Mayoral Contenders Talk Transit, Part 3: John Liu

Comptroller John Liu. Photo: DelMundo for Daily News

Election Day is more than a year away, but the race to become the next mayor of New York City is well-underway. In the last two issues of its magazine, Reclaim, Transportation Alternatives has been asking the would-be mayors for their thoughts on transit (in the more recent interviews, one question about cycling was added). So far, TA has received responses from all of the major candidates except 2009 Democratic nominee Bill Thompson.

All this week, Streetsblog will be re-printing the candidates’ responses. Here are the answers TA received from Comptroller John Liu.

Q: What role does a well-funded public transit system play in New York City’s economic growth?

A: Public transit is paramount to New York City’s economy. More than half of NYC’s commuters rely on our network of subways, trains, buses and ferries to get to work (subways are the mode of choice for more than a third of commuters to NYC). New York City’s transit, especially its subways are a defining characteristic of our city and transit is an efficient use of resources – economically and environmentally. Transit makes our dense business districts and neighborhoods possible and adds to the diversity and vibrancy of the city.

New York City’s population is growing and along with it ridership levels on our transit systems. In fact, MTA’s average weekday ridership in 2011 was the highest since 1951. Growing ridership on our transit system requires that we ensure adequate resources to keep up with that demand. Time lost in congestion is counter-productive for our economy, but is also frustrating to commuters and residents. It is essential that we ensure that transit is funded, and managed in a way that keeps the city and its economy moving.

Q: What would you do as mayor to address transit deserts, which are locations where riders are faced with hour-plus commutes, multiple transfers or multi-fare rides?

A: The next Mayor, whoever that may be, will need to address this issue. Last year, the Center for an Urban Future released a report that demonstrated that a large part of the city’s job growth and population gains have occurred outside of Manhattan. This de-centralized growth pattern has translated into longer commutes for low-income workers. Around the world, and recently in NYC, transit authorities have been using buses as a cost-effective way to close gaps in transit service. Expanding Select Bus Service where appropriate and bringing additional bus service to growing job and population centers can be an effective way to address transit deserts.

Q: If transit fares go up on 1/1/13, it will be the fifth fare hike since 2008. Do you think transit riders are paying their fair share, and is it time for elected officials to seriously consider new sources of revenue for public transit?

Transit riders are paying more than their fair share. As you mention, there have been four fare hikes since 2008, there will be one in 2013 and another in 2015. Of course, these fare-hikes hurt our low-income commuters the most.

While it is good for transit riders that Governor Cuomo’s budget funded the next three years of the MTA capital budget, it is largely funded through debt. This exacerbates debt service payments, the fastest growing piece of the MTA budget. Ensuring adequate funding for our transit system will be a key issue going forward. With that said, it is also essential to ensure that the MTA is managed in a cost-effective manner.

Q: With the nation’s largest bike share program scheduled to open in the city this summer, can you give us your thoughts on bicycling as part of NYC’s larger transportation network?

A: I myself have biked from Queens to City Hall, and my main concern remains safety. It will be necessary to ensure that tourists and locals alike understand the rules of the road and bicycle responsibly.