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Posts from the "Elliot Spitzer" Category

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More Mixed Signals on Pricing’s Chances Under Paterson

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"Today is Monday. There is work to be done."

So said David Paterson, who was sworn in as New York's 55th governor just after 1:00 this afternoon. Two Mondays from now, the City Council and state Legislature will need to have adopted a congestion pricing plan if the city is to receive $354 million in federal transportation funds. Opinions on whether the governor will work to make that happen still vary wildly, even among those who've talked to people close to Paterson.

Here is the Daily News, from Friday:

Incoming Gov. David Paterson may have declined to take a stand on congestion pricing Thursday - but members of his inner circle have been lobbying for the proposal.

During his first press conference since Gov. Spitzer resigned in disgrace, Paterson said he needed to delve deeper into details of the plan to charge motorists $8 to drive south of 60th St.

"Although the mayor has not directly discussed congestion pricing with him, it would seem to be a good sign that people very close to the new governor are supportive," a City Hall source said.

Former Deputy Mayor Bill Lynch and former Paterson campaign manager Luther Smith have been pitching the toll scheme as a way to fund mass transit improvements in underserved minority communities.

Smith is president of Lynch's lobbying firm, Bill Lynch Associates, which has been doing pro-pricing outreach for Communities United for Transportation Equity.

Both Lynch and Smith are advising Paterson as he makes the transition to the state's highest office.

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Mayor Bloomberg Announces New Residential Parking Program


DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, Deputy Mayor Ed Skyler (in back), Mayor Bloomberg, Boerum Hill Association President Sue Wolfe and Council Member David Yassky.

Thanks to another 11:30am press conference in Midtown, I figured Streetsblog might be the only press to cover Mayor Bloomberg's announcement of a new, citywide residential parking permit program. But, no. There was plenty of other media gathered at the corner of Bond and Bergen Streets in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn. Let's see if there's any room in tonight's newscasts and tomorrow's papers for stories about something other than Governor Spitzer.

Stay tuned for details...

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Advocates Continue Pricing Push

With all eyes on the governor's Fifth Avenue apartment, congestion pricing supporters are nevertheless soldiering on. The Empire State Transportation Alliance is one of several groups in Albany today, trying to get lawmakers' attention despite what has been described as a "surreal" atmosphere. [Insert "Yeah, and?" joke here.]

From an ESTA media release:

Principals underscored the vital need for the innovative measure to help fund the MTA's recently released 2008 - 2013 Capital Plan. The $29.5 billion dollar program recently submitted to the legislature as required under congestion pricing legislation relies on $4.5 billion in bonding capacity over the next five years to expand travel options in all five boroughs and the region's suburbs.

ESTA principals in Albany include: Chris Ward, Managing Director, General Contractors Association; Kate Slevin, Executive Director, Tri-State Transportation Campaign; Chris Jones, Vice President of Research, Regional Plan Association; Jim Melius, New York State Laborer's Union, Rich Kassel, Senior Attorney, Natural Resources Defense Council; Bill Henderson, Executive Director, Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee to the MTA; and Eric Alexander, Executive Director, Vision Long Island.

Efforts will continue next Tuesday, when busloads of pricing advocates will head to the capital. Buses will depart at 6:15 a.m. from the Central Labor Council at 31 W. 15th St. More info here and here. RSVP ASAP.

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Open Thread: Spitzer Prostitution Scandal

As most of you no doubt know by now:

Gov. Eliot Spitzer has been caught on a federal wiretap arranging to meet with a high-priced prostitute at a Washington hotel last month, according to a person briefed on the federal investigation.

The wiretap recording, made during an investigation of a prostitution ring called Emperors Club VIP, captured a man identified as Client 9 on a telephone call confirming plans to have a woman travel from New York to Washington, where he had reserved a room. The person briefed on the case identified Mr. Spitzer as Client 9.

The governor learned that he had been implicated in the prostitution probe when a federal official contacted his staff last Friday, according to the person briefed on the case.

The governor informed his top aides Sunday night and this morning of his involvement. He canceled his public events today and scheduled an announcement for this afternoon after inquiries from the Times.

Spitzer's brief announcement, delivered around 3:15 p.m., expressed remorse for betraying the trust of his family and the public, but did not acknowledge any involvement in prostitution. Nor did the governor immediately resign, as some pundits speculated.

The implications here extend far beyond the livable streets corner of the universe, obviously, but since it's our beat, consider this an open thread to discuss the potential fallout. Item one: congestion pricing.

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Congestion Pricing Endgame Begins

With less than four weeks remaining for the city to meet the $354 million federal deadline, lawmakers are positioning themselves on one side of the other of the congestion pricing debate, as state and city prime movers quietly ready for "negotiations."

According to the Sun, Governor Eliot Spitzer's office is drafting a congestion pricing bill, while legislators who have remained cool to pricing are preparing to deal on everything from bus routes to pay raises (for themselves). Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver wants "some form of a rebate for lower-income motorists" who drive into the pricing zone, along with an additional toll for New Jersey drivers crossing the Hudson. Members of the City Council, which must sign off on the plan before it goes to Albany, are also asking Mayor Bloomberg to work in an extra Jersey fee, or else gain a pledge of additional transit funds from the Port Authority.

Bloomberg irked Albany Democrats when he recently made a hefty half-million dollar donation to the Republican cause, then justified the move yesterday by saying that the Assembly and the governor have not stepped up for the city -- an injury-insult combo some say will hurt the mayor's agenda, and especially congestion pricing. As if daring Dems to take the low road, the mayor brushed off such talk.

"Think about what you're saying," he said. "You're saying that those decisions are made based on politics rather than what's right for the city. We certainly need congestion pricing, and it would be an outrage. Just for anybody to suggest that that's the basis on which they're going to make decisions, or that others would make a decision, I find reprehensible."

Surveying the long month ahead, a Monday Crain's editorial said that, with Bloomberg's presidential flight of fancy finally over, a win on congestion pricing is crucial for the mayor to remain relevant.

While both proponents and opponents have jiggered polls to support their cause, it is clear there is no public groundswell to impose a steep fee for driving in Manhattan. The qualified support of [Comptroller William] Thompson and [Council Speaker Christine] Quinn could be at risk as they take their own reading of public sentiment as they prepare for the 2009 race.

Suburban legislators remain overwhelmingly against the plan. Democratic Assembly members will be putting pressure on Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver not to back the mayor. Republican senators from Long Island, desperate to turn back Democratic challengers this November, have every reason to stand against the mayor.

It will take an aggressive effort by the mayor to push through congestion pricing. Much is at stake for him as well as for the city.

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To Lubricate Street Life, Lower the Unlimited Fare

Yesterday around 10 a.m. I got on the number 3 subway line at Bergen Street in Brooklyn, where I easily found a seat. As usual, I noticed that there was space on the baby-blue benches all the way up to 96th Street, where I switched trains to go to Columbia University at 116th Street. Only the last few stops on the 1 train were crowded.

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This almost daily journey of mine up to Columbia, where I've been going a lot lately to research a book, was anecdotal confirmation of what any serious study would probably show you: the city's transit system, while packed at rush hour, has considerable capacity in the off-peak hours.

While I enjoyed my ease in finding a seat, for the city and for its citizens it would be better if the subway lines were more crowded during non-rush hours. The city's transit lines are one of its more expensive and valuable pieces of infrastructure. Having more riders means that the taxpayers, who, lest we forget, ultimately own the subway, are getting more value out of this publicly owned piece of infrastructure.

There's an easy way to do this and that's to substantially lower the cost of an Unlimited Ride MetroCard so that most residents buy them. This is a far more effective way of encouraging off-peak ridership than lower-cost single fares at off-peak hours, which has also been discussed.

Economists talk about the elasticity of purchases, meaning how price sensitive a purchase is. Commuting to work is very inelastic because most people have to get to work and they will pay what they have to to get there. Sure, in the long run they may move to a different neighborhood if commuting costs are too high, but they won't change habits much on a daily basis.

Not so with more optional trips. If you are thinking of stopping for a book on the way home, or trying out a new place for lunch, or even sunbathing in a park, then an extra $2 or even $1 will be a significant deterrent. This is a very elastic commodity. If you have an Unlimited Ride MetroCard, then the cost of an additional trip, once you have committed the "sunk cost," is zero. That's a good thing for citizens' quality of life, and a good thing for the economic health of the city.

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Interstate Access, Plenty of Parking at the “Green” Airport


During his State of the State address, Governor Spitzer claimed that his administration is "turning Stewart Airport into an economic engine for the Hudson Valley and an environmental model for the world: the very first carbon-negative airport." In this morning's New York Times, we see the Port Authority, touting SIA as an air congestion reliever for metro NYC, making similar claims about the airport's green credentials.

Though there is talk of "terminals, baggage equipment, offices, stores and restaurants that do not produce greenhouse gas emissions," and even "produce or support enough green energy to begin to offset the emissions generated by the planes," the one attraction to be confirmed so far is ease of parking:

''Stewart can be kind of a beacon for a lot of things,'' said Anthony Shorris, executive director of the Port Authority, which has a 93-year lease on Stewart and runs the other three airports. ''An anchor for growth in the Hudson Valley, a major reliever of the other airports, a cargo and job-generating facility for a new economic growth pattern, and a demonstration of the potential for sustainable development in aviation.''

Change is already unmistakable: A new exit off Interstate 84 and wide new access roads now lead to the airport. A 350-space parking lot went up in three weeks and new chairs abound in the baggage claim area.

Shorris foresees 3 million annual passengers using Stewart within a few years. The attractions will include an easy trip to the airport, plenty of parking, comfortable terminals and flights taking off on schedule, he said.

Dan Hurwitz, a 60-year-old math teacher at Skidmore College, recently drove 100 miles to Stewart from his home in Saratoga Springs because a flight to Sarasota, Fla., was cheaper from Stewart than from the Albany airport closer to his home.

''Parking was really easy in the credit-card lot,'' he said. ''They told me to be here two hours early but everything's fast. I could have come an hour later.''

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As Anti-Pricing Arguments Fall Away, It’s Just Parking & Politics

Over the weekend, City Council Member David Weprin and "Keep NYC Congestion Tax Free" spokesman Walter McCaffrey got a lot of press by casting doubt on whether congestion pricing revenues would, as promised, be invested in transit. It looks like a plan was already in the works to allay that fear.

The Daily News reports:

State and city officials are hashing out a plan to ensure congestion pricing money pays for mass transit upgrades -- and mass transit upgrades only, sources said Wednesday.

Under the developing plan, net proceeds from new tolls for motorists entering a large section of Manhattan would be put in a "lock box" administered by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, sources in City Hall and Gov. Spitzer's office said.

The fund could only be used for transit projects that meet specific criteria, which would be spelled out by state legislation, sources said.

A member of Gov. Spitzer's administration confirmed that Spitzer will include the creation of the MTA account as a line-item in the proposed budget he unveils next week.

At a Congestion Mitigation Commission hearing yesterday at Hunter College (which saw the notable emergence of a pro-pricing coalition of advocates for low-income transit customers), Regional Plan Association President Bob Yaro testified that similar measures have successfully earmarked transit funds for decades.

The MTA's revenues at their bridge and tunnels in excess of operating costs is guaranteed by formula set by the State Legislature for use by the MTA for transit since 1968. Taxes such as the mortgage recording tax, petroleum business tax, corporate franchise tax and sales tax have also been reliably dedicated to transit since the early 1980s. It should not be difficult to establish a mechanism for congestion pricing revenue that would do the same, while requiring the use of the funds by the MTA on the projects agreed to by the MTA and the City.

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MTA Cheered and Jeered, But Mostly Jeered

Reactions were mixed to yesterday's MTA fare hike approval. That is to say -- with the exception of the New York Post -- there was enough criticism to go around as to generally avoid repetition.

The Daily News, which has pounded the transit agency with its "Halt the Hike" series ("Even as the MTA is poised to stick straphangers with a fat fare hike, Chief Executive Lee Sander went shopping for a new necktie yesterday"), called the fare increase "the great train robbery of 2007," and characterized Sander and new Chairman H. Dale Hemmerdinger as puppets of Mayor Bloomberg and Governor Spitzer.

There was a time when MTA bosses were independent, standup people who represented the riders, even if only in losing battles with governors, Legislatures and mayors. Men like Dick Ravitch and Peter Kalikow come to mind.

At this point in their relatively young tenures, Hemmerdinger and Sander pale in comparison.

They are order takers, dictated to by Spitzer and Bloomberg, who have assumed full personal ownership of this fare hike.

New MetroCards should come bearing photographs of the governor and the mayor, like on wanted posters, including their records.

Also in the News, Gene Russianoff of the Straphangers Campaign, while critical of the hikes, says transit customers have reason for hope in the promises made by Spitzer and other pols, including Assembly Member Richard Brodsky, that more state aid is forthcoming. Russianoff also thinks further hikes will be politically infeasible for the next several years.

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Russianoff and Schneiderman Map the MTA’s Road to ‘Ruin’

In today's Daily News, Gene Russianoff of the Straphangers Campaign and State Senator Eric Schneiderman examine 337927939_d3cd0561d3.jpghow the MTA ended up the most debt-ridden transit system in the United States, and urge state leaders to chart a new course.

The governor must prevent next year's state budget from being a carbon copy of the budgets offered by his predecessor, which drove the Metropolitan Transportation Authority more deeply into debt than any transit system in U.S. history. But he can only do this if the MTA first commits to delaying all proposed fare hikes until after the 2008 state budget is put to bed in April.

Most straphangers will remember the chants of elected officials railing helplessly against the MTA every time the authority proposed to raise fares or cut service. What they may not remember is that, year after year, the Pataki administration submitted - and the Legislature passed - budgets that decimated the MTA's funding.

In 1982, the MTA started a series of five-year capital programs to restore our regional transit system to a state of good repair. We are now enjoying the fruits of these investments: a system that is in dramatically better shape than it was at the beginning of the 1980s, with ridership at a 35-year high. But the state did not maintain its commitment. It cut its share of the system's capital program from 19.6% in the MTA's 1982-86 plan, to 10.8% in the 1987-91 plan, to less than 1% during calendar years 1992 through 1999. The state provided zero direct funding for the 2000-04 capital plan.

That abandonment forced the authority to steadily increase its reliance on debt to finance repairs and improvements. Over 60% of the 2000-04 plan was financed with debt, up from about 40% for the previous plan.

As a result, the MTA is now "in hock" for $23 billion, Russianoff and Schneiderman write. They say freezing the base fare at $2 is "a first step" toward shifting reliance from MTA customers to the state for support.

Spitzer has a lot on his plate, but ending Albany's systemic abuse of our 7.5 million straphangers should be at or near the top of the pile. He must work with the Legislature and the MTA board, both to avoid a fare hike in 2008 and to set a new agenda for our state's mass transit program - an agenda that breaks with the unsustainable and inexcusable policies of the last 12 years.

Photo: peterkreder/Flickr