Home MTA Politics On standing up for transportation more than just once

On standing up for transportation more than just once

by Benjamin Kabak

‘So you’re saying you ride this thing every day twice a day and it’s all underground?’ (Photo by Rob Bennett/Mayoral Photography Office.)

Thursday morning was a big one for Mayor Bill de Blasio. He had his security detail drive him from Gracie Mansion all the way back to the Y on 9th St. near 6th Ave. in Park Slope because, apparently, the Mayor of New York City can’t find a gym on the Upper East Side. Then, he took the subway for 20 minutes from 4th Ave. and 9th St. all the way to City Hall as a way to put public pressure on Congress to pass a comprehensive federal transportation bill. It reeked of inauthenticity while drawing apathy and derision from New Yorkers and exposes a big divide between the Mayor’s words and his actions.

On its own, APTA’s #StandUp4Transportation day was a worthwhile initiative. Federal funds for transit initiatives serve a wide range of public good in the United States (and help sustain job growth as well), and it’s not a sure thing that the current Congress is going to pass a bill that will encourage and support local transit investment. To hear from local politicians and constituents will only help move Congress in the right direction.

But for de Blasio, the mayor of the city with the largest transit network and greatest use of transit in the nation, the approach was all wrong. Setting aside the fact that the mayor drives 10 miles to his gym, he came across as far too excited about a subway ride that’s routine for millions. He tweeted about it last night, Vined it this morning, and posed with Chuck Schumer a little later. It was a Big Day, drawing Times headlines, as the two rode the R train. (Meanwhile, millions of us take the train twice a day to and from work, and we all have to Stand Up 4 Transportation because the MTA can’t run enough trains to meet demand and allow for some available seats during rush hour. But I digress.)

In addition to his super exciting ride on the Sub-way, de Blasio penned a piece in amNew York yesterday. Again, it’s on the right track, but there’s a big “but” and I’ll get to that shortly. In urging Congress to act, he said, “We are making it clear that failure to invest in our subways, buses, roads and bridges is nothing less than failure to invest in our country’s future…As every commuter knows, if you are standing still, you are falling behind — and in terms of maintaining and building our transportation infrastructure, we are standing still… Without a strong federal partner, maintaining existing infrastructure and preparing for the future will be virtually impossible.”

The mayor isn’t wrong with his words, but he’s wrong with his actions. His current budget so far commits a $40 million a year to the MTA’s $6 billion per year capital plan — down from $100 million under Bloomberg. The Mayor claims he will up that amount when the budget is finalized and that $40 million is just a placeholder. Still, the city’s contributions are laughably low, and even at $100 million, the contributions wouldn’t nearly sufficient. As a recent IBO study found, had city contributions kept pace with inflation over the past 33 years, NYC would be contributing $363 million to the MTA’s capital budget — a still low amount but moving in the right direction.

Meanwhile, on the operations side, the picture is equally dismaying. The Student MetroCards, for example, run the MTA over $240 million a year. They are a way for the city to foist its obligations to provide transportation for its public school students onto the backs of the MTA and its riders, and even after a massive fight five years ago, the city’s contributions are still only $45 million — the same they’ve been since the late 1990s. Simply put, de Blasio’s New York isn’t doing its job funding transit operations or transit’s capital plans.

Ultimately, the problem with Thursday’s stunt is how it fooled no one. It came across as inauthentic because it was. De Blasio didn’t take the 4 train back uptown to Gracie Mansion, and come next week, he’ll drive back to the Park Slope Y for his daily workouts. In a city that relies so heavily on its subways to remain viable and prosperous, standing up for transit starts at home and shouldn’t just be a one-time event when the cameras are rolling. That, though, is what it’s become for de Blasio, Schumer and countless other New York politicians. At least they took the train yesterday — which is more than anyone can say for our governor.

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Bolwerk April 10, 2015 - 12:42 am

It’d be nice to see transit as an issue in elections.

D in Bushwick April 10, 2015 - 10:52 am

Thanks, we needed a laugh…

Brooklynite April 10, 2015 - 6:12 pm

Bloomberg promised the F express when he was running for his third term. That clearly worked out!

John-2 April 10, 2015 - 2:19 am

Regular riders don’t get ‘excited’ about being on the R train. ‘Agitated’ about being on the R train, yes, but not ‘excited’. At least de Blasio didn’t call the subway the metro.

SEAN April 10, 2015 - 8:25 am

It’s things like this that show just how out of touch the elitests & their hand maidens are from the rest of us. What would NYC be without it’s transit network? Maybe Houston? Perhaps that’s why Houston gets praised as a symbol of freedom by neoliberals – a city where a car is almost required to survive.

al April 10, 2015 - 11:16 am

Hmm, autocentric large harbor city with geographic barriers. Los Angeles
Remember the LA air pollution. That would had been over Long Island.

AG April 10, 2015 - 5:02 pm

Well yeah… But no… Long Island is flat – and as an island gets plenty of air movement. The main reason LA has such bad air is because it is hemmed in by mountains. Their dirty air actually preceded cars – or even the city of LA… The native Americans had their own term for the gloomy air.. When natural fires occurred the dirty air would just “sit” with nowhere to go.
If NYC was hemmed in by mountains – even with so much heavy transit – the air would be just as dirty… (Maybe even dirtier since we use so much heating oil -though by law the dirtiest have to be eradicated in the next few years). Makes me glad I have to travel a good 30-40 miles to go hiking.

Eric April 11, 2015 - 9:04 pm

Actually, Native Americans loved to burn down the countryside, so many of those fires probably weren’t natural.


AG April 11, 2015 - 10:59 pm

“Loved to burn down the countryside”? Fire has been used in controlled manner by all cultures through all time… Even up to now. Go up to New England and see what they do with cranberry patches… Fire is naturally occurring – and necessary.. In fact – part of the reason we see those huge wildfires burning is because we unnaturally suppress fires because people want to build houses in the forest. Eventually forests need to have some burn. Stop it and eventually you get a bigger blaze than normal.
My point about the natural fires in what is now LA – is that it is a semi-arid place. Fires naturally occur more in dry places.

JOB April 10, 2015 - 8:35 am

Does he really go to a gym in Brooklyn and live on the UES? Geeeez. The authentic R train experience for me involves wanting to take the R train to Elmhurst from Astoria, only to find out they are doing some sort of maintenance so that station isn’t running east-bound. So then I have to take the R train into Manhattan 59th/Lex and then catch it back in the other direction across the platform to return into Queens. Then I walk out of the prison-like Elmhurst station (that would be the one that is bizarrely separated by chain-link fences everywhere) and walk up to the street through the stair passageways that smell like they are power-washed each night with 10 day old urine. Anyway, I can’t really complain b/c it’s not my regular line and shame on me for not checking ahead each and every time I want to use public transportation. When was the last time this city had a mayor that truly understood how important proper mass transit is to this city/region?

Yes, it’s my fault because I don’t always check the status, bu

al April 10, 2015 - 11:17 am

He might be using that as a crutch to get back to his old stomping grounds.

LLQBTT April 10, 2015 - 5:24 pm

I’m sure that de Blasio’s and The Senator’s team ensured that there were no planned service diversions during their photo op. At least Mayor Mike took the 6 regularly.

The term is ‘limousine liberal’ I believe. Classic Park Slope elite.

Brooklynite April 10, 2015 - 6:14 pm

Would have been perfect if there had been some mechanical problem and all R trains went over the bridge just as they were riding. When Blasio would ask why, the answer would be “because you don’t provide enough funding.”

adirondacker12800 April 10, 2015 - 6:16 pm

Who pay extra to live in Park Slope so that they can walk to the subway…

AG April 11, 2015 - 9:19 am

“limousine liberal”…. Ah yes – perfectly encapsulated in the old Burt Lancaster film – “The Young Savages”. East Harlem was much more rundown back then… Same issues though.

BrooklynBus April 10, 2015 - 8:41 am

Few realize that the MTA’s official agreement with the city when the senior half fare and student reduced fares were instituted were that the City would fully reimburse the MTA for the full fare the MTA would have received.

And that amount still does not include all the money the MTA lays out to provide supplementary school bus service, although technically this buses are open to all riders since the buses are not painted yellow. In other cities, the city provides this service through yellow school buses, and if the MTA did not provide this service, the city would have to. Not to mention that without providing extra service for school students, its regular customers would not be able to board. And the amount of extra school service is significant. At Kingsborough Community College alone, the MTA provides twelve extra buses at 3PM alone as well as extra buses all day long from 8 AM until 7 PM on school days. None of this service is reimbursed by the city and is still insufficient because the college also pays for six school buses all day long to supplement the MTA service.

It appears the city contribution needs to be a billion dollars or more, not $40 million for the city to live up to its agreement with the MTA.

Larry Littlefield April 10, 2015 - 9:19 am

The MTA needs at least another $1 billion per year for the MTA capital plan, over and above the MoveNY plan. Assuming the price contractors charge (not the work they do) can be cut by $1 billion per year.

The way to do that, as I’ve noted, is for the city to take over the buses and paratransit, and for the MTA payroll tax to be distributed to the city and the counties where it is paid. Fares for mixed-trips would be almost entirely credited to the subway, which would seek to cover most of its costs (including car purchases but excluding station and infrastructure maintenance and replacement).

This would be a net cost of about $800 million to the city, last data I looked at. And it would make this issue with regard to student transportation moot.

adirondacker12800 April 10, 2015 - 2:30 pm

Why shouldn’t the city provide transportation for students? It provides transportation for employers. And retailers. And sports stadiums. And museums. And hospitals. And…

BrooklynBus April 13, 2015 - 10:43 am

Because we already have a fairly dense transportation network, unlike many medium sized cities, the MTA can provide student services much more efficiently than the city could via a separate network. Not to mention the extra costs involved, thing of thousands of extra school buses roaming the street. The entire city would look like Borough Park in Brooklyn where there are dozens of parochal schools. At 3 PM, it is not unusual to look all around you and count as many as 14 school buses at dismissal time. But that doesn’t mean that the MTA should shoulder that burden by themselves.

And what do you mean that the city provides transportation for employers, retailers, sports stadiums, museums hospitals, etc? Those services are provided by the MTA (state) not by the city.

AG April 10, 2015 - 5:07 pm

Well that may be too high…. But it certainly should be more. I think it should be a portion of the budget – since transit is the lifeblood of the city. If you put it at 1% of the budget – that’s around $700 million. If there is a recession and the budget drops – then you can ease it.. Economy keeps improving and budget expands – more money for MTA. As should be well known – when the city’s economy improves that means more transit riders.

eo April 10, 2015 - 8:53 am

You want someone who cares about transit? Then elect someone who actually took transit every day before running for elected office. The current generation of politicians come from a class that never took transit for regular commute. They only took it on occasion for the one time they had to go a Broadway show or something like that. For them riding transit is like the one special time when you do something that the masses do all the time. They feel and behave the same way as a 6-year old boy taking the train for the first time to go see where his mom/dad works.

If the mayor cared about transit he would be taking it every day in spite of the objections of his security guards and the inconvenience that that may cause to a few riders. That is the way to show commitment to transit (and by ponying up the cash), not by tweeting like an adolescent “Look at me! I am on a subway train!”.

Once again, you want someone who cares about transit? Elect someone who used transit for at least 10 years before becoming a politician. Cuomo, Cristie and De Blasio never commuted by transit and clearly show indifference to it. Corzine and Bloomberg did so they were much better (far from perfect, but Corzine did what he needed to do for the ARC and Bloomberg found way to pay for the 7 line extension).

Larry Littlefield April 10, 2015 - 9:14 am

“The current generation of politicians come from a class that never took transit for regular commute.”

Right. The executive/financial class and the political/union class don’t take transit or ride bikes. The serfs do.


It’s pretty much never trust anyone who was over 18 but under 35 at the moment when someone said never trust anyone over 35. Although DeBlasio, like Obama, is younger and my contemporary. If he never took the subway regularly, it would be a big surprise.

APH April 10, 2015 - 11:22 am

You’re preaching to the choir – I will vote for the Russianoff/Kabak ticket next time.

Joe Fubeetz April 10, 2015 - 9:21 am

The city is also supposed to cover the operating deficit of Staten Island Railway.

Jim D April 10, 2015 - 9:35 am

I’m surprised Chuckie doesn’t have his ever-present podium with him on the train.

mark April 10, 2015 - 10:41 am

Brilliant photo caption…

Rob April 10, 2015 - 4:43 pm

Re ‘a bill that will encourage and support local transit investment.’ Where do you propose congress get that money? Borrow more from the chinese? Raise taxes? Have other federal spending in mind to cut?

What if congress said, ‘implement opto and other efficiencies, and then will consider it’. What would you think of that?

Chris C April 11, 2015 - 8:27 am

When Ken Livingstone was Mayor of London he used the tube to get to City Hall every day and used public transport to get to meetings and events.

He didn’t have a police escort or dozens of aides with him either.

The fact that when the Mayor of NYC uses the subway is ‘news’ shows just how isolated the position is from day to day reality.

Subway Express April 14, 2015 - 1:09 pm

we all have to Stand Up 4 Transportation because the MTA can’t run enough trains to meet demand and allow for some available seats during rush hour.

Are you serious? I’m sure you know better than that.

JJ April 14, 2015 - 3:45 pm Reply

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