Gotham Gazette http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/18 Sat, 15 Dec 2018 23:36:19 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) Instead of Taking Responsibility for Its Failures, The MTA is Targeting People of Color http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8142-instead-of-taking-responsibility-for-its-failures-the-mta-is-targeting-people-of-color http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8142-instead-of-taking-responsibility-for-its-failures-the-mta-is-targeting-people-of-color MTA fare beating

(photo: MTA)


The MTA seems determined to blame New Yorkers for the mess it’s in.

The authority’s latest excuse is that poor people who jump turnstiles are responsible for the MTA’s financial woes. The MTA and the politicians and bureaucrats who control it should take responsibility for their own actions -- and inactions -- that have led to the city’s mass transit decline. Instead, the MTA seems to want to pit New Yorkers against each other.

The MTA and NYPD pledged last week to crack down on fare evaders. The MTA’s plan is to send agency executives and NYPD officers to subway stations and bus stops across the city. The executives will stand at subway turnstiles and on busses to create body blockades to bar anyone trying to get in without a Metrocard. More armed police officers at subway stations make an already harrowing commute for New Yorkers even more intolerable, and for many, will serve to add unnecessary fear into the way they start or end their day.

New York City Transit President Andy Byford also criticized Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance’s decision earlier this year to stop prosecuting subway turnstile jumpers.

The billions of dollars at the MTA’s and the city’s disposal must be spent on fixing the actual causes of the crisis -- aging infrastructure -- not tangential issues like fare evasion, a distraction in the pursuit of solutions.

The MTA claims that fare evasion is robbing the agency of $215 million a year, though how it actually reached that number is lacking in clarity and validity. The transit authority appears determined to pin the blame for its precarious financial position on poor black and Latinx people who, history tells us, will suffer the most from any increase in fare evasion arrests.

And another population that both our mayor and governor have spoken passionately about protecting would stand to suffer greatly as a result of a new enforcement policy: immigrants. Immigrants who have even minor contact with the criminal justice system face far more drastic consequences. Under the Trump administration, an arrest for jumping a turnstile or even a criminal summons could result in deportation, family separation, and destroyed lives.

An analysis of New York Division of Criminal Justice Services data from the last four years by the Marshall Project shows that nearly 90 percent of people arrested for turnstile jumping were black or Hispanic. Given the NYPD’s history of targeting people of color for arrests and summonses for low-level offenses, let’s call the new proposal to crack down on fare evasion what it is: a plan that would funnel thousands more black and brown New Yorkers into the criminal justice system, and to scapegoat people of color for the decades of underfunding and mismanagement that are responsible for the MTA’s current problems.

Police resources must be spent on working with the community and identifying the types of behaviors that cause the most harm—not physically harmless fare evasion.

Years of grappling with the ripple effects of Broken Windows policing have shown us that arrests are not the way to deal with minor offenses, like riding your bike on the sidewalk, having an open container of alcohol, smoking marijuana, or jumping a turnstile. An uptick in enforcement would reverse the recent positive trend of fewer fare evasion arrests. Through October, police have made 5,236 arrests for fare evasion. That is still 5,236 arrests too many, but it represents a 66 percent drop compared to the same period last year.

DA Vance’s policy of not prosecuting turnstile jumpers represents real progress away from the dangerous and discredited Broken Windows theory of policing, which posits that if minor crimes are allowed to happen, then they will lead to more disorder and eventually to serious crime. In practice in New York, the theory is used as cover for discriminatory policing and harassment of communities of color, with no measurable impact on crime.

Poor black and brown people should not take the fall for the sins of politicians who have allowed the MTA to become a laughing stock. Arrests won’t solve the MTA’s problems, but they could devastate New Yorkers.

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Donna Lieberman is Executive Director of the New York Civil Liberties Union and Marco Conner is Deputy Director of Transportation Alternatives. On Twitter @JustAskDonna with @NYCLU & @marco_conner with @TransAlt.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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Instead of Taking Responsibility for Its Failures, The MTA is Targeting People of Color Thu, 13 Dec 2018 05:00:00 +0000
A Simple First Step to Help the MTA Re-Establish Credibility http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8116-a-simple-first-step-to-help-the-mta-re-establish-credibility http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8116-a-simple-first-step-to-help-the-mta-re-establish-credibility mta rf

Andy Byford (photo: Marc A. Hermann / MTA New York City Transit)


This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project
Find the rest of the series here

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) is teetering on financial collapse and still struggling to overcome a meltdown in subway service and collapse in bus ridership. No one doubts that the MTA has serious problems and riders are suffering. But before the State Legislature approves tens of billions of new funding, the MTA needs to show it is serious about improving its decision-making and transparency.

Politically, the MTA has met the enemy: its lack of credibility.

Former Chair Joe Lhota at the MTA Board’s October 2018 meeting acknowledged this, saying, “I’m aware that before we can credibly appeal for billions of dollars of public money, we must continue to advance a reform agenda.” New York City Transit’s Fast Forward plan is a whopping $40 billion appeal and promise to improve the subways and buses. Andy Byford, New York City Transit’s president and the plan’s architect, in unveiling the plan stated that NYCT is working on the “rollout of a new transit organization - one that is built around a customer centric, continuous improvement model, one that emphasizes transparency and accountability, and one that going forward delivers on its promises.”

One of the easiest ways for the MTA to show that it is serious about improving transparency is to bring its Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) process into the 21st century. This means putting it fully online with an OpenFOIL website, modeled on the successful platforms already used by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and the City of New York, and as developed by the Obama administration for federal agencies.

The idea behind FOIL is that the public can ask for and get information that government decisions are based on -- information that we, the public, paid for with our taxes (and, in some cases, fares and tolls). Ideally, much of this information should already be online in an open format that is easy to search, download and use. But in 2018, the MTA is still a long way from putting important information online and in accessible formats. For journalists, researchers, and watchdogs that seek to hold the MTA accountable, that means FOIL is often the only way to get certain public records.

Gotham Gazette: Unfortunately, the way the MTA implements FOIL is not working for either MTA staff or the public. A recent report by my organization, FOIL that Works: Increasing MTA transparency and accountability by putting FOIL online, dug into the MTA’s FOIL process and found a dysfunctional and fragmented mess.

The MTA received nearly 9,000 requests in 2017 (see chart below), with those inquiries handled differently among its eight separate agencies. New York City Transit still responds to many FOIL requests with paper letters instead of by email. Complicated requests can take over a year to fill, and most FOILers don’t have the legal resources to take the MTA to court to speed things up. FOIL requests might be deemed “closed” by agency staff, but this does not mean the requestor actually received the information sought.

There is a better way to do things, and fortunately for the MTA, it doesn’t have to look far. The Port Authority in 2012 revamped its freedom of information access policy, and created an online portal for FOI requests. This reform was led by Pat Foye, then the Port Authority executive director, and now the MTA’s president, as well as Scott Rechler, who has since switched boards to the MTA. Now, once a record is released to the public, it goes online in a searchable portal for everyone else to benefit from. This saves both the Port Authority staff and the public time - a win-win.

mta image1

The City of New York also has an Open Records web portal, which eases the FOIL process for the public and agency staff. The code for the portal is available in open source, which is essentially free for the MTA to adopt and expand for its needs.  

The MTA also doesn’t segregate information requests the way it should. As shown in the chart above, in 2017 two-thirds of MTA FOIL requests - more than 6,000 - were for police incident reports. But these don’t have to go through FOIL. The state Department of Motor Vehicles has an in-house online collision reports portal where the public can privately request their own incident reports, and the MTA should do the same. The MTA’s FOIL staff should focus on other types of FOIL requests to ensure that they don’t languish for so long.

OpenFOIL and an online police incidents portal for the MTA are supported by 13 other city, state, and national organizations - a diverse group including good government, transportation, freedom of information, and environmental organizations including the National Freedom of Information Coalition, Riders Alliance, League of Women Voters of the City of New York, NYPIRG Straphangers Campaign, and Environmental Advocates of New York.

The MTA can and should put FOIL online on its own. But should it not, the public has another important backstop - the state Legislature. Newly elected and re-elected legislators, in particular Senate Democrats, have promised to tackle MTA reform, and if the MTA can’t reform itself, they should require it. Passing legislation requiring OpenFOIL for the MTA is a great start for legislators to take their oversight role seriously.

This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project
Find the rest of the series here

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Rachael Fauss is Senior Research Analyst at Reinvent Albany. On Twitter @RachaelFauss & @ReinventAlbany.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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A Simple First Step to Help the MTA Re-Establish Credibility Mon, 03 Dec 2018 05:00:00 +0000
Designing Bus Routes to Attract Passengers and Reverse Declining Ridership (Part 3) http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8099-designing-bus-routes-to-attract-passengers-and-reverse-declining-ridership-part-3 http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8099-designing-bus-routes-to-attract-passengers-and-reverse-declining-ridership-part-3 bus line

(photo: Marc A. Hermann/MTA)


The first two parts of this series discussed the causes for bus ridership decline, the Fast Forward plan as it relates to buses and why its focus needs to be changed to reverse this decline, a plan that worked: the southwest Brooklyn changes, and MTA studies that did not achieve their desired results. Read part 1 and part 2. This third and final part discusses Brooklyn bus route changes needed now and larger conclusions about bus planning that should inform redesigns to come.

Brooklyn Bus Route Changes Needed Now

1. Routes need to be straightened so that a direct north-south bus route serves Maimonides Medical Center.

2. Service on 16th Avenue discontinued in 2010 needs to be restored using better routings serving additional areas so that it does not merely duplicate a nearby route with better service. 

3. Improved east-west access is needed across Bensonhurst and Marine Park and Gerritsen Beach.

4. New shopping centers have been built in Spring Creek and in Canarsie that remain largely inaccessible by public transit. A 20-minute car trip from southern Brooklyn to Spring Creek should not take between 90 minutes and two hours by bus.

5. Service gaps on Empire Boulevard, Clarkson, and Albany Avenue require indirect travel to make simple trips accounting for the huge numbers of cabs outside Kings County Medical Center. 

6. Several new routes are needed to serve JFK Airport for employees as well as visitors. A single route from Bedford Stuyvesant is grossly inadequate and converting it to SBS is not a solution. 

7. Improved access is needed between Sheepshead Bay and the Rockaways, also a 20-minute trip by car, but up to a two-hour trip by bus.

8. The B44 SBS should have a branch to Kingsborough Community College when school is in session, operating non-stop from Avenue X.

9. Routing problems also exist in northern Brooklyn, but to a lesser extent. One example is the service gap caused by the elimination of the B71 on Union Street in 2010; residents and elected officials have been asking for its return in an extended fashion to also serve lower Manhattan, with no response from the MTA.

Most of these changes are described in greater detail on my website. All the proposals there with the exception of the B83 extension were rejected by the MTA in 2004, but are now under reconsideration. The fare also needs to be addressed to completely eliminate double fares by changing to a time-based fare instead of vehicle-based fare as described here.

None of these improvements will happen with the MTA's bus redesign plan unless the MTA starts thinking about its customers as people, not merely regarding them as numbers, and is less focused on operating costs.

Conclusions

1. The MTA must care more about its passengers and stop penny pinching. Service for the recent Staten Island express bus redesign, which went into effect this past summer was inadequately planned, leaving hundreds of riders stranded without enough buses and has been called a disaster by commuters. The MTA, in its concern to keep operating costs low, underestimated demand in terms of scheduling and spans of service. It has been tweaking the new system to satisfy numerous complaints. 

2. Reducing operating costs by eliminating bus stops and so-called duplicative routes must not be the highest priority. Nearby routes are often serving different destinations and are not duplicative at all, but only appear so if your analysis is limited to studying a bus route map.

3. Efficiency must be increased, for example, by better integration of New York City Transit and the MTA Bus Company so that each company can use each other’s depots reducing the number of deadhead or non-revenue service miles and centralizing administrative functions such as planning and scheduling. Presently, the MTA regards non-revenue miles as more productive than miles where passengers are carried, rather than as wasted mileage. That is because service levels are planned assuming all buses run on time; labor cost savings can be achieved when partial trips to and from the depot are made without passengers and in less time. Wasteful scheduling practices whereby buses can travel up to ten miles while not in service must end.

4. Increased efficiency must not be at the expense of the passenger, like when eliminating bus stops on a massive scale. Bus stops should only be removed on a case-by-case basis, not by increasing the walking standard so that it will be necessary for some to walk up to three-quarters of a mile to or from a bus.

5. Planning should not be done by only considering able-bodied riders on good weather days. Increased walking to and from bus stops is especially burdensome on the elderly, handicapped, those with temporary health issues, and those with packages or strollers whose needs must also be considered.

6. Passengers want buses that are not overcrowded so they can board the first bus that arrives. They also want buses to arrive on time. Increasing reliability was passengers’ number one concern 40 years ago, as it is today.

7. Cooperation is needed among all relevant agencies. The MTA cannot continue to claim reliability is solely caused by traffic conditions, which is out of its control because traffic is the responsibility of DOT. What was the point of putting DOT’s commissioner on the MTA board if the two agencies will not work cooperatively? The city claimed it was not involved in the MTA’s recent decision to halt the introduction of new SBS routes until 2021. As long as the NYPD, charged with keeping bus lanes clear, continues to block the lanes with its own vehicles, and as long as the MTA bus schedules do not reflect realistic running times, and each agency blames another one, with little cooperation, reliability will not improve.

8. The emphasis must be on reducing total trip time for passengers, which is a greater passenger concern than increasing bus speeds or time spent on the bus; impacts on other traffic should not be ignored. Connections must be made easier, and routes straightened where possible.

9. Investments must be made in additional service within budget constraints, to reduce service gaps and improve passenger convenience. Shuttle routes at 30-minute scheduled intervals should not be the wave of the future in developing areas.

10. Service planning should not be designed only for existing customers. Total demand including those who use services such as Uber because the routing system is inconvenient and unreliable must be considered. If the MTA continues to assume that increased service will not result in increased ridership and revenue, and that only operating costs matter, ridership will continue to decline. 

After 40 years, it is time to reflect on those 1978 southwest Brooklyn bus route changes, so the same type of successful changes that converted low-usage routes into highly-patronized routes can be duplicated. Simply providing straighter wider-spaced bus routes with fewer stops with little concern for serving destinations that are presently difficult to reach will not reverse the decline in bus ridership. Byford claims the bus route redesign will be customer driven. Let's hold him to his word. “Community consultation” does not mean that the community is merely informed of MTA changes they may not want.

This is part 3 of a 3-part series. Read part 1 and part 2.

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Allan Rosen is former Director of Bus Planning, MTA NYC Transit. On Twitter @BrooklynBus.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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Designing Bus Routes to Attract Passengers and Reverse Declining Ridership (Part 3) Mon, 26 Nov 2018 05:00:00 +0000
Designing Bus Routes to Attract Passengers and Reverse Declining Ridership (Part 2) http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8096-designing-bus-routes-to-attract-passengers-and-reverse-declining-ridership-part-two http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8096-designing-bus-routes-to-attract-passengers-and-reverse-declining-ridership-part-two department trans

(photo via NYC Department of Transportation)


This is the second part of a 3-part series. Part 1 discussed the causes for bus ridership decline, the Fast Forward Plan as it relates to buses and why its focus needs to be changed to reverse this decline. In this part: measures that have worked in the past.

The Southwest Brooklyn Changes of 1978
No other group of bus route improvements were that comprehensive. The 1978 changes also differed from others in that they were not initiated by the MTA, but by the New York City Department of City Planning (DCP). It was the only time another agency suggested bus route changes to the MTA; all other route changes originated in-house. I authored the DCP route changes and headed the study, which took four years due to the MTA throwing up roadblocks. First, MTA reps suggested we expand the study’s scope; then they claimed the scope was too large, making the changes infeasible. 

In the end, about 25 percent of the proposals became reality after a lawsuit by the Natural Resources Defense Council included a provision requiring the MTA to take actions in southern Brooklyn to alter bus routes to improve air quality in Manhattan per the 1970 Clean Air Act. 

DCP met with community boards before and during the study to solicit bus problems and to describe both the positives and negatives of the proposal. That approach resulted in approval by three boards with the other three boards, which were least-affected, taking a neutral position. No board objected.

By contrast, all presentations of MTA studies provide limited facts, omit the negatives, and community recommendations are only considered when massive numbers support or oppose a change. That results in opposition to all MTA bus changes. The southwest Brooklyn changes went virtually unnoticed by the media because the last citywide newspaper strike occurred in the autumn of 1978.

What the Southwest Brooklyn Changes Did Not Accomplish
As complex and successful as it was, three-quarters of the proposal was rejected. It also recommended the meandering B16 serving Fort Hamilton Parkway and 13th Avenue be split into two direct routes along each of those streets to better serve Maimonides Medical Center and make bus transferring more direct. This important traffic generator has only one east-west bus route serving it and an elevated line over a quarter-mile away. The B16 would have passed directly in front of the hospital, greatly improving accessibility.

Outdated bus routes are a problem throughout the city.

Some routes were never properly designed when they were created. According to The New York Times, when the U shaped B21 was created in 1946 (then named the 21) from the combination of two other routes, there was a protest outside Coney Island Hospital that the route did not meet the needs of the community. Yet it remained in place for over 30 years until it was discontinued as part of the 1978 southwest Brooklyn changes.

Comparison with MTA-Led Studies
Unwillingness to compromise has characterized several MTA bus studies, such as the northeast Bronx study circa 1993 that resulted in no route changes. A Staten Island study in the early 1980s resulted in only two route changes and an early 1980s Brooklyn study and early 1990s study resulted in no changes at all. That is why the 1978 study stands out for its accomplishments.

It proved that comprehensive studies can work, something the MTA refuted, because its studies failed, until a few years ago when it undertook a northeastern Queens bus study at the insistence of local elected officials. Recent support of comprehensive studies by the Bus Turnaround Coalition also led the MTA to rethink its piecemeal rerouting approach. 

The DCP southwest Brooklyn study cost only $250,000. The MTA spent well over $20 million on its bus route studies and has little to show for them. Only a Bronx study in the mid-1980s and the northeast Queens study resulted in a few meaningful bus route changes. The MTA also mixes good and bad ideas in its plans with too much of a focus on reducing operating costs and too little emphasis on improving service.

Examples are a service extension in Brooklyn around 2001 to the Gateway shopping center, which was combined with a route cutback in Ridgewood in order to save a single bus. Similarly, an improvement combining service on the two portions of Ralph Avenue also was coupled with a cutback in service on St. John's Place to keep costs neutral. That created a new service gap and reduced accessibility. The approach to mix good with bad ensures opposition to MTA plans.

Unwillingness to invest in providing additional bus miles to attract new patronage has partially been the reason for ridership declines. The MTA has long-insisted that bus route changes be cost neutral with the exception of the SBS program. In recent years, service in developing neighborhoods has been addressed by the creation of shuttle routes or extensions operating every 30 minutes without consideration of the rest of the bus system; those routes have not performed well. A B67 extension caused additional routing problems by terminating a few blocks from a major transportation terminal, hindering transferring, also to save a single bus. 

In other words, if you make sensible proposals that do not needlessly hurt communities and are honest with them by telling them the entire story — the positives as well as the negatives, as DCP did — they will support your plan. Conflicting and partial information, refusing to compromise as in the northeast Bronx study, and refusing to respond to questions, as with the SBS program, will result in opposition.

This is part 2 of a 3-part series. Read part 1 here. The final part discusses routing changes that are still needed in Brooklyn and what needs to be changed in the Fast Forward plan.

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Allan Rosen is former Director of Bus Planning, MTA NYC Transit. On Twitter @BrooklynBus.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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Designing Bus Routes to Attract Passengers and Reverse Declining Ridership (Part 2) Sun, 25 Nov 2018 05:00:00 +0000
Infrastructure Planning Should Not Include Vilifying Workers http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8060-infrastructure-planning-should-not-include-vilifying-workers http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8060-infrastructure-planning-should-not-include-vilifying-workers sandhogs 12


Development and infrastructure are among the most widely discussed topics in New York City. Over the last few weeks, for example, City & State hosted the Rebuilding New York Summit focusing on infrastructure, financing, and policy; an article came out regarding MTA contracting reform; and several City Council members had a press conference to call for an investigation into MTA spending. But typically missing from the conversation are the people actually doing the work. When workers are mentioned, it’s usually to argue that the costs associated with labor make it harder to take on or to complete new projects. These recent instances fell right into this familiar pattern.  

The New York State Laborers’ Organizing Fund, which participated in the Rebuilding New York Summit, was pleased to be able to provide the perspectives of our more than 40,000 members -- men and women who work day-in and day-out to keep New York running. Our members in New York are skilled, knowledgeable, and professional Construction Craft Laborers including cement and concrete workers, drill runners and demolition specialists, asphalt pavers and asbestos workers, sandhogs, or tunnel workers, hazardous waste workers, and more.

This workforce paves our roads, builds our railways, bridges, and utilities. The Laborers ensure this workforce is well-trained, safe, and sustained so that it may continue to build and repair projects for years to come. Workers receive competitive wages to support themselves and their families, safety and skills training, health Insurance, and savings toward retirement. The unionized construction industry provides workers with a sustainable career, which raises the bar for non-union workers as well, and benefits everyone in society.

Investing in infrastructure is necessary. It contributes to economic growth by producing reliable and quality projects which allow New Yorkers and products to move around more easily. It supports the continually increasing population of the city, as well as those who visit it. And finally, it creates jobs and increases the demand for a skilled workforce. But we cannot talk about the building and infrastructure needs without including those who will physically do the often dangerous work.

Is the cost of labor too high?
In December 2017, a New York Times piece reported the costs of tunnel labor in Paris and compared it to the cost in New York City, and what was clear is that they were not the equal. The piece claimed that workers in New York City are paid over $100 an hour while a similar worker in Paris is paid the equivalent of $60. But, left out of that math is that a large portion of hourly “wage” in New York actually goes to paying for healthcare, retirement, and paid leave. These benefits exist as government-sponsored programs in many places around the world, but not here. What these tunnel workers here in New York are left with as take-home pay at the end of the day is actually less than someone doing the same work in Paris.

New York taxpayers are construction workers and construction workers are taxpayers who also want jobs completed efficiently, safely, and by the most skilled workers to ensure quality. We ride the trains, drive on the roads, and live in the buildings with our families, and those of our neighbors.

All building and repairing projects in New York must include worker protections. This can help to ensure workers have basic wage and safety expectations and that projects are done in a professional and competent manner. But when the New York City subways received many headlines for their state of disrepair, workers were targeted. Scapegoating construction worker wages, and decisions made to build a well-trained workforce, is a simplistic argument to describe the challenges of complex and multi-billion-dollar projects.

Instead of demonizing workers because they can support themselves and their families, we should strive to raise the bar for all workers and penalize worker exploitation. We cannot support projects where taxpayer money is used, and workers are exposed to irresponsible contractors with histories of wage theft, safety violations, and low-wages.

It’s a matter of life and death for workers. How much is a worker’s life worth? Working in construction is dangerous. When workers are represented they may feel less pressure to work on an unsafe jobsite or perform a task they do not know how to do. Newly immigrated workers and day laborers may put their lives in dangerous situations for their livelihood. Union contractors ensure the safety of workers and uphold the standards of the industry while nonunion contractors continually cut corners using unsafe cost-saving measures, putting the scrupulous contractors at a disadvantage.

We must continue to raise the standards for all workers and to demand that contractors and developers do the same, and remember the worker when discussing infrastructure needs in New York.

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Vinny Albanese is Director of Policy and Public Affairs at New York State Laborers’ Organizing Fund (LIUNA).

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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Infrastructure Planning Should Not Include Vilifying Workers Fri, 23 Nov 2018 05:00:00 +0000
Max & Murphy Podcast: Congestion Pricing & the MTA in 2019 http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8098-max-murphy-podcast-congestion-pricing-the-mta-in-2019 http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8098-max-murphy-podcast-congestion-pricing-the-mta-in-2019 mxm logo

Ben Max, left, of Gotham Gazette, and Jarrett Murphy, right, of City Limits


November 21, 2018 - Max & Murphy Podcast: Congestion Pricing & the MTA - Looking Ahead to 2019

This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project
Find the rest of the series here

alex m dana rubenstein wbaiAlex Matthiessen of Move New York joined the show to discuss congestion pricing -- the policy details, political landscape and prospects for passage in 2019 -- and Dana Rubinstein of Politico New York joined the show to discuss the MTA -- subway service, leadership, and funding.

Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think -- we're on Twitter @TweetBenMax and @JarrettMurphy. You can listen to the show through the embedded audio below or download the episode wherever you get your podcasts, under "Max & Murphy," and listen to Max & Murphy live on Wednesdays at 5 p.m. on WBAI radio, 99.5FM or wbai.org

agenda19v2 a

This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project
Find the rest of the series here

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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Max & Murphy Podcast: Congestion Pricing & the MTA in 2019 Wed, 21 Nov 2018 05:00:00 +0000
Agenda 2019: Long List of Transit Questions Starts with Saving the Subways http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8094-agenda-2019-long-list-of-transit-questions-starts-with-saving-the-subways http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8094-agenda-2019-long-list-of-transit-questions-starts-with-saving-the-subways gov an cuomo littering

Gov. Cuomo on the tracks (photo: Kevin P. Coughlin/Governor's Office)


This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project
Find the rest of the series here

2019 will be a pivotal year for New York City transportation, unlike any this city has seen in decades. Not only is there near-universal agreement that the city’s transportation landscape, from the subways to the buses to the traffic and everything in between, is fundamentally broken, there is also a growing consensus on many of the steps needed to fix it, starting with—but by no means limited to—congestion pricing.

The problems start, of course, with the subways. For the first time in a generation, there is a leader at the MTA, New York City Transit President Andy Byford, that activists, politicians, and the riding public believe in. And he’s getting results, at least enough of them to instill confidence in new-found competence. On-time subway performance has been steadily rising since a low of 58.1 percent in January to 70.3 percent in October. Overall delays are also trending in the right direction. The $836 million Subway Action Plan work has mostly been done, which also seems to have had an effect in reducing the number of “Major Incidents” that snarl commutes.

Byford and his management team are always quick to admit there’s still much more work to do, but his efforts to improve “the basics” by reducing train dwell times, making sure all of the safety equipment in the system works properly so trains can go as fast as safely possible, and other “safe seconds” initiatives appear to be paying off.

On top of that, the state Legislature, which has final say on many of the key issues facing the city’s transportation landscape, turned solidly Democratic in November, opening the door to changes that may otherwise have been off the table. Some legislators at least appear eager to tackle the transportation issue head-on. Plus, Corey Johnson, the City Council speaker, has made transportation a key tentpole issue of his early tenure by passing a temporary Uber/Lyft cap and the Fair Fares program for discounted MetroCards. In many ways, the stars are very much aligned.

But the challenges are just as monumental as the opportunities. The MTA has a precarious financial situation, ridership is declining, and some miscalculations now such as cutting service or raising fares too high could have dire consequences. Congestion pricing still has its detractors, particularly in the outer boroughs who, reasonably, want commitments to better bus service in exchange. They need to be convinced. The city’s mayor, Bill de Blasio, is still curiously indifferent to all things transit with the exception of his beloved ferries, a tiny, heavily-subsidized slice of the overall pie, and his still-far-off BQX streetcar.

And the single most important person in this conversation, Governor Andrew Cuomo, has been too selective regarding what MTA issues he’s interested in and when, resulting in a revolving door of MTA leaders, whom Cuomo appoints. The agency needs a consistent, dedicated head who can team with Byford for long-term fixes. Cuomo will soon nominate someone for the position after Joe Lhota’s departure.

A year from now, we’ll probably have a pretty good idea of what the future of the city’s transportation will look like. Perhaps decades from now, New Yorkers will look back on 2019 as the year the tide finally turned towards real fixes for the beleaguered transit picture, with a reliable subway system, buses that move, and other essentials. Or, despite the crises and challenges New York faces, maybe it will be perceived as a missed opportunity.

The L Train Shutdown
Believe it or not, the L train shutdown, that dark specter of fear and misery looming in the distance for years, is finally upon us. Starting on April 27, the L train will run at a reduced frequency and only in Brooklyn, diverting almost 300,000 riders per day. The MTA and NYC DOT have created an elaborate mitigation plan they claim can accommodate every rider. The agencies anticipate four out of every five displaced L riders will use other subway routes (most notably the J, M, Z, G, 7, E, A, and C) and the rest will use some combination of special bus services across the Williamsburg Bridge, ferries, or bikes; 14th Street will become a busway for most of each day and the Williamsburg Bridge will be HOV-3 to accommodate all those buses.

But there is simply no way to have hundreds of thousands of commuters change their habits all at once in an orderly fashion. The big question, then, is how the MTA and DOT adapt.

“We'll be watching closely to see whether the MTA and DOT can work together to adapt to real-world transportation needs on the ground,” said Hayley Richardson of TransitCenter. Some of the adjustments they’ll keep an eye on: will the HOV-3 window on the bridge, from 5 AM to 10 PM, be sufficient? Will HOV-3 in general be restrictive enough, given that their modeling largely uses assumptions from crises before Uber and Lyft had shared-ride options and thus could easily meet the HOV-3 restriction? Perhaps they’ll need to institute pop-up bus lanes created with standard issue road cones.

Another looming question is whether the HOV-3 restriction and bus lanes will be properly enforced. Given the volume of buses the MTA expects to run across the bridge and 14th Street—one or two buses per minute in some cases—even one blocked bus lane could be catastrophic during peak hours. It’s up to the NYPD to enforce it, and there has been little indication that the department prioritizes such work.

Whatever the case, riders—whether former L commuters or those on the lines that will be swamped with more passengers—are going to be dealing with a lot of changes. Will the MTA be able to communicate effectively? It, too, has left a lot to be desired in that department.

There’s a lot riding on the MTA and the city to get this right. Aside from the obvious need to get people where they need to go, it is a huge opportunity for the MTA to show riders it is improving, deserves more taxpayer and rider money, and will use it wisely because it is a competent, efficient organization. Because, well, the MTA is going to be asking for a lot of money.

Sorting Out the MTA’s Budget Mess
Earlier this month, MTA Chief Financial Officer Bob Foran presented a sobering financial picture to the MTA Board. In short, the MTA projects a $991 million deficit by 2022 even with biennial fare and toll increases. Foran argued the MTA needs a new, recurring revenue stream in order to balance the budget beyond 2020. And this is just the MTA’s costs of providing day-to-day service; the next five-year capital plan—which would include Byford’s Fast Forward Plan to revitalize New York City Transit, plus the needs of LIRR and Metro-North—is estimated to cost around $60 billion, or nearly double the current capital plan. Who will pay for it and how is the single biggest question facing New York City transportation this year.

For his part, Cuomo has been consistent on one MTA issue: he wants the city to pay more. He wanted the city to pay more in 2015 towards the current capital plan, he forced the city's hand into paying half of the Subway Action Plan, and he regularly pledges—and had suburban state Senators sign on—to make the city pay its “fair share” going forward.

Before Lhota resigned as MTA chair earlier this month, he stated the Board would not take a position regarding preferred revenue streams until the MTA Sustainability Advisory Working Group, created by this year’s state budget, issues its report on this topic, which is expected by the end of the year. That report will likely set the tone for discussions in Albany once the new legislative session begins in January, which is largely dictated by the governor’s State of the State address and Executive Budget presentation.

In the meantime, Governor Cuomo declared on WNYC’s Brian Lehrer Show on Monday that “the MTA is going to be a top priority for me this year” and that he favors congestion pricing as the additional revenue stream in need.

Congestion pricing, which would charge drivers who enter Manhattan’s Central Business District, will accomplish far more than give the MTA additional money (perhaps more than $1 billion per year depending on what the exact model looks like). It will also address one of New York’s other major transportation issues: traffic. According to the FixNYC panel convened by the governor last year to study congestion pricing, vehicles in the Central Business District moved at a mere 6.8 miles per hour in 2016, and only 4.7 miles per hour—a brisk walking pace—in the “Midtown Core.” By reducing the number of vehicles in Manhattan, congestion pricing would help speed things up.

Because of the MTA’s dire financial outlook and Manhattan’s desperate need for traffic relief, congestion pricing is a two-birds-one-stone type deal. Combined with a revamped state Legislature more amenable to congestion pricing, there’s a growing consensus it will pass this coming session.

“We certainly expect to see congestion pricing done this year in the budget process,” Tri-State Transportation Campaign executive director Nick Sifuentes predicted, before adding “and we also know additional resources of funding will be necessary if we’re going to see Fast Forward fully funded.” What those additional revenue sources might be is a question the MTA Sustainability Advisory Working Group will presumably address.

MTA Cost Control
But that’s just the revenue side of the equation. The MTA also has a highly-publicized cost control issue, spending orders of magnitude more on big projects than comparable cities. It’s a problem Cuomo has finally vowed to tackle. “There is inefficiency that goes on at the MTA that has to end,” he told Lehrer. Easier said than done, especially for a governor who has been extremely tight with the Transportation Workers Union and taken little apparent interest in how MTA contracting is managed.

While the MTA has said that tackling high capital costs is a key goal for almost a year now, there has so far been very little payoff. Presentations by the MTA Board’s procurement and cost containment task forces in June have been the only public-facing initiatives within the authority to keep the ball moving forward. Nor has there been any transparency on why, exactly, the Fast Forward Plan will cost $40 billion, how that number was arrived at, or whether the cost can be lowered by prioritizing some initiatives over others.

The MTA will also be re-negotiating its biggest labor contract with TWU Local 100 and its more than 40,000 members, whose contract expires in May. Payroll, health care, and pensions account for more than half of the MTA’s $16.7 billion 2019 budget.

The main question is to what degree lawmakers will push the cost control issue when determining new revenue streams in the upcoming state budget. Will they insist on rigid cost containment guards to make sure the money is spent wisely? Or will they throw a bunch of money at the MTA and hope the problem doesn’t present its ugly head again until they’re long gone from office?

The latter approach may be the more cynical one, but it’s also the historically preferred one in Albany. Nevertheless, Assemblywoman Amy Paulin has already vowed to break form and “conduct [a] rigorous, public oversight during the legislative session” on the MTA. Danny Pearlstein of the Riders Alliance expects lawmakers this time around to take a more active approach in ensuring the MTA is doing something about outsized construction costs. “Lawmakers and fare, toll, and taxpayers want to know that the money they raise and set aside for transit will be used efficiently and responsibly,’ Pearlstein said. “Ramping up toward the next MTA capital plan, look for the authority to articulate and implement new cost control measures.”

Get Buses Moving Again
For all the talk of fixing the subway for tens of billions of dollars, fixing the city’s bus service—which serves almost two million riders a day but has seen ridership plummet by almost 10 percent since 2012—is a relatively cheap and easy proposition by comparison. Instead of a matter of dollars, it’s largely a matter of will.

Congestion pricing would likely help speed up bus service in some parts of Manhattan, but more needs to be done to make bus service throughout the five boroughs an attractive option, say both Sifuentes and Pearlstein, whose organizations have partnered with other advocacy groups to form the Bus Turnaround Coalition. The coalition calls for, among other measures, redesigning the city’s bus routes, which in many cases have not been touched in decades. The MTA just finished redesigning Staten Island’s express bus network and plans to tackle the Bronx next.

But it’s not just an MTA problem. The roads and traffic signals are controlled by the city DOT and monitored by the NYPD, and thus far Mayor de Blasio has not made speeding up bus service a priority—or even a topic—of his administration’s efforts. “The city (DOT) really needs to step up its commitment on buses,” Sifuentes urged, which he says ought to include more bus lanes and more robust and expanded transit signal priority, which gives buses as many green lights as possible.

There is something Albany can do, which is probably the most important thing to speed up buses. Both Pearlstein and Sifuentes plan to pressure the state Legislature to drastically expand the use of camera enforcement for bus lanes rather than relying on the NYPD to write tickets. For his part, Byford wants those cameras mounted on the front of buses, ensuring anyone who blocks a bus lane gets a ticket regardless of whether or not there’s a cop nearby.

agenda19v2 aNew Fare Payment System
The Bus Turnaround Coalition also calls for all-door boarding to speed up loading times, which can only be done with a new fare payment system. Luckily, the MTA is mere months from introducing this.

Starting in May, riders will be able to use contactless payment such as Apple Pay, Google Pay, or contactless-enabled credit cards that Chase and Visa will be rolling out in the coming months, to pay their fare on the 4/5 subway line between Grand Central and Atlantic Ave/Barclays as well as Staten Island express buses. The MTA plans to roll out contactless payments to every other bus and subway station by October 2020. By the time MetroCards are no longer accepted in 2023, riders who don’t have credit cards or smartphones will be able to purchase NFC-enabled transit cards like the ones in Chicago, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, London, and pretty much every other major city from new station vending machines and local stores.

This new payment system will not only make bus boarding faster if implemented properly, it can also accommodate a more sensible fare structure that eliminates the need to face the existential question of adding value or adding time. This model, known as fare-capping, means people pay per-ride until they hit a pre-determined maximum for a period of time, perhaps a day, week, or month, at which point each additional ride is free for that time period. This ensures nobody pays more than the “unlimited” amount and further incentivizes folks to use public transportation no matter how many trips they plan to make.

Although fare-capping can’t happen until every subway station and bus has the new fare payment system in 2020, the 4/5 line rollout will be something to watch next year, particularly in concert with the city’s Fair Fares program that gives half-priced MetroCards to low-income New Yorkers. Going forward, contactless payments would make implementing that system simpler and cheaper. Although it’s not getting nearly as much attention, the New Fare Payment System may well be the most transformative change for the city’s transportation next year.

Other Important Transportation Issues on the Table, But with Less for 2019
-With the House flipping Democratic, there is slightly more reason for optimism that something—anything—might develop in securing funding for the $30 billion Gateway project, although President Trump would have to renege on his vow to veto any federal funding for the project. It would be nice if they also found ways to reduce that price tag, too.

-2019 will likely see a series of “announcements” by Cuomo about progress on Penn Station’s redevelopment, but none of the major renovation projects such as the Moynihan extension are scheduled to be completed until 2020.

-Placard abuse continues to run rampant throughout the city, with little attention from Mayor de Blasio, who has repeatedly vowed to crack down on the widespread practice and repeatedly failed to do so. Reining in this overtly corrupt practice would do wonders for city streets, but there’s no reason at this point to believe 2019 will be any different than previous years.

-Returning to Fair Fares, which is designed to provide half-price MetroCards to low-income New Yorkers, the program is set to begin in 2019. It’s widely seen as a major step forward for the city, but some questions linger, such as how smoothly the implementation will go and whether there will be an option for single-ride Fair Fares down the road, since the initial program will be limited to seven-day and 30-day passes, an issue advocates and some elected officials have said needs to be solved.

-For Long Island commuters, two massive improvements are on the distant horizon—East Side Access and Third Track—but both are still years away, with scheduled completion dates of December 2022. Again, progress worth monitoring along with and aside from inevitable Cuomo “announcements.”

-That point also applies to LaGuardia Airport, which will still be a lot of trouble in 2019 and probably for much beyond, too. Terminal B, the center of the new design, won’t open until 2020 and Concourse A won’t be done until 2022, but work is ongoing the governor will be there.

-And the city’s much-maligned streetcar project, the BQX, is still technically alive despite needing $1 billion in federal funding to become a reality, according to city officials who have changed their tune on funding since de Blasio announced the BQX in 2016. Don’t expect much if anything to change in 2019, as the Friends of the BQX’s own timeline says the city won’t complete its Environmental Impact Statement process until September 2020.

This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project
Find the rest of the series here

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Aaron Gordon is a freelance journalist and founder of Signal Problems, a weekly newsletter about the subway. On Twitter @A_W_Gordon

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Agenda 2019: Long List of Transit Questions Starts with Saving the Subways Tue, 20 Nov 2018 05:00:00 +0000
Designing Bus Routes to Attract Passengers and Reverse Declining Ridership (Part 1) http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8090-designing-bus-routes-to-attract-passengers-and-reverse-the-decline-in-ridership-part-one http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8090-designing-bus-routes-to-attract-passengers-and-reverse-the-decline-in-ridership-part-one mta double decker electric bus

(photo: Marc A. Hermann / MTA New York City Transit)


Bus Ridership in New York City is on the decline despite innovations such as Select Bus Service (SBS). Newly appointed New York City Transit (NYCT) President Andy Byford’s Fast Forward plan will not reverse this trend unless its focus is changed to make it more passenger friendly.

The plan states (page 34) that the bus route network will be redesigned within three years “based on customer needs through a process of customer consultation and analysis of travel patterns.” NYCT will also “Rationalize bus stops in consultation with local communities and the NYC Department of Transportation to reduce travel times, including eliminating under-utilized stops and consolidating closely-spaced bus stops” (there is no definition of “closely spaced”).

There are several priorities NYCT must have in undertaking this work, and lessons that can be learned from past planning.

Warning Signs and Inclusive Planning
If the recent elimination of 25 Q22 bus stops in the Rockaways is any indication, walking distances to bus stops will be a half-mile or more in some cases. Also, those changes were opposed by the community, but implemented anyway (and there was massive confusion afterward due to inadequate notice). So, what does Byford mean that changes will involve community consultation?

Bus stop removal does not necessarily speed buses. The Q22 averaged 15 mph west of Beach 116 Street.  There was no need for these buses to travel faster. Further, since the eliminated stops were very lightly used, most of them were usually skipped anyway, so no meaningful time was saved by eliminating them, but total travel time for travelers was increased due to extra walking and a greater likelihood of missing the bus. Saving a few minutes on the bus due to fewer stops is not an improvement when those minutes are instead spent walking extra to and from the bus, and it may even increase trip time. 

Longer walking distances disproportionately harm the elderly, handicapped, those with temporary injuries, e.g. those on crutches, or have health issues such as sciatica which makes walking exceedingly painful. Fewer bus stops can also be categorized as a cut in service.

People carrying packages, women accompanied by small children, or lugging shopping carts, pushing baby carriages, or pulling suitcases are also not willing to walk long distances. Weather is also a factor.  Most would not want to walk half a mile in a snowstorm or pouring rain to get to a bus stop. When there is a choice between the bus and train, many choose the bus because they cannot walk stairs.

Bottom line: Planning should not be done by only considering able-bodied riders on good weather days.

Why is Bus Ridership Declining?
There are many reasons. The city Comptroller says its due in part to a fractured management system. Buses are often late, slow, and otherwise unreliable and sometimes overcrowded, and some routes do not take passengers where they want to go. They often involve indirect travel and one or more transfers requiring long waits. Alternatives do exist besides driving, and bus riders are increasingly switching to them. There is walking and cycling, taxis, car services and app-based services like Uber, indirect subways, and of course the decision not to make discretionary trips. 

Riders want as much direct service as possible and are willing to tolerate one bus transfer except when service is very infrequent. Two transfers usually involve an extra fare for those without unlimited passes, another system deterrent. Passes do not make sense for those who cannot afford them and those who use the system less than five days a week, such as many college students. Approximately half the passengers do not have unlimited passes. Total trip time, personal safety, and cost are the primary factors determining mode of travel. Yet the MTA does not measure total trip time. It is more concerned with time spent on the bus and increasing average bus speed. Any plan which necessitates additional transfers will fail.

How Do We Reverse the Trend 0f Declining Ridership?
We can look at what has already worked for clues. 

November 12, 2018 marks the 40th anniversary of the southwest Brooklyn bus re-routings, which I designed at the Department of City Planning (DCP). We studied eight interlinked bus routes and redesigned them to improve their effectiveness.

Most notably, we proposed a new 86th Street bus route (designated as the B86) replacing four separate routes that covered different portions of the street. The old routings caused unnecessary complexity making the bus system difficult to use. Three transfers and multiple fares were required to travel between Bay Ridge to Manhattan Beach. Four or five buses were required from Bay Ridge to Brighton Beach. 

Rather than using such a cumbersome bus system, mass transit travel between those neighborhoods usually involved three indirect subways via downtown Brooklyn. That was replaced by making many more one and two-bus trips possible. A portion of that proposal was accepted and the new route was designated the B1. Today, the B1 has good frequencies and is the seventh most-heavily utilized route in the borough. The routes it replaced were all moderately or lightly used with poor frequencies. Service gaps were filled and connections were vastly improved. 

Redesigning the City’s Bus Routes
The Fast Forward plan to redesign the city's bus routes within three years is a necessary and monumental task. Will this redesign result in increased ridership? It is difficult to tell because few details have been released.

We know routes will be straighter, with fewer bus stops. There also will probably be fewer routes since one of the goals is to eliminate what is considered duplicative route segments. What is really duplicative? Are two routes operating on the same street serving different destinations duplicative? Is a bus on the same street as a subway duplicative or do they serve different purposes? Will eliminating one of them increase the number of transfers that are necessary to complete a trip? These questions need answers.

Successful route planning that increases ridership cannot merely be accomplished by studying a bus map and eliminating turns making routes simpler and easier to understand. Certainly, simple routes are desirable, but making them simpler can also make them less useful by increasing walking distances.  

Operating costs appear to be the prime factor in determining the MTA's decision for how to restructure bus routes and bus stops. The single goal appears to be to have buses operate faster to reduce operating costs. In that regard, during the past decade, the MTA has converted many revenue miles into non-revenue miles for partial trips to and from depots because they regard non-revenue miles as more productive and efficient than miles where passengers are carried. Some buses even make entire trips not in service.

Bottom line: If the needs of the passenger are not the primary focus, the bus route redesign will fail to increase ridership and most likely will result greater ridership declines. 

That is not to say that every bus stop is needed and no portions of routes can be eliminated successfully. Operating costs must of course be a consideration, but not the primary one. Improving reliability, reducing crowding, passenger total trip times, and transferring must be prime areas of focus.

Increased reliability can be accomplished by maintaining long routes but scheduling more service appropriate to the demand. This can in part be done by having many buses not operating end to end, but serving only the areas of the route with the highest ridership, more closely matching service to demand.

Shorter trips increase reliability because a delay at one end of the route will not affect all buses throughout the entire route. Merely splitting very long routes in half, as the MTA has done, greatly increases the need to transfer and reduces the amount of direct travel. It is better to split very long routes so that there is some overlap.

The personnel in charge of reliability should be adequate and dispatchers need to be properly trained. Bus schedules should also reflect realistic road conditions. Some bus operators have complained that some trips can routinely take them nearly twice the allotted schedule which means that all scheduled trips are not provided.

Creating exclusive bus lanes with little enforcement has not significantly improved bus reliability according to city Comptroller Scott Stringer’s office. These lanes have slowed down other traffic in many cases, increasing trip times for those not in buses, a factor the MTA and the Department of Transportation (DOT) have been ignoring. 

The MTA must realize that increased service results in increased ridership and not believe the two are unrelated. The 2010 massive service cuts assumed there are alternatives for every eliminated route and route segment, and that ridership will not decrease. Ridership, of course, did decrease.

Bottom line: The MTA must be willing to invest in service enhancements to reverse the trend of declining bus ridership and not continue to insist that all changes to bus routes be cost neutral with no examination of latent demand.

Service is not planned with latent demand in mind but only for existing riders. The assumption is that increased service will not improve ridership. Operating costs and current patronage should not be the only variables in the decision whether or not to increase service.

Service gaps must be filled with an emphasis on reducing the need for transferring. In order to understand how to do this, in part 2 of this series, I examine the southwest Brooklyn changes more closely and compare them to past MTA studies that have not achieved their desired results. And part 3 of 3 will discuss routing changes that are still needed for Brooklyn and discuss measures to reverse the decline in bus ridership.

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Allan Rosen is former Director of Bus Planning, MTA NYC Transit. On Twitter @BrooklynBus.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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Designing Bus Routes to Attract Passengers and Reverse Declining Ridership (Part 1) Mon, 19 Nov 2018 05:00:00 +0000
8 Steps to Fix New York Transit and Get New Yorkers Moving Again http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8008-8-steps-to-fix-new-york-transit-and-get-new-yorkers-moving-again http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8008-8-steps-to-fix-new-york-transit-and-get-new-yorkers-moving-again Cuomo subway repairs

Gov. Cuomo underground (photo: The Governor's Office)


With the transit system in New York City in constant crisis over a sustained period of time, from delayed trains underground to ever-dropping bus speeds on the streets, the question of how exactly to fix mass transit has been on the minds of elected and appointed officials, advocates and analysts, and, of course, frustrated commuters. In the aftermath of the short-term Subway Action Plan, the effectiveness of which was somewhat difficult to quantify and apparently underwhelming, officials are trying to focus on how to provide more long-term physical and fiscal stability for the beleaguered Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA).

While the ambitious plan to upgrade train signals, bus routes, and MTA spending practices that MTA New York City Transit president Andy Byford has called Fast Forward seems to be a universally agreed-on blueprint to improve city transit, how the plan gets funded and implemented is somewhat more muddled thanks to political disagreements between state and city leaders.

Governor Andrew Cuomo has embraced congestion pricing, a plan that would fund the MTA through tolls on vehicles entering Manhattan south of 60th Street, what the Fix NYC panel has determined should be the border of Manhattan’s central business district. Cuomo called the scheme -- which is aimed at both funding the MTA and reducing Manhattan roadway congestion -- an “idea whose time has come” last year, but the only part of the proposal that was agreed upon by state leaders this year was new fees on taxis and app-basd for-hire vehicles ($0.75 added to for-hire-vehicle carpool rides, $2.50 on taxi trips and $2.75 on FHV trips that go into Manhattan south of 96th Street), leaving the more difficult matter of adding a toll cordon in Manhattan to be dealt with later -- perhaps in the 2019 state budget, as Cuomo has indicated.

Cuomo is also demanding the New York City “pay its fair share” for any subway upgrades, an ask that observers have called dubious and one that seems wrapped up in his running feud with Mayor Bill de Blasio.

For his part, de Blasio has resisted embracing congestion pricing, calling it “regressive” even in the face of data showing car owners are wealthier than regular city transit riders, and has instead pushed a millionaires tax as a way of providing the MTA a new revenue stream. The mayor’s resistance to congestion pricing has drawn criticism from subway advocates, who have put together an advocacy coalition made up of anti-poverty and transit groups to push for the toll, and the millionaires tax is an idea Cuomo and even Democratic state Senators have dismissed as not having much support in Albany. In recent months de Blasio has appeared warmer to congestion pricing, perhaps seeing the writing on the wall as it gains support and appears to be a top Cuomo priority for the new year, pending his own reelection.

There’s also a coalition of elected officials who feel like the answer is to institute congestion pricing and the millionaires tax, in addition to reinstituting the commuter tax and getting the federal government to end the carried interest loophole. With the expected price for Fast Forward coming to close to $40 billion, these officials argue that neither congestion pricing nor a millionaires tax would provide the needed revenue for the MTA even when combined with contributions by the city and state.

Along with the policy-makers themselves, New York’s other top transit minds, who often influence policy outcomes, continue to assess ways to improve the subway and bus systems. Asked by Gotham Gazette how city, state, and MTA leaders can make real improvements, experts outlined roughly eight key steps, ranging from instituting the much-discussed congestion pricing and Fast Forward plans to more ambitious proposals that would encourage the city and state to look at mass transit as an all-encompassing ecosystem instead of separate pieces that happen to operate under a single public authority.

1. Fast Forward
The transit experts who spokes to Gotham Gazette pegged moving ahead with Fast Forward as an important next step in the life of the MTA. “The Regional Plan Association has long advocated for modernizing the signaling system in the subways, improving bus service, and making all stations ADA accessible, these are fundamental parts of Fast Forward,” said Kate Slevin, the senior vice president of programs and advocacy at RPA.

Not only does the Fast Forward plan include the physical improvements that Slevin noted, but it signals to riders and employees at the agency that there could be a new way of doing things going forward. “The MTA finally has a big picture vision, which is important for aligning the priorities of the many projects and fixes that have to be done,” Liam Blank, the advocacy manager at the Tri-State Transportation Campaign told Gotham Gazette. “They've lacked that for a number of years, and as a result we've gotten hodgepodge improvements that don't really show benefits to a majority of commuters.”

It’s the signal system upgrade at the heart of the plan, though, that Byford has suggested can be done on 11 line segments in 10 years, that could make the biggest difference according to Nicole Gelinas, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute with a focus on transit. “The single-biggest thing we need to do is get more people onto the trains more reliably, and you can't really do that with the signal system the way it is,” she said. “Even if [the signal upgrades] aren’t on the exact schedule the Fast Forward plan laid out, it's a high-priority, I think it's important,” Gelinas said, noting that the communications-based train control-equipped L train has on-time performances over 90 percent compared to averages of 60 percent performance across the rest of the system, which Gelinas, Byford, and everyone else paying attention wants upgraded to CBTC as quickly as possible.

2. Congestion Pricing
Of course, implementing Fast Forward will require a large infusion of money for the MTA in order to get this work done. For revenue, and other reasons, transit experts peg congestion pricing as a necessary step to improve city mobility and livability. “There should be costs to bringing a large metal vehicle into the city,” Gelinas said, noting the effect that car traffic has on pedestrians walking around cars in crosswalks and cyclists having to dodge cars in bike lanes.

Not only would congestion pricing compel drivers to pay what Blank called “their fare share” for using public infrastructure, it would also free up street space in Manhattan which helps improve bus speeds there. “Fewer cars on the road means that the buses can start to move at speeds comparable to other cities. Right now they're stuck in the same traffic as the rest of the cars, so we have a transit system that's ineffective down below and on the surface,” Blank said.

And the need for it, according to Slevin of RPA, is almost impossible to overstate. “I can't stress enough how the key is congestion pricing to help us fix the subway, fix the buses, and provide the revenue for Fast Forward. And we have to get it done in 2019, we have to,” she said.

3. Control Costs
Whether or not a new revenue source for the MTA comes to fruition, the authority must look at how it actually spends the money it has at its disposal, according to transit watchers. The good news, on that front, is that members of the MTA board have spoken up about cost-controls recently, including a well-received report by Scott Rechler that laid out how the MTA could cut costs by reforming the agency’s bidding and project management processes.

“I think the board has laid out some common sense changes to how the MTA does business that will make things more cost effective and done in a more timely manner,” Slevin said, about proposals like simplifying contracts and making it easier to change projects on the fly. “But the leadership of the MTA and the whole agency has to be on board with implementing those changes and explain to the public how they're going about that.”

Like with many governmental agencies and authorities, personnel costs loom large. A coming jump in employee healthcare costs to $2.6 billion in 2022, according to Gelinas, means the authority should take a look at those and other costs as a preparation to make a bigger ask. “I would like to see a full audit of every single cost. Not even start with cutting health benefits, but are there better ways to deliver this healthcare, look at the labor rules, really justify spending every dollar before you do congestion pricing and say, ‘Oh by the way we need more money too.’"

There’s also an upcoming opportunity for the MTA and the Transportation Workers Union to find savings in staffing rules when they negotiate a contract in 2019, according to Jamison Dague, the director of infrastructure studies at the Citizens Budget Commission.

“What you'd like to see is some coordination between management and labor to improve productivity,” Dague said. “Whether looking at some of the work rules and the staffing as far as how flexibly you can deploy certain workers for different types of tasks, or even when it comes to hiring, can you can be less specific in the types of job requirements.”

Public-facing introspection could help make the case for more funding. “Byford could use a set of talking points on how the MTA is changing inside,” said Jon Orcutt, director of communications and advocacy at TransitCenter. “The line station managers are achieving X, we brought this project to a close under budget, we have our procurement process under review and will be instituting reforms by X month and so forth.”

Part of the spending fix can be as simple as the MTA taking a more active role in buying work materials. “Contractors and subcontractors buy the materials like cement and steel,” Gelinas said. “You'd think it would make sense for the MTA to buy those because it's a much bigger purchaser on the world market, and then give them to the contractors. Materials procurement is very opaque and there's a lot of room for corruption and middle men and padding and all kinds of things there,” she said, but the process still flies under the radar and delays projects that are as simple as repairing some stairs.

4. Use Current Projects as Proof Points
It’s also important for the MTA to prove they can actually improve the lives of New Yorkers, in order to build political support for the authority’s larger plans. The upcoming completion of the 7 train’s much-delayed CBTC signaling system is another opportunity for the MTA to show off what service improvements actually look like, while also explaining how other lines will be upgraded more efficiently, per Fast Forward.

“[Andy Byford] needs to deliver on that, and he needs a huge communications push to show why it's gotten better,” Orcutt said. “It would be great for everyone in Queens and also the whole city to see, ‘We re-signaled a line and it's great. And if you want more of that on your subway you have to fund Fast Forward. Delivering something tangible is really key for them.”

“The more the MTA can do to build its credibility in the near term will help with some of these longer term funding discussions,” said Slevin of RPA. “The L train shutdown is an opportunity to show you can get a big project done faster and cheaper by ripping off the Band-Aid and having a shorter period of time when there's more pain for riders,” she said, an especially salient point as Fast Forward fixes will most likely come with massive service disruptions.

5. Remember the Buses
There is one area where New York City government can exert more control on its own, advocates say, which is the bus system. “The city has [bus lane enforcement] cameras,” Orcutt said. “They can move them around, they can broadcast the fact that the cameras are out there more vigorously,” he said, and can also ask the NYPD to actually enforce the rules against driving and parking in bus lanes, a subject that Orcutt said the mayor “has been completely obtuse about.”

And as budget season starts in 2019, Blank of Tri-State Transportation said the city and MTA should lobby state lawmakers for even more bus lane cameras, an improvement that advocates called for in a recent “Fast Bus, Fair City” report. Blank also said the city should follow another one of the report’s recommendations and add 100 miles of bus lanes in the next five years, on top of the city’s existing 120 miles of lanes.

Gelinas of the Manhattan Institute suggested a more radical redesign of the city’s streets if human-based enforcement didn’t speed the buses up. “The city can do more with the physical infrastructure itself, something like building out a curb so the traffic can't easily get into a bus lane. They do that in Paris, with reverse bus thoroughfares, so buses come in the opposite direction of traffic. So you'd have to be very stupid to go into that lane and be hit by a bus. When human enforcement of things like speeds and double parking doesn't work, use the physical environment to nudge people in the right direction,” she said.

6. Don’t Silo; See an Ecosystem
Taking care of the bus system is part of an overall attitude shift that needs to happen, one that sees transit as one interconnected system instead of competing ways of getting around. “I think that for far too long transit has been seen in silos, and as a result it's created a disjointed transportation network that we have today, mainly in terms of how it functions,” Blank said. “Things don't have proper transfers, the investments are clearly unequal between the systems and especially between different neighborhoods. So we need to start seeing these things as complementary and operating like an ecosystem.”

Taking care of the buses, in an example Slevin laid out, would make it that much easier to work on the subways during Fast Forward. “You have to make the bus system faster so you have a reliable alternative when you're fixing the subway,” Slevin said. “So if you have a bus system that functions better you can have longer term windows to work on the subway.” Slevin also gave an endorsement to Scott Stringer’s new proposal to provide a single-ride ticket for use among the subway, bus, and LIRR and Metro-North stations located in the city.

A vision of interconnected transit can even extend to pieces of it outside of the MTA’s purview, according to Associate Director of NYU Rudin Center for Transportation Sarah Kaufman. “I imagine an app like Citymapper, which already integrates multiple modes seamlessly into its direction platform, also providing a payment option through pre-loaded funds. Perhaps 10 Citi Bike rides would lead to a free ride, or 20 subway trips earns the user a discount. During gridlock alert days, prices could surge on Ubers while remaining low on transit in order to modify New Yorkers' behavior,” she said.

While New York isn’t set to completely phase out the MetroCard in favor of a contactless fare payment until 2023, the city can look to places like Chicago where transit users can connect to the subway, buses, and bike share system with a single app..

7. Expansion’s Also a Must
While the MTA has to make sure the trains and buses they actually have now are running effectively, there’s still a need to grow the transit system according to some experts.

“I don't think we can afford to wait another 20 years to add three stops to the Second Avenue subway. We have to be doing [Crossrail-type] of things here too if we want people to have a good quality of life. I don't think it's too ambitious,” Gelinas said in response to the question of whether the MTA should have to choose between bringing the subway system up to good repair or expanding it.

Slevin at the RPA made the case that the MTA should study expansion now, since it typically takes so long to get a huge new project off the ground. “It takes many years to build new transit lines so the MTA could start studying the Triboro now, and then be ready to build once resources become available,” she said, making the case for the Brooklyn/Queens/Bronx line that the RPA has endorsed and which would largely run on existing  little-used, above-ground railroad tracks, thus requiring significantly less construction than another new subway line, while also providing much needed access between boroughs that doesn’t rely on trips into Manhattan.

“Part of the reason we are in the transit mess we are in now is because we failed to invest in the system, modernize it, and build new lines to meet growing demand. We can’t make that mistake again,” said Slevin, also arguing for expansions like the Utica Avenue line in Brooklyn, building the Q into the Bronx, and a Jewel Avenue line in central Queens, all subway extensions into dense, transit-starved neighborhoods.

Gelinas echoed Slevin’s argument that a current lack of real planning could doom the city down the road. “We should be able to do two things at once, and if we can't, we're really harming the future of the city.

8. Communication is Key
As any perusal of Twitter will show you during a morning commute meltdown, transit riders are almost as annoyed by a lack of information about delays and trains getting rerouted as they are by travel disruptions themselves. Beyond confusing and irritating commuters, a lack of communication saps enthusiasm for proposals that would improve the system. “People understand when there's a real problem, but what they hate is not getting straight talk about it,” said Orcutt of TransitCenter. “If people don't feel like the MTA is levelling with them, it's much harder to get them to rally around more funding,” he explained.

“Multiple studies have shown that passengers mostly trust the transit agency when they are provided real-time information -- even when it's bad news,” Kaufman told Gotham Gazette. “The information gives the perception of control over the system, whereas only sharing the word ‘delay’ does not.” Kaufman recommended the agency lean on specifics when telling riders why their train is delayed, especially since clearly communicating something like a signal failure could encourage riders to lean on elected officials to focus more on the issue of signal replacement.

“[Communication] should just be a management thing. You don't need new anything for that, you just run it well and have somebody in charge,” Orcutt said. It’s a step the agency has made some movement on, hiring Sarah Meyer as the agency’s chief customer officer, but the effort at clear, timely, and focused communication is obviously still dogging the MTA with the occasional management failure and inaccurate countdown clock and website information.

While improving the way the MTA shares real-time problems plaguing the subway system won’t actually fix those problems the way other solutions can, it will at least help with the perception of screaming, or tweeting, into a bureaucratic void when something goes wrong.

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by Dave Colon, Gotham Gazette
     

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8 Steps to Fix New York Transit and Get New Yorkers Moving Again Mon, 22 Oct 2018 04:00:00 +0000
The Path Forward for Cuomo's 'One Real Answer,' Congestion Pricing http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7999-the-path-forward-for-cuomo-s-one-real-answer-congestion-pricing http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7999-the-path-forward-for-cuomo-s-one-real-answer-congestion-pricing gov cuomo congepric

Cuomo in the midst of his ABNY presentation


One major issue that hung over the 2018 state budget season was congestion pricing, a plan to charge a fee to all motor vehicles entering parts of Manhattan and diverting the revenue toward funding the beleaguered subway system. Governor Andrew Cuomo directed a panel to study the issue, which determined that a congestion pricing scheme should be implemented and offered options for what it could look like, including a three-year, three-phase proposal. Activist groups applied significant public pressure on the governor and the Legislature. Newspaper opinion pages endorsed the idea.

But in the end, only a small part of the plan came to fruition in the budget: a surcharge on for-hire vehicles, including traditional taxis and app-based rides, entering the Manhattan business district. New charges on other cars and trucks did not come to pass. Activists excoriated Cuomo, while the governor blamed the Legislature. Cuomo said that an important first step had been passed and that he would work on additional steps in the future. That process would be led by a budget-created advisory “workgroup” made up of appointees from various stakeholders, including the governor, legislative leaders, and Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Since the March budget deal, the chorus calling for congestion pricing -- both to reduce street traffic in Manhattan and to secure a steady revenue stream to help support repair of the faltering subways -- has only grown, in number and volume.

Now, supporters of congestion pricing, from activists to City Council Speaker Corey Johnson and many others, want to ensure that it makes it into the next budget. They see a potentially more favorable environment, though a lot will be determined by the results of November’s elections, and by the pressure they put on those running.

“It's my impression that pretty much everyone running for office right now at least in the city supports congestion pricing, so I think that puts us in a position to win this year,” said Rebecca Bailin, the political director of the transit advocacy group Riders Alliance, referring to candidates for state Assembly and Senate.

Riders Alliance is a part of a new coalition, announced earlier this month, consisting of a diverse group of advocacy organizations, including those focused on the environment, immigrants, social justice, low-income communities and communities of color, and others, organized to push congestion pricing over the finish line. Between now and budget season, the groups will engage in both public demonstrations and private meetings with legislators in an attempt to steer the Legislature and governor toward implementing a full congestion pricing plan.

“We are all so reliant on our subways and buses,” Bailin said. “It is a social justice issue because it can either be a barrier or an entryway to economic opportunity, to cultural access in this city, to all the things that the city has to offer.”

The results of the recent primary elections have renewed hope that 2019 could finally be the year.

Discussion of congestion pricing and funding and fixing the MTA was a centerpiece of the Cuomo-Cynthia Nixon primary, with the governor regularly pointing to congestion pricing and the new Fast Forward plan put forth by MTA leadership to upgrade the transit system. Six of the eight members of the recently-defunct Independent Democratic Conference of the state Senate were defeated by insurgent Democrats who largely staked out more strongly supportive positions on congestion pricing than the incumbents.

Some of those defeated, like Senators Jesse Hamilton and Jose Peralta, were supporters of the scheme and were replaced by other supporters; on the other hand, cautious supporter John Liu defeated a vocal opponent, Senator Tony Avella, who is continuing his run in the general election on the Independence and Women’s Equality lines. Even Republican Senator Martin Golden of Southern Brooklyn, a perennial foe of transit and street safety activists, calls himself a supporter of congestion pricing.

"The Senate, whether controlled by the Democrats or the Republicans, is always a complicated picture,” said Alex Matthiessen, the founder of the Move NY campaign, whose comprehensive congestion pricing plan has served as a model for legislative proposals since 2015, in an email. “But the replacement of the IDC and many of its members with a crop of progressive, hungry and decidedly pro-congestion pricing senators-in-waiting portends well for this effort. But regardless of partisan control of the legislature there’s one constant: city transportation is a disaster and it’s on lawmakers to act.”

Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins, the likely majority leader if the Democrats take the Senate, represents a suburban district and does not have a clear position on congestion pricing. A report by the Tri-State Transportation Campaign found that only 3.9 percent of Stewart-Cousins’ constituents, those driving alone into Manhattan’s proposed congestion pricing zone, would be affected by the charge. Stewart-Cousins’ office did not respond to a request for comment for this article.

In the Assembly, Speaker Carl Heastie of the Bronx is a supporter of congestion pricing, though some advocates criticized him last year for not pushing hard enough for the proposal. Heastie’s office also did not respond to a request for comment.

Senator Michael Gianaris of Queens, who served as deputy minority leader prior to the reunification of the IDC and may return to a deputy leader role in January, was once a skeptic of congestion pricing, but is now a supporter. He also supports Mayor de Blasio’s millionaires’ tax proposal, which he says can help fill the gap left between what’s funded by congestion pricing and what a comprehensive transit fix will actually cost.

“A Democratic Senate would certainly prioritize the stability and funding of the MTA, which the Republican Senate has not done,” Gianaris said in an interview. “So I think it’s a prerequisite to get to a realistic end to have a Democratic Senate. As for whether the Senate would embrace congestion pricing, beyond those of us that already do, I can’t speak for others. We’re gonna have to have those conversations. I don’t even know which senators I’m going to be looking at, because we’re hoping to pick up a lot more senators in a couple weeks.”

Cuomo, too, has only attached himself more to congestion pricing. At an event hosted by the Association for a Better New York on October 4, Cuomo said that since neither God, the city, nor the state would cough up $33 billion needed for the Fast Forward plan, “the only realistic option is congestion pricing, we have to get it done, we have to get it done next year, I need your help.”

For now, Cuomo has activists somewhat convinced.

“I am optimistic based on what he said about the need to fund the MTA,” Bailin said of Cuomo’s ABNY remarks.

Cuomo’s FixNYC panel recommended, in a January report, a broad but “phased” congestion pricing program. The for-hire vehicle surcharge, phase 2, passed, but other parts and phases of the plan did not, leaving many boosters disappointed, and some accusing Cuomo of a “bait-and-switch.”

“The Governor single-handedly revived the idea of congestion pricing and succeeded in passing the first phase of the FixNYC plan including a fee on for-hire vehicles that will go into effect next year as well as empaneling a new MTA advisory group that will provide recommendations before end of year as we develop the executive budget proposal,” Cuomo spokesperson Peter Ajemian said in a statement. “The Governor has been clear congestion pricing is the most realistic way to help fund the NYCT modernization plan and will continue leading the charge to convince legislators to pass it next year.”

The new advisory group is the MTA Sustainability Advisory Workgroup, which formally met for the first time last month and is tasked with coming up with a comprehensive plan for funding a major transit overhaul plan like Fast Forward by December 31. Though created in the enacted budget that passed in March, the panel’s members were not named until August, after Riders Alliance publicly called for the appointments. The group’s fairly tight timeline is compounded by the sheer immensity of the task before it.

But, the workgroup represents a much broader array of perspectives than FixNYC, which was an entirely Cuomo-appointed panel. The panel consists of two Cuomo appointees: CEO of the Partnership for New York City Kathryn Wylde and Metro North Commuter Council member Rhonda Herman; two appointees of congestion pricing skeptic Mayor Bill de Blasio: former City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and Senator Gianaris; one appointee of MTA Chair Joe Lhota: Vice Chair Fernando Ferrer; two from the Senate: former City Council Member Andrew Eristoff and former DOT engineer Michael Shamma; and two from the Assembly: Assemblymembers Amy Paulin and Michael Benedetto.

“It is a group of well-meaning individuals who are trying to make recommendations to solve the MTA’s funding crisis,” Gianaris said. “And the MTA crisis in general, regardless of funding. I think efficiency is one of the other things we’re going to be looking at as well.”

Even de Blasio appears to be warming to the idea of congestion pricing, evidenced by his appointment of two supporters to the panel.

The panel has met three times so far, and Wylde, the chair, says that the meetings will occur weekly or biweekly until the end of the year, when a set of recommendations must be produced. The initial focus has been determining what the funding needs of the MTA are and how congestion pricing could form part of a solution, but the panel is empowered to go well beyond that in its recommended solutions.

“FixNYC was really focused on congestion pricing and how to implement it,” Gianaris said. “That is just one element of what this group is doing.”

Wylde elaborated on that point.

“It may be funding mechanisms, it may be reforms,” Wylde said in an interview with Gotham Gazette. “Structural and other reforms in how the MTA raises its own revenues. And then all the issues associated with congestion pricing: 1) to build support, and 2) to achieve the dual goals of new revenue generation and traffic reduction. So those have been the focus of the conversation so far.”

New York City Transit President Andy Byford’s much-talked about Fast Forward plan to modernize the subway system has been projected to cost roughly $40 billion over ten years, though Cuomo has used the $33 billion figure. Wylde said that unanimity on a true cost does not exist on the panel, and that part of the panel’s focus is in determining what it would be.

Congestion pricing remains the crux of the negotiations, and its status as a major part of the long-term transit solution appears to be agreed upon. But most analysts agree that congestion pricing would not alone cover the massive cost of fixing the transit system, and that other mechanisms are necessary as well. Estimates for annual congestion pricing revenue vary, and depend on what the program actually looks like, but have been in the $1 billion range.

The new advisory panel’s recommended solutions could, theoretically, include any of a variety of measures beyond congestion pricing -- including labor reforms, changes to the MTA’s budgeting process, an added surcharge to high-income earners’ taxes, fare hikes, or value capture -- to address long-term funding and spending issues.

“We will be careful about mission creep,” Wylde said. “The primary goal here is to identify the gap and make specific recommendations on how to deal with it, and most specifically, it’s to try and resolve an approach to congestion pricing. And so, I think that’s the focus, and to the extent that the gap exceeds the revenues that one can project from congestion pricing, looking at other sources of funding or cost reduction.”

The panel’s work will be informed by that of outside experts and advocates, and by previous plans such as FixNYC and Move NY, as well as by the expertise that the panel members themselves have from work on these issues. Political questions will come into consideration as well, especially considering the presence of three current and two former elected officials. The nature of the panel’s makeup -- that numerous stakeholders, rather than just one, appointed its members -- may allow for a broader consensus to be formed in such a way that is palatable to all parties.

“To date, I don't think party politics are playing a role,” Wylde said. “Obviously, the political sensibilities of all members of the group play into what they think is realistic and what can be accomplished. So, it's a politically sophisticated group, but not one that's just gonna be at the mercy of party politics.”

The November elections will, of course, hold significant influence over what happens in the next budget season, though Republican gubernatorial nominee Marc Molinaro, the Dutchess county executive, does support congestion pricing. However, if Republicans maintain the majority in the State Senate, they may put the brakes on the momentum toward implementation.

Advocates are, at present, optimistic about the panel and prospects despite the initial hiccups.

“It’s important there’s a panel in place that represents the interests of various government entities whose constituents are affected by our transportation crisis,” Matthiessen said. “As long as the Workgroup delivers the report by the December 31 deadline, the group’s work will be worthwhile.”

And though the December 31 deadline may seem tight for such a complex assignment, the stakeholders are confident that it will get done.

“It may be a broad topic,” Wylde said, “but it’s not a new topic.”

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by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

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The Path Forward for Cuomo's 'One Real Answer,' Congestion Pricing Tue, 16 Oct 2018 04:00:00 +0000