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Stated Meeting: Residency Redux and Inspecting Water Tanks

Gotham Gazette

The Place for New York Policy and politics

Citizens Union
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Brooklyn Water Tower
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In a rare disagreement with the Bloomberg administration, the City Council overrode a mayoral veto Wednesday allowing certain municipal employees to live outside of the city after working for two years.

The bill only pertains to District Council 37, the city's largest municipal workers union.

In addition, the council approved a bill requiring the inspection of water tanks, which store thousands of gallons of drinking water, be made public and that a passenger bill of rights be posted in the back of livery cabs. It also made permanent a requirement to recycle at street fairs.

Residency Requirements Reprise

As part of a collective bargaining agreement with District Council 37 in September 2006, the city agreed to allow employees to live outside of the five boroughs, specifically in Nassau, Westchester, Suffolk, Orange, Rockland and Putnam counties.

That agreement also would have allowed other unions to benefit from the withdrawal of the residency requirement.

Saying the City Council would not "give away" its legislative power to negotiate residency requirements with other unions, Council Speaker Christine Quinn said they would consider matters relevant to contracts one by one as they came to them. Thus, the council approved an exception only for District Council 37 (Intro 837) Wednesday by a vote of 47 to 0.

"I don't think this has any effect in the long-term bargaining" with unions, said Quinn. "The issue of residency and whether it should be waived is a significant issue."

There are about 121,000 members of District Council 37, and this bill would affect approximately 45,000 of them.

The bill was approved despite a competing proposal introduced by Mayor Michael Bloomberg (Intro 452) in 2006 that would have allowed the administration to relax the residency requirements for some employees beyond those in District Council 37. According to a veto message (which accompanies any bill vetoed by the mayor), Bloomberg said the collective bargaining agreement from 2006 does not jibe with the bill approved by the City Council. It creates the perception of "unfairness," the mayor writes by singling out one union and leaving out others that settled on the same terms.

Bloomberg also opposed requiring that employees live and work in the city for two years before moving to neighboring counties.

The residency requirement bill is the ninth veto override during Quinn's tenure as speaker of the City Council -- far fewer than under her predecessor, Gifford Miller.

Since the collective bargaining agreement more than two years ago, some council members have expressed concern that rescinding a residency requirement would give city jobs to non-New Yorkers. Now, with ever increasing rents and cost of living, members have compromised.

Inspecting Water Tanks

New York City is known for its pristine and pure drinking water. The tanks that hold them, though, are another story.

The city's approximately 12,000 tanks -- according to an estimate by city's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene -- must be inspected annually by building owners, and the inspection records must be kept for five years. Those records, however, are not made public. Not even a subpoena can break them open.

Under legislation (Intro 408) approved by the City Council Wednesday by a vote of 47 to 0, that will no longer be the case. Water tank records will be submitted to the city's health department and subsequently reported to the City Council annually. Notices will also be posted on the tanks, similar to city elevators, saying they have passed inspection.

"There may be no more closely guarded secret than the condition of 12,000 water tanks throughout the city," said Councilmember Daniel Garodnick, the main sponsor of the bill. "These reports should not be treated like state secrets."

Currently, when a tank does not pass inspection, the department is notified. But, Garodnick said, the department estimates that a third of city tanks are not checked regularly.

In an urban environment, rodents can carve out holes in the tanks, thus contaminating the water supply of a building.

Passenger Bill of Rights

The City Council also approved legislation ( Intro 880) making more than 40,000 for-hire vehicles subject to the city's passenger bill of rights. The bill was approved by a vote of 46 to 0 with one abstention by Councilmember Peter Vallone Jr.

The city's passenger bill of rights currently applies to 13,237 taxicabs, but not the 40,217 livery cabs often seen in the outer boroughs. The bill, also sponsored by Garodnick, would require cabs hang the bill of rights in the back seat for passengers to see. The bill of rights includes that drivers be licensed, seat belts be working and that the fare quoted by a dispatcher be honored.

The Taxi and Limousine Commission, Garodnick said, estimates it receives between 400 and 1,000 livery cab complaints annually. By posting information in the back of these cabs, including where to go or call with complaints, the city could have more accurate descriptions of occurrences, the councilmember added.

Street Recycling at Fairs

Largely codifying a practice at street fairs, the City Council approved a requirement ( Intro 908) that street fair operators recycle and properly dispose of their trash.

Scattered throughout the city during the summer and fall months, large street fairs take over popular thoroughfares. This bill, sponsored by Councilmember Darlene Mealy, would require the producers, not the sponsors of the event, clean up. Fines associated with the bill would be $100 per day.

Events held by block associations or the New York City Public Housing Authority would be exempt.



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Gotham Gazette is published by Citizens Union Foundation and is made possible by support from the Robert Sterling Clark Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Altman Foundation,the Fund for the City of New York and donors to Citizens Union Foundation. Please consider supporting Citizens Union Foundation's public education programs. Critical early support to Gotham Gazette was provided by the Charles H. Revson Foundation, Rockefeller Brothers Fund and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

Keep The Private Buses Private

By Christopher R. Lynn

22 July 02

Mayor Michael Bloomberg recently proposed that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) assume operation of private bus routes serving the four boroughs of New York City outside Manhattan. The mayor's solution -- perhaps borne out of frustration with the ongoing strike by private bus line employees and the illusory prospect of budgetary savings -- is ill-conceived and is likely to result in less and poorer service for thousands of New Yorkers in the city's outlying neighborhoods. They depend on the commuter bus lines to get to and from jobs in Manhattan.

The seven private companies that have traditionally provided this service -- Green Bus Lines, Triboro Coach Corporation, Command Bus Company, Jamaica Buses Inc., Queens Surface, Liberty Lines, and New York Bus Service -- are not perfect. But they are more accountable to city government than any branch of the MTA, including the New York City Transit Authority (NYCTA). The private bus lines report to and are monitored by the city's Department of Transpo rtation, a mayoral agency, and because they depend on the city for annual subsidies totaling about $175 million.

In stark contrast, the MTA and its subsidiary, the New York City Transit Authority, are both state agencies that have historically been more responsive to suburban dwellers than to city residents. The MTA subsidizes the cost of rail lines serving suburban dwellers on Long Island and in Westchester County far more than it does trips on the city's subways and buses. And, as far as accountability to the city's elected officials, both the MTA and the NYCTA are answerable only to the MTA's Board. The MTA's eighteen-person board is a notoriously unwieldy bureaucratic construct to which only four members are appointed by the mayor. The remainder are appointed by the governor and the county executives of Nassau, Suffolk, Westchester, Rockland, Dutchess, Orange, and Putnam Counties. It cannot fairly be expected to take the concerns of New York City residents in mind as diligently as do Mayor Bloomberg and his highly capable Transportation Commissioner, Iris Weinshall.

Indeed, if the MTA had genuinely been eager to assume responsibility for serving the neighborhoods now relying on the private bus lines, it would long ago either have proposed to do so, or offered a competing service. Perhaps the MTA has been reluctant to undertake such an expansion of its service to New Yorkers because its own record in providing bus service is so poor. The MTA already offers too few buses to move too many passengers, and the MTA's buses are far more likely to suffer from mechanical breakdowns than are those of the private lines.

Ironically, and contrary to many stereotypes about the private sector, the seven bus companies providing the current service have proved far more "green" than the MTA has. The privately operated bus lines pioneered the use of clean-burning fuels like compressed natural gas (CNG) and electricity in New York City's mass transit, while a recalcitrant MTA reneged on its commitment to convert its entire bus fleet to alternative fuels. During the 1990's, the MTA was scheduled to replace hundreds of diesel-fueled buses by purchasing new vehicles using alternative fuel, but canceled the order after citing safety concerns. Somehow, the agency has never been able to find safe buses using clean-burning fuel anywhere in the world, despite the successful track record of many of these vehicles in cities around the world. One of those cities is New York, where the private bus companies have been using them for years with no apparent safety problems whatsoever!

Finally, there is the mayor's most compelling rationale: the city is facing dire economic circumstances in balancing its own budget in the years ahead, and could save $175 million annually if it were no longer obligated to subsidize the private bus lines. The fact is, however, that all forms of transportation in New York State are subsidized to some degree or other. Tolls and automobile taxes do not cover the cost of maintaining the Empire State's infrastructure of roads and bridges any more than city residents' transit fares cover the cost of operating our buses and subways. Were we to saddle the MTA with the financial obligation of providing reasonably priced commuter bus service in areas now served by the seven private companies, city residents would ultimately be confronted by pressures on the budget of the suburban-dominated MTA. This would result in an unhealthy combination of fare hikes and service cuts on the city's network of subways and buses.

The private bus lines transport 350,000 people daily. The $167 million sum for this service paid by the city is indeed money well spent. Let's keep doing it!

Christopher R. Lynn, an attorney, was the commissioner of the Department of Transportation under Mayor Rudy Giuliani from July 1996 until December 1997.

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Gotham Gazette is published by Citizens Union Foundation and is made possible by support from the Robert Sterling Clark Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Altman Foundation,the Fund for the City of New York and donors to Citizens Union Foundation. Please consider supporting Citizens Union Foundation's public education programs. Critical early support to Gotham Gazette was provided by the Charles H. Revson Foundation, Rockefeller Brothers Fund and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

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