Friday’s transit forum hosted by Transit Workers Union Local 100 and a coalition of rider advocacy groups offered an opportunity for a more more detailed discussion of transit policy than this year’s mayoral race has seen so far. While the candidates offered few specifics about how they would improve transit for the millions of New Yorkers who depend on trains and buses, clear differences emerged, especially on the question of how to increase funding for the debt-ridden MTA.
Five Democrats — former City Council City member Sal Albanese, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, Comptroller John Liu, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, and former comptroller Bill Thompson — were on hand, as were former Bronx borough president Adolfo Carrión, running on the Independence Party line, and Manhattan Media publisher Tom Allon, running as a Republican. Conspicuously absent was Republican Joe Lhota, whose resume includes a recent one-year stint as MTA chair.
The transit issue that the mayor can control most directly is the allocation of street space. How much real estate should be dedicated exclusively to transit, so riders don’t get bogged down in traffic? More than anyone else, the mayor has the power to decide.
Albanese had the most specific proposal, calling for 20 new Select Bus Service routes by 2018. De Blasio said he wants more Bus Rapid Transit outside of Manhattan, citing a JFK-to-Flushing route as an example. When Streetsblog asked after the forum if the Bloomberg administration has been implementing the SBS program quickly enough, de Blasio said he didn’t know enough to say if implementation was going slowly, but that the implicit answer is “yes” because his vision calls more more BRT in the outer boroughs.
Carrión, who called for a new goal of providing 30-minute commutes from the city limits to the CBD, cited the Select Bus Service route on Fordham Road as a successful transit enhancement, noting that it has won over merchants who were initially skeptical. Quinn and Thompson, meanwhile, spoke about improving bus service, but not specifically about SBS or BRT. And Liu said that Bus Rapid Transit should be part of the city’s transit mix, but didn’t get more specific than that.
On the issue of funding the MTA, the mayor has far less direct control than the governor and the state legislature but still commands a powerful bully pulpit that can set the agenda.