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Prendergast’s Objections to Toll Reform Don’t Make Any Sense

On WNYC’s Brian Lehrer Show this morning, MTA Chairman and CEO Tom Prendergast joined his boss Andrew Cuomo in dumping cold water on the Move NY toll reform plan as a way to fund the transit authority’s capital program. Trouble is, his critiques don’t make much sense.

Photo: Marc A. Hermann for MTA/Flickr

Toll reform? Nope and no way, say Cuomo and Prendergast. Photo: Marc A. Hermann for MTA/Flickr

Lehrer played a clip of Cuomo arguing against toll reform on the radio yesterday, then asked Prendergast what he thought of the idea. The MTA chief said he isn’t being dismissive of the plan and that he’s not opposed to it. He then ticked off what, in his view, are a bunch of reasons to dismiss the plan and oppose it.

First, Prendergast said that Move NY “leaves some bridges free.” Exactly what he’s referring to here is a mystery. Maybe Prendergast is concerned that the plan doesn’t put tolls on the Harlem River bridges. He never explains. “I’m not saying this is my position,” he said, “but there some local elected leaders that are concerned [that] some bridges are left free.”

Then, the MTA head said these mysterious free bridges would lead to toll shopping. “I’m not so sure it accurately predicts what driver behavior will be,” he said of Move NY. “I’ve been other places where people drive a long way out of their way to avoid paying a toll.”

Again, it’s not clear what Prendergast is talking about here. The most fundamental component of Move NY is a consistent toll for driving into the central business district, thereby eliminating the incentive to shop for a free bridge and clog up local streets.

Prendergast was also concerned that Move NY would not provide enough revenue to maintain the existing East River bridges — a cost that’s already paid for in the city’s capital budget.

But Prendergast’s objections don’t stop at the bridges. “There’s also some concerns about what will happen with the 60th Street cordon,” he said, without explaining the problem. “I’ll let others speak to the political process.”

Prendergast was also concerned that toll reform wouldn’t start generating revenue soon enough. “To implement this and see your first dollar of revenue, you measure it in years, not months. You see it in three or four years,” he said. “Let’s not count this capital program dependent on that process.”

Even if it took four years to implement — which Move NY says is unlikely — a portion of the toll revenue could back bonds, which would provide cash for the capital plan more quickly than a purely pay-as-you-go program.

These answers are unlikely to sway the Cuomo administration. Apparently, the governor and his MTA are just not interested in reforming the city’s broken toll system to raise revenue for transit.

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Here Are Six Times the MTA Was a State Entity Under Cuomo’s Control

It’s his authority. Image: NYGovCuomo/YouTube

Yesterday on WCNY’s “Capitol Pressroom,” Susan Arbetter hosted Governor Andrew Cuomo for a discussion of the MTA capital program. Lately, the governor has been pushing City Hall to fund a greater share of the authority’s investment plan. Arbetter, pressing the governor, asked a simple question: “Isn’t the MTA a state entity?”

“It’s not, actually,” Cuomo replied. “It [covers] a metropolitan downstate region.”

The answer, of course, is nonsense. The MTA’s own list of board members reminds the public that “all board members are appointed by the governor, some on the recommendation of city and county officials.” The chair of the authority serves at the governor’s behest. The MTA is chartered by the state, and taxes levied by the state help fund more than a third of its operating budget.

The governor controls more than just board appointments. At the MTA, the governor calls the shots. Perhaps these recent events will remind Cuomo that the MTA is a state entity under his control:

  1. When storms threaten the region, the governor is the one who shuts down the entire transit system.
  2. He smiled for the cameras and brokered a labor deal between Transport Workers Union Local 100 and the MTA.
  3. Early in his first term, he cut the Payroll Mobility Tax, one of the authority’s major sources of funding.
  4. Last year, he cut tolls for Staten Island motorists in an election-year ploy, then stuck the MTA with half of the bill.
  5. His budgets regularly include diversions of MTA operating funds to cover expenses in the state’s budget.
  6. Ten days ago, his own budget office directed the MTA to trim the size of its capital plan, which it did [PDF].

The list goes on. While it’s nice to see Cuomo committing to fully funding the (slightly reduced) capital program, it’s hard to take his latest comments seriously until he acknowledges the need for a new source of revenue. Generating billions of dollars over five years is no simple task.

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Cuomo to NYC: Eat My Dust, Plebes

Governor Andrew Cuomo says it’s up to New York City to fund his MTA — and indicated the city will have to do it without the funding mechanism that makes the most sense: the Move NY toll reform plan.

Even after coming up with an additional billion dollars or so, the MTA is still looking at a gap of close to $14 billion in the five-year capital program. If nothing is done to close the gap, New Yorkers can expect to pay higher fares as subways get more crowded and service interruptions become more frequent.

The MTA is a state agency controlled by Governor Cuomo. But Cuomo and state lawmakers failed to address MTA funding during this year’s legislative session. On Wednesday Cuomo said the city is on its own.

“The way you fill a gap is by providing resources to fill the gap,” Cuomo helpfully explained. “And that’s what the MTA has been asking the city. Can they help close the gap?”

On Tuesday, the de Blasio administration signaled that it is at least interested in Move NY, which would raise billions for transit while making bridge tolls more rational and reducing traffic in the Manhattan core.

But City Hall can’t make that happen on its own. Cuomo is the one official in New York who could put toll reform front and center. Nevertheless, on the issue of maintaining the transit system that keeps New York City alive, the governor characterized himself as a spectator.

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Anthony Shorris: City Hall Open to Funding Transit Via Toll Reform

After an Albany legislative session that came and went without any serious effort from Governor Cuomo to address the $14 billion shortfall in the MTA’s next five-year capital program, there are faint stirrings of action.

First Deputy Mayor Anthony Shorris

Most intriguing: Yesterday, First Deputy Mayor Anthony Shorris sent a letter to MTA Chairman and CEO Tom Prendergast outlining the city’s interest in a number of possible funding solutions, including the Move NY toll reform plan [PDF].

Without additional funding, the MTA capital plan — which Cuomo has called “bloated” — will continue to saddle straphangers with excessive debt and bigger fare hikes in the future. Significant investments to increase systemwide capacity could be trimmed, like the MTA’s effort to modernize its ancient signals. With subways getting more crowded and delays becoming more common, transit riders face the prospect of higher prices for worse service if nothing is done.

Previously, the de Blasio administration had sidestepped any discussion of Move NY. In April, Shorris told reporters that he hadn’t actually read the details of the proposal. Recently, the administration has faced some criticism for its silence on toll reform while it cites Manhattan congestion as a reason to limit the growth of Uber and other car services.

Cuomo controls the MTA and is the one elected official with the power to make toll reform a live issue. Previously he has dismissed toll reform as a non-starter, so it’s not surprising de Blasio hasn’t jumped to make the first move. With this letter, the administration is at least keeping the option of Move NY on the table if the governor comes around on it.

Now that City Hall has cracked open the door to toll reform ever so slightly, is there any sign that Cuomo will show some leadership on this issue?

In response to Shorris’s letter, the MTA would only discuss the governor’s involvement in the vaguest terms. “The MTA has been working closely with Governor Cuomo’s office on a plan to meet the essential capital needs of a system that is critical to the City’s daily life and economic strength of the region,” said MTA spokesperson Adam Lisberg.

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DOT and MTA Launch M86 Select Bus Service

Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg and other officials at today’s M86 Select Bus Service launch on the Upper West Side. Photo: Ken Coughlin

Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg and other officials at today’s M86 Select Bus Service launch on the Upper West Side. Photo: Ken Coughlin

Electeds and other city officials today launched M86 Select Bus Service, which should reduce travel times for thousands of New Yorkers.

With 25,000 riders a day, the crosstown M86 carries more passengers per mile than any other New York City bus route. DOT first identified the line as an SBS candidate in 2009.

Unlike other Select Bus Service lines, the M86 will not have designated bus lanes. But it does have off-board fare collection and all-door boarding, which are key to keeping buses moving.

M86 SBS buses will have flashing blue destination signs so riders can distinguish them from local buses. Bus bulbs, likely to be added later, are also part of the plan.

DOT estimates the new service will speed M86 commute times by around 20 percent.

The de Blasio administration has committed to bringing 13 new Select Bus Service routes online by the end of 2017.

Photo: DOT

Photo: DOT

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Eyes on the Street: Red Paint for “Queue-Jump” Bus Lanes on the M86

A new bus lane next to the right-turn lane keeps buses from getting stuck at the back of the line as they exit the 86th Street Transverse at Fifth Avenue. Photo: Stephen Miller

A “queue-jump” bus lane next to the right-turn lane keeps buses from getting stuck at the back of the line as they exit the 86th Street Transverse at Fifth Avenue. Photo: Stephen Miller

Select Bus Service on 86th Street in Manhattan won’t be getting full bus-only lanes, but riders will benefit from short bus lanes at busy intersections. DOT has added two “queue-jump” lanes where 86th Street and 84th Street meet Fifth Avenue, to keep buses from getting stuck behind traffic waiting at lights.

The most important component of the M86 SBS upgrade is off-board fare collection. The sidewalk fare machines have been installed, but are not yet turned on for passengers.

When the upgraded service launches, the SBS vehicles will also receive flashing blue destination signs so riders can easily distinguish them from local buses. The new signs have begun rolling out on the M15 SBS on First and Second avenues.

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Dilan, Espinal Oppose Plan to Eliminate Deadly Turn From MTA Bus Routes

Council Member Rafael Espinal and State Senator Martin Malave Dilan are trying to stop the MTA from rerouting a bus away from a deadly turn in their districts.

Council Member Rafael Espinal and State Senator Martin Malave Dilan.

After turning bus drivers twice struck and killed pedestrians at a complex intersection on the border of Bushwick and Ridgewood, the MTA proposed a change that eliminates a deadly turn from two bus routes. The plan has been under consideration for months and is set to go into effect Sunday. But Council Member Rafael Espinal and State Senator Martin Malave Dilan are trying to stop it after nearby residents complained about the prospect of buses traveling on their street.

In January 2013, a turning MTA bus driver struck and killed Ella Bandes as she was crossing the intersection of Myrtle Avenue, Wyckoff Avenue, and Palmetto Street. The next year, DOT implemented safety fixes at the intersection, including five new turn restrictions, but exceptions were made for MTA bus routes.

The plan would move buses from Wyckoff Avenue to Ridgewood Place to avoid a dangerous turn. Click map to enlarge. Map: MTA

The plan would move buses from Wyckoff Avenue to Ridgewood Place to avoid a dangerous turn. Click to enlarge. Map: MTA

Then, in October 2014, a turning MTA bus driver struck and killed Edgar Torres at the very same intersection. “Clearly those restrictions were not adequate, or the exemptions of the bus drivers was a mistake,” said Ken Bandes, Ella’s father.

That’s when the MTA began to examine rerouting its buses.

“What made the right turn especially difficult is that it’s an offset turn under the elevated structure that also obstructed the view of bus operators,” said MTA spokesperson Kevin Ortiz. “The new route remedies this.”

Under the plan, the Q58 and B26 would no longer turn right from westbound Wyckoff Avenue to northbound Palmetto Street. Buses would instead detour to Ridgewood Place between Putnam Avenue and Palmetto Street. DOT will remove parking spots at the intersection of Palmetto and Ridgewood and at Putnam and Wyckoff to make room for turning buses.

Notice about the change first went out to local community boards and elected officials in February and March [PDF]. The MTA says elected officials didn’t have any problems with the change — until now.

A group called the United Block Association for a Better Quality of Life formed to oppose the bus reroute, claiming it will be less safe than the existing route because it involves additional turns on narrow streets. “It’s probably gonna devalue our properties,” said Flor Ramos, who has owned a house on Putnam Avenue near Ridgewood Place for 22 years and started the group with “about seven” of his neighbors. “We’re going to have to listen to these buses coming down our streets. And I don’t even want to tell you about the fumes.”

Ramos, who said he usually drives and only occasionally takes the bus or subway, said the association is considering a lawsuit against the plan. “When we purchased these properties, we purchased them to be away from the transportation. It’s not that far. It’s only a block away,” he said. “We convinced the councilman that our concerns are valid. We have lots of fear here. And we got him on board.”

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Andrew Cuomo Is Failing at One of His Most Basic Tasks

Andrew Cuomo in his natural habitat.

In 1981, then-MTA Chair Richard Ravitch wrote to Governor Hugh Carey, pleading for action “to meet the increasingly desperate situation of public transit in New York.” Carey responded by moving a suite of measures through Albany that led to the MTA’s first five-year capital program. Investments made through the capital program brought the transit system back from the brink, leading to vast improvements in reliability and convenience, and the city flourished.

The problems the transit system faces today are urgent in a different way. Having absorbed nearly all the growth in travel as New York City added a million residents in about 20 years, it is bursting at the seams. Weekday subway delays related to overcrowding rose 65 percent this April compared to last April, and weekend delays are up 141 percent, the Daily News reports.

Reliable transit service matters to New Yorkers of every economic class. Without it, New York cannot grow. Other than the occasional vanity rail project and withering remark about the agency’s “bloated” capital program, Cuomo doesn’t seem to care.

Now should be the time when the governor steps in with a plan to make transit service more frequent and predictable. The MTA capital program has to be renewed, and it’s the end of the session in Albany. If not now, when?

But on Cuomo’s agenda, ensuring that New Yorkers have access to a transit system with well-maintained track, modern signals, and reliable service ranks somewhere below catching two violent felons and upstaging Bill de Blasio on housing policy.

Since Carey and Ravitch ushered in the first MTA capital program, we have 34 years of proof on the ground that the health of the transit system underpins the health of New York City. And it’s deteriorating on Cuomo’s watch.

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TWU Demands to Be Allowed to Kill People Who Have the Right of Way

The Transport Workers Union is making a great case for why the Right of Way Law should apply to all drivers.

The law made it a misdemeanor for drivers to strike pedestrians or cyclists with the right of way. As part of its campaign to secure a special exemption for bus drivers, TWU Local 100 launched a work slowdown on 181st Street in Washington Heights this morning. From 7 a.m. to 9 a.m., according to the Post, drivers were instructed not to enter crosswalks if pedestrians were present and to come to a complete stop if people were crossing.

The implication: Under normal conditions, maiming and killing pedestrians is the inevitable cost of operating buses.

In a perfect illustration of its disregard for people’s right to cross the street safely, TWU tweeted a photo this morning of a bus operator waiting to turn left as a woman in the crosswalk checked her phone. “Bus waits to take a left turn as oblivious pedestrian crosses intersection,” the union tweeted. The woman had the light — and the right of way.

The union was targeting City Council Transportation Committee Chair Ydanis Rodriguez, who represents the area. Rodriguez himself would not comment for this story, but his spokesperson, Lucas Acosta, said he is undecided on the bus driver exemption. “The council member is exploring all of the legislation regarding the Right of Way Law and has yet to come out in support or opposition,” Acosta said. “He is reviewing the MTA regulations.”

Update 5:43 p.m.: City Council Transportation Committee Chair Ydanis Rodriguez says he opposes amending the Right of Way Law to exempt bus drivers.

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MTA Finds Replacement for Flashing Lights on Select Bus Service

When Select Bus Service launched in 2008, the front of each bus featured two flashing blue lights to help passengers distinguish between SBS and local buses. Years after Staten Island lawmakers exploited a legal technicality, forcing the MTA to shut the lights off, the agency has figured out a solution.

With flashing blue lights no longer an option, the MTA is changing the destination displays at the top of each Select Bus Service vehicle. Photo: Brad Aaron

The lights are important because they help people determine whether an approaching bus is an SBS vehicle, which riders have to pay for before boarding, or if it’s a local bus with on-board fare payment. With no way to distinguish between the two, passengers take longer to board and bus trips get slowed down.

Later this summer, the MTA will change the front-facing destination displays on SBS buses to distinguish them from local buses. The new signs will likely use different colors than the MTA’s default orange or yellow signs, and they may also flash to be more visible to riders at bus stops.

The first route to receive the new lights will be the M15 SBS on First and Second avenues, according to minutes from the Manhattan Community Board 6 transportation committee [PDF]. CB 6 has been leading the charge to get the flashing SBS lights restored. The MTA will make a formal announcement about the change soon, said agency spokesperson Kevin Ortiz.

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