Bloomberg 2009 Unveils a Transit Platform, But No Way to Pay for It

Michael Bloomberg's re-election campaign released a 33-point plan for transit today [PDF]. This being a campaign plank, the mayor's transit agenda is full of ideas that few will oppose: lower fares, better service, and more efficient management. While there are some smart ideas on the list, the mayor has limited power to deliver on much of what he's promising.

The proposal getting the most ink is his call for free crosstown bus service, which might be doable. Buses lose a lot of time as each passenger swipes a MetroCard. Eliminating the fare on poky crosstown routes could speed service to such a degree that some of the lost revenue would be recouped by running fewer buses.

Here are more bullet points from Bloomberg's campaign site:

  • Create new commuter van service to provide cost-effective mass transportation service to underserved neighborhoods.
  • Expand CityTicket program to all LIRR and Metro North stations at all times so Bronx and Queens riders pay reduced fares.
  • Install countdown clocks on subway routes to provide riders with time notifications.
  • Pilot light rail or street car services in North Brooklyn and Western Queens waterfront neighborhoods.
  • Expand Bus Rapid Transit to reduce travel times on bus routes in congested areas in all five boroughs.
  • Expand ferry service along the East River.

It's great to see BRT in the mayor's platform (and also a reminder of how long it's taken to deliver on the promise of East Side BRT he made all the way back during his first campaign). Still, some of these ideas are duds. Expanding ferry services, for instance, won't come cheap. Last year, the annual subsidy to run citywide ferry service was pegged at $100 million, and that doesn't include the cost of expensive capital improvements like building docks.

Other ideas, like expanding the CityTicket discount (which will also cost money), are simply tough for the mayor to control, since his influence over the MTA doesn't extend far beyond the bully pulpit.

Congestion pricing -- and the revenue it would generate -- is still the 800-pound gorilla in the room. Bloomberg's platform contains several cost saving recommendations, but no mention of new revenue streams. So, while the thought of investing in light rail for northern Brooklyn and western Queens may send thrills down many a spine -- mine included -- it's tough to take seriously given the current financial state of the MTA and the city.