We’ll see if this goes anyway. On Tuesday, the protesters were still in Grand Central but fewer opted to lie down.

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D in Bushwick January 7, 2015 - 1:20 am

Every station should always have at least one cop walking the beat.
Why not?

John January 7, 2015 - 8:54 am


Bolwerk January 7, 2015 - 9:43 am

There is no limit to that. However counterproductive the NYPD was before, it’s not like police had much to do before they realized they didn’t have to work to get a paycheck.

But then, why not deputize token booth clerks?

Ralfff January 9, 2015 - 8:57 pm

Oh lord. Thank goodness the glass works both ways. I’m picturing a standoff like the end of Tombstone, with a perpetually harried clerk drawing a chrome revolver on the next guy to cop an attitude.

“…and this time, it’s legal.” *BLAM*
*puts “CLOSED” sign in window*

“It appears my hypocrisy knows no bounds.”

Patrick O'Hara January 7, 2015 - 7:45 am

Here is where the no-lying on the floor rule for Metro-North is posted, from the New York State public authorities law. It says “No person in a terminal, station or train shall block free movement of another person or persons; lie on the floor, platforms, stairs or landings; or occupy more than one seat.” The LIRR has a similar rule, as does NYCT.

Amtrak has a more specific First Amendment Policy that applies to their stations, rights of way, and trains. It basically states that the “National Railroad Passenger Corporation (“Amtrak”) permits First Amendment Activity on property owned or controlled by Amtrak to the extent that those activities are not incompatible with Amtrak’s mission to safely operate a national passenger rail system, and to do so with optimum service to the public, as well as with the best economy of operation possible.” They also say that “No expressive or First Amendment activities may be conducted on Amtrak Property unless a permit has been obtained, as outlined below.”

Lying on the floor in GCT probably isn’t the worst thing in the world as the terminal is fiarly large and [relatively] lightly traveled. It seems like they want to quell the practice now before people decide it’s a good idea to start lying down on the floor in either New York Penn or Times Square during rush hour (not that anyone would really want to lay of the floor there), which could lead to big problems.

Nathanael January 9, 2015 - 9:20 am

Amtrak’s policy as stated isn’t enforceable: it’s specifically unconstitutional. Requiring a permit for “expressive activity” is “prior restraint” and as such is explicitly prohibited by a hell of a lot of court cases.

In practice, however, Amtrak has no problem with groups people wearing political T-shirts or black armbands or carrying small unobtrusive signs, and only asks for permits for *disruptive* activity.

Bob Sklar January 7, 2015 - 8:38 am

The MTA is failing to collect tolls from non-paying Connecticut customers due to “agreements”? Could this have something to do with a practice which was common during my childhood (ca. 1960), in which it was well-known that a New York driver caught speeding in Connecticut could have his New York driver’s license revoked? Supposedly this is no longer the case.


Duke January 7, 2015 - 9:21 pm

The DMVs of Connecticut and New York currently are not in communication with each other at all. If you get a ticket in one state with a license from the other, it doesn’t go on your record and you get no points.

The MTA is enforcing toll evasion through collections agencies and lawsuits, though, not the DMV. I would speculate that the problem here may be that some clause in the agreement that allows the MTA to operate Metro-North in CT stipulates that enforcement in Connecticut is CT’s jurisdiction and not the MTA’s. So CT could be going after their scofflaws except they’re not since they’re not losing any revenue by not doing so.

Meanwhile, as the article points out, CT drivers pay their bills at a higher rate than NY and NJ drivers and owe a relatively small amount of money compared to overall revenue.

So the bigger issue is that New York lacks an effective means to make people pay up. Other states with cashless tolls have laws that allow the DMV to suspend the registrations of drivers with delinquent tolls. New York does not, and the MTA (rightly so) wants this changed as well before they move forward with more cashless tolls.

Spuds January 7, 2015 - 11:15 pm

According to MAP 21, the present Transportation Act, all tolling agencies in the US have to be somehow compatible no matter the platform. At this time, states like Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts have enforcement reciprocity which allows enforcement between the agencies. Right now your EZ Pass will not work in Sun Pass land unless it is a state like North Carolina which supports both platforms. Supposedly this all has to be working by the summer of 2016.

Bolwerk January 7, 2015 - 9:40 am

The “theory” that made Bratton’s career is unraveling before his eyes.

Larry Littlefield January 7, 2015 - 10:00 am

The theory was allowing people to commit quality of life crimes increased even worse crimes. I guess you do not agree.

Do quality of life crimes reduce the quality of life? Should people be allowed to leave their garbage on the subway, spray graffiti?

I allowing farebeating the liberal equivalent of the 1990s Republican crackdown on the IRS, encouraging cheating on taxes?

And should people stupid enough to be responsible be forced to pay more and accept less to make up for all of this?

Bolwerk January 7, 2015 - 12:28 pm

I don’t agree with your characterization. I used the scare quotes because it’s commonly misunderstood, especially by its proponents, not because I “disagree.” A better description is that leaving disorder unchecked (predictor) causally leads to further disorder (criterion). I actually can buy there is a predictor-criterion relationship, but it’s not the big, overarching effect authoritarian politicians (a category that includes most liberals) think it is. I can even buy broken windows had a “good” effect in the early 1990s, but it warped into a perversion that allowed the police themselves to become the lawless thugs they were supposed to be protecting us from.

As for your other questions, you’re conflating crime and anti-social behavior, which is what the police probably regard as “disorder” (maybe James Q. Wilson, who originated the theory, would agree). Littering is rarely regarded as a crime. Graffiti usually is. The rubric of “QoL violations” is expansive, ranging from stuff that is enforced for good reason (farebeating/graffiti) to stuff that is pretty much ignored (noise violations, especially automotive ones) to stuff that is heavily policed and may be unfortunate but probably has little bearing on QoL (open containers, nonviolent drug use).

I rather doubt liberals have much to do with not enforcing farebeating, and I don’t think the GOP’s 1990s crackdown on the IRS did much to encourage tax cheating. But then, legal tax loopholes are probably much more damaging to society than illegal “cheating.”

Larry Littlefield January 7, 2015 - 1:00 pm

The bottom line is, the reason I want anti-social people from reducing the quality of life has nothing to do with James Q. It has to do with the quality of life.

By the way, the first crackdown was the pooper scooper law. I don’t know if you can remember what New York was like before that law. Basically “New York” was something you stepped in. All the time.

Bolwerk January 7, 2015 - 1:23 pm

Be that as it may, the connection between QoL problems and hard crime is tenuous at best – probably a good example of a slippery slope fallacy for an undergraduate Intro. to Logic class!

Hell, I wish they’d do more about QoL problems too. Car alarms, litter, and dog shit are all plagues here. But the guy who jumps a turnstile is little more likely to rape your grandmother than the guy who lets his dog shit on your stoop.

SEAN January 7, 2015 - 2:12 pm

In order for BW to work the police must be willing to enforce the law. It cant work if officers are playing games so they can make political points.

Spendmor Wastemor January 7, 2015 - 2:26 pm

Cops nationwide are being played and are making whatever gestures they can. They don’t understand the gears powering the mill but they do know they’re getting ground.
The end result of the anti-police drumbeat will be more abusive policing towards average people not less, and that is a result by design, not accident.

Bolwerl January 7, 2015 - 3:18 pm

They aren’t being played. They went too far too many times, and took to openly mocking and humiliating the people they’ve been harassing and abusing for decades.

You’re probably right though. Either republican institutions are strong enough to end this politically, or the police will escalate. They’ll probably find more people willing to fight back from now on too, so more cops are likely to die as senselessly as Eric Garner did.

johndmuller January 8, 2015 - 4:32 pm

I think that everyone is being played by this.

People in NY grow a thick skin or aren’t long for NY; sticks and stones, can break my bones, but words, … You can either take it with a smile or take it back to them; if you choose to dish it out, you have to be ready for either response.

In my mind, there has been a lot more “making something of it” than there has been stuff to make something out of. Both the mayor and the police could do with more turning of the other cheek.

On the other hand, if this is all politicking and pre contract union posturing then they all ought to be ashamed of themselves and turned out in favor of more responsible people.

Nathanael January 9, 2015 - 9:24 am

Patrick Lynch, the head of the biggest police union in NY, is quite deliberately causing trouble. He’s actually been involved in inciting riots by policemen before, and now he’s making frankly seditious statements, pretty much declaring war on his boss, the mayor.

Thank goodness that the illegal work slowdown which Lynch called for has… generally improved quality of life for New Yorkers by reducing police harassment. I don’t think that’s what he expected.

Bolwerk January 9, 2015 - 11:47 am

Is your thin so thick as to make you bulletproof?

This isn’t even a New York problem. It’s really a national problem, and it’s worse in Ferguson than it is here. Ferguson is quite literally occupied by its municipal government, with the militarized police openly abusing and harassing citizens as it seeks ways to extract rent out of them for existing.

New York pulls such antics less for economic gain, though that’s not entirely out of the picture either, and more out of a sincere belief that it really is doing something useful. De Blasio is actually stupid enough to think broken windows works, despite a front row seat to all the reasons it doesn’t, both personal and political. I’m not sure it’s even misguided political accommodation, since the police state people never thought he had enough police state cred and never will.

Spendmor Wastemor January 7, 2015 - 2:21 pm

Let the record show that Spendmor & Asociates heartily agree with the sentiments of Mr. Littlefield.

Now if I may excuse myself, I believe there is an intrusion on my lawn.

— srsly —

The items euphemistically cited as “quality of life” are far more than that. Live around adults urinating outside your front door, people doing “minor” vandalism or hanging out in a building entryway and you are in the midst of stuff getting real. If you have kids they could get involved, and you’ll have no clue until there past neck deep.

Those dear innocent kids hanging out in front of the building are conducting business, and the no plates no lights no insurance motorbikes are used both to test a neighborhood and as a social network for aspiring criminals and for dealers to get around without being traced. They also test and confirm that NYPD has a no-chase policy for illegal motorbikes, knowledge that becomes useful at times.

Billy G January 7, 2015 - 10:22 am

No such luck, I saw a “police” pickup truck collecting non-plated motorscooters on 2nd street on the way in. It seems that picking up scooters parked on the sidewalk is considered to be “necessary” today.

tacony January 7, 2015 - 1:13 pm

This police “slowdown” doesn’t seem to be stopping trains I’m on from being delayed due to “police activity”…

Spendmor Wastemor January 7, 2015 - 2:29 pm

I believe those “police activities” are MTA’s euphemism for “someone was run over by a train”. It’s something they don’t like to publicize.

BrooklynBus January 7, 2015 - 5:40 pm

What do you mean that drivers can now park anywhere they want with impunity. The vast majority of summonses are given out by traffic enforcement agents, not police officers. As far as I know there is no slowdown by enforcement agents. I really doubt that the slow down has increased illegal parking, since your chances are still quite high of receiving a summons for it.

Woody January 8, 2015 - 6:48 pm

“One wrinkle in the work slowdown: Parking tickets are most often issued by Traffic Enforcement Agents, not patrol officers. Although they are a unit of the NYPD, TEAs are unarmed and represented by CWA Local 1182, the same union that represents sanitation workers, not by the unions for patrol officers, detectives, or captains. Nevertheless, TEAs are slowing down their work, too: The number of parking tickets last week dropped 93 percent compared to the year before.”


Woody January 7, 2015 - 9:33 pm

Quality of life “crimes” are committed by all races and classes.
But the minorities and the poor pay the price of enforcement
because the cops prefer to arrest blacks and Hispanics. Srsly.
How many upscale vehicles get ticketed for blaring alarms?
Close to none. Hanging out in an entryway is what kids do,
and have always done in NYC. But if you’re black, you could
get stopped and frisked just for sitting on your stoop.

The black poor, of course, have just as much right to sleep under
the bridge as the rich white people. But rich white people have
the money to drink indoors in bars. If you can only afford to buy
a can of beer at the corner bodega, you could be arrested if you
try to enjoy it in a park or on a street corner.

As for public urination, I’m so old I remember when subway
toilets were usually open, and park tea rooms as well. Closed,
in my opinion, to prevent guys from admiring each other’s dicks,
because that could lead to something terrible. Anyway, nowadays,
the next guy you see taking a whiz on your street could be me!
I just can’t hold it in like I could 50 years ago.

The essential problem with enforcing petty regulations and laws
regarding “quality of life” infractions is that the police have such
complete discretion in who get arrested.

No surprise that in our country, the cops arrest young blacks.
That’s what the precinct commander was recorded as telling
his guys: “Arrest young black men, 14 to 40.” So Rikers Island
is full of young men who were busted for having a joint.

Wonder why young black men 14 to 40 so often have anti-social
attitudes? Wonder how they feel about being treated by the cops
the way that they are?

And the whole fake War on Drugs, so enthusiastically enforced
by the NYPD. Nevermind what is said by politicians. Look at their
actions and the results. The result of the War on Drugs is massive
numbers of young blacks and browns in jail, hundreds of thousands,
while whites who use drugs in larger numbers than blacks get a pass.
The point of the drug laws is segregation by incarceration.

Spendmor Wastemor January 8, 2015 - 12:35 am

” Hanging out in an entryway is what kids do, and have always done in NYC. ”

Hanging out, and.
In my former building, the fine folks hanging out were
of various skin shades, as you seem to think that matters
of about the same moral shade, which I think matters.

They were blasting music at night and urinating all over the concrete courtyard. (No use putting planters out, obviously). They’d also break the front lobby door lock every time it was fixed, the landlord couldn’t keep up.
None of this bothered me, as I lived in the back and kept up a friendly familiarity with the crew. Some of were suspicious that I never bought their retail products, but I must have deflected that somehow.

It was a huge issue for my neighbor with a job and a teenage boy who lived in the front. She couldn’t open windows during the summer due to the stink of urine. The windows could not block the noise of course, which interfered with sleep. She needed to be up without fail to see the boy off to school, then hop to work.
She also needed to hang over the boy constantly, to keep him from being either recruited or otherwise used, he was unsophisticated for his age.

One of the ringleaders grew up in the building. His mother was a schoolteacher who, seeing what went on in pubilc school, sent her two sons to private. One went on to college, the other chose the street lifestyle and seemed angry nearly every time I met him.

This is all the racist cop’s fault, right?

Leftist judges and various layers of hands-off that let this stuff continue is what keeps beckoning another generation into the underworld lifestyle. Let criminals show the cash cars and women and whaddya know, teens will think “I wanna be a winner like that.” Some at least.

Tower18 January 8, 2015 - 10:11 am

I don’t agree that leftist judges are responsible, as incarceration rates for offenses minor and severe are through the roof. We can’t imprison our way out of this. But your last sentence does contain a nugget of truth, buried as it may be.

The problem is that a life of illicit activity appears more attractive and prosperous than a normal life, within these communities. That’s not because a life of illicit activity is all that attractive. It’s because the non-illicit opportunities, or the appearance of them, are so unattractive.

Crime and it’s proceeds will always be glamorous to a certain set, but when there doesn’t appear to be any way to get through life on the straight and narrow, one can arrive at the fork in the road: both roads lead to a life that is “nasty, brutish, and short” as Hobbes said, but only one of them is “poor” also.

Nathanael January 9, 2015 - 9:27 am

Right-wing judges, DAs, and police are actually the problem. Right-wing authoritarians who believe that their word should be law — rather than the actual *law* being law.

Once you get this sort of arbitrary and capricious abuse committed by the people in power, the citizens stop respecting the authorities (because the authorities are not respectable!). They stop respecting the laws (because law enforcement doesn’t respect the laws either!)

And that makes it very, very hard to actual enforce actual sensible laws.

If the police won’t obey the laws, why should anyone else?

(I’m basically agreeing with you.)

Bolwerk January 9, 2015 - 11:35 am

You’d think, if authoritarian policies worked to keep crime down, less authoritarian countries would have higher crime. At least with the stuff where it’s easy to make comparisons (violence), America fares pretty badly compared to pretty much all its less authoritarian peer countries.

And for all the NYPD’s fuckityness, NYC/NYS are probably still less authoritarian than peer cities/states (population, economic power) that have higher crime. Maybe less authoritarianism –> less crime?

Bolwerk January 9, 2015 - 11:20 am

The Scarface sort of charismatic criminal sociopath is a rare one, and that so many people imagine that is what street-level “criminals” are aspiring to just says more about them than the problem.

spendmor is probably conflating street-level crime and homelessness/mental health issues (not to mention some thoroughly bizarre fantasies about partisan politics). Police are rather ill-equipped to deal with the former, except to arrest them after they did something, and the latter are better dealt with through public health initiatives.

Pissing in public is gross, but it’s not exactly indicative of hard crime.

Woody January 8, 2015 - 6:37 pm

You so silly. You probably believe that the War on Drugs is fair, colorblind, and has no bad consequences. In fact, the laws against drugs create profit opportunities which attract certain people and induce undesirable behavior. Eliminate those laws: eliminate those profits, no turf to protect, no bloody rivalries, no easy income by avoiding ordinary work (if any is available, as Tower18 points out).

Or continue the War on Drugs because you believe what the propagandists say, and you don’t like the drug users and sellers in your area. Well, don’t look at what the laws actually do.

They say the laws prevent drug use and sales, but you report that you have seen with your own eyes that’s not true.

What the War on Drugs has done, in fact, its great success for most of those who continue to favor it, is to put hundreds of thousands of young black and brown people in jail. That’s the whole point of it.

The War on Drugs isn’t a 50-year failed policy, like the embargo on Cuba. It’s been a smashing success in giving us segregation by incarceration.

Nathanael January 9, 2015 - 9:28 am

The War on Drugs is supported strongly by drug cartels. Keep the product illegal, and it becomes more profitable. Many DEA officials have been well documented to be involved in drug dealing, themselves — it’s such a profitable opportunity.

johndmuller January 9, 2015 - 7:04 pm

The country is going both ways at once about this sort of thing. On the one hand, more and more states are softening or eliminating laws on marajuana; on the other hand, smoking and various foods and beverages are being more heavily regulated.

During prohibition, there apparently was plenty of illicit drinking, plus smuggling and violence and lots of government effort to enforce the ban. On the surface, it sounds pretty much the same as what we have going on with drugs, but I don’t know how bad it was then for the average person (or how good it might have been either with all the drunks more or less out of sight). Of course, the drugs are not all the same deal, so unless we legalize everything, there could still be enough stuff that is contraband to keep the bad times rolling.

Interesting to wonder what would happen with tho DEA and the various law enforcement agencies and people whose jobs depend on drugs. Sad and dangerous as it is, this trade is still a way for some people to improve their lot, what about them?

Bolwerk January 10, 2015 - 9:42 am

You think regulating the portion size of food/beverages and banning indoor smoking in restaurants is the same thing as drug-inspired hysteria leading to this or this?

Nathanael January 10, 2015 - 7:15 pm

Tax-and-regulate works. Outright bans do not work at all.

There actually is a happy middle ground between TV advertisements pushing heroin for 2-year-olds and SWAT teams killing people because they suspect a gram of marijuana might have been in the house 10 years ago.

Peter Laws January 10, 2015 - 8:02 pm

Whatever happened to the Brownies? I thought they did the parking enforcement. You know, to allow the NYPD to concentrate on the Important Calls.

As for the lack of anarchy, while I don’t really sympathize with the PBA on this, I think you really have to give it a month or three for the ne’er-do-wells to get used to the idea that no cops will see what they’re doing … unless one happens to be on his/her way to an Important Call.


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