Gotham Gazette http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/908 Tue, 24 Oct 2017 02:04:19 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) Where’s the Mayor’s Jobs Plan? http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6962:where-s-the-mayor-s-jobs-plan http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6962:where-s-the-mayor-s-jobs-plan de blasio jobs tour

Mayor de Blasio in the Bronx (photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)


Kicking off his week in the Bronx, Mayor Bill de Blasio said May 22 that his administration’s efforts to fight inequality are working and that while unemployment has dropped significantly in the borough, there is more work to be done. “The Bronx has borne the brunt of that inequality crisis in many ways,” the mayor said, but what his administration is doing is “disproportionately benefiting the Bronx.”

The mayor told those sitting with him -- senior administration officials and Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. -- and any others paying attention that his administration is focused on “maximizing economic opportunity.” “[N]ot just any jobs,” the mayor said, “but in fact an increasing focus on good paying jobs, which is what I devoted the State of the City to.”

De Blasio was referring to his February 13 speech, during which he announced that the city would invest in creating 100,000 permanent private sector jobs that pay more than $50,000 a year. It would be a ten-year plan, the mayor said, and while de Blasio offered a few examples of the economic sectors that would see some of that job growth -- tech, life sciences, renewable energy, manufacturing -- his announcement included few details. Soon after his State of the City, de Blasio explained that his administration would be releasing a detailed policy book, as it had done in 2014 with his 200,000-unit ten-year affordable housing plan and a few other major initiatives, to show where the jobs would come from and how.

On and off for several weeks, the mayor defended setting the 100,000 goal without a roadmap to get there, saying that it was the target city experts could ambitiously but reasonably forecast and that the specifics would follow. He also found himself defending it as ambitious enough -- critics pointed out that the city has been adding jobs at a much more rapid pace over the last ten years, but the mayor explained that job growth was already slowing and that he is focused on the wage threshold.

De Blasio has been asked about the plan, and when the public would see the details, at press conferences and his top aides were asked about it at multiple City Council budget hearings. At a late April news conference, Gotham Gazette asked when the jobs plan could be expected, whether it was imminent. “Not imminent in the sense of the next few weeks,” de Blasio said. “But, at some point this year I'll give you a better read on when."

At a May 9 City Council budget hearing, the head of the city’s Economic Development Corporation, James Patchett, told Council members that de Blasio administration officials are working diligently on the plan.

City Council Member Dan Garodnick, chair of the economic development committee, said, "We continue to have little clarity on the sources of jobs in the mayor's jobs plan.” Patchett said, “We can expect to have a plan very shortly,” but would not give an exact deadline, instead saying, “Certainly, I would love to have it come by the end of the summer. Hopefully sooner.”

As Garodnick pressed for details and whether the 100,000 goal is the right one, Patchett said, “I think you’re right to ask for the plan, I think when you see it you’ll be able to better judge that. Broadly speaking, the 100,000 jobs target is focused on the specific ways the city is encouraging job growth, as opposed to more broadly in the economy.” Almost 300,000 jobs were created over the last three years, he added, but what the de Blasio administration is focused on is jobs created through city intervention and at the “good paying” threshold of $50,000 per year.

According to City Hall, top de Blasio officials under Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen, who oversees housing and economic development, continue to meet weekly and a detailed jobs plan is indeed expected sometime this summer. Glen’s portfolio includes the Economic Development Corporation; Small Business Services, which runs workforce development programming; the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment; and other agencies that will be integral to the jobs plan.

“Senior leadership from across the administration has met weekly on the jobs plan for months now, and our work is in an advanced stage,” said Melissa Grace, a de Blasio spokesperson, in a statement. “This is a major undertaking that will improve the earning power and professional opportunities of thousands of New Yorkers. From Vision Zero to ThriveNYC to Housing New York, we’ve consistently delivered on these big multi-agency initiatives because we take the time to do them right.”

The de Blasio administration has already released pieces of the plan, including an investment in the life sciences sector; manufacturing, garment, and fashion jobs in Brooklyn through enhanced use of both the Brooklyn Navy Yard and Brooklyn Army Terminal; and a new technology hub in Union Square. As those pieces and others have indicated, the plan will include both industry-specific initiatives and place-based efforts, leveraging city-owned land.

Another example was announced Tuesday, with the Economic Development Corporation releasing “the next phase of the Futureworks NYC advanced manufacturing initiative.” It will create more than 2,000 jobs over five years, the EDC announcement says, through “a series of partner networks and programs to increase access to advanced manufacturing technology, support startups, and help traditional manufacturing companies implement new technologies to help them remain competitive.”

De Blasio has repeatedly stressed that his government is investing and intervening in order to help New Yorkers find good-paying jobs, part of the mayor’s fight against inequality, attempt to make the city more affordable, and efforts to lift hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers out of poverty. While de Blasio has celebrated that unemployment in the city is hovering around an impressively low 4%, there are not necessarily enough middle-income private-sector jobs. The mayor argues that the city must take action to spur important types of job growth that will benefit New Yorkers.

But, as with many headline-grabbing announcements by de Blasio, the key will be planning, execution, return on city investment, and proper metrics for evaluating the program’s efficacy. It’s still not clear exactly how the 100,000 number was pegged.

When Gotham Gazette asked the mayor at a February news conference, he said, “The 100,000 plan emerged from looking at the strands that were already starting to move and asking how far we could take them, and what was a fair numerical stretch-goal to reach for. And that’s very consistent with how we did the affordable housing plan, how we did the pre-K plan – you name it. You know the question on the table is always what’s in motion, where can we take it, and then push it to its farthest extent. And I thought it was an important thing to focus on and really give people a sense of where we were going and what we could achieve.”

Pushed on whether the 100,000 number over 10 years is really a big goal, de Blasio said that critics are not really looking at the last 10 years fairly, noting that the economic crisis that began nearly 10 years ago made the subsequent job growth numbers unsustainable for many years.

“[W]e had huge job loss, and then we had impressive rebounding," de Blasio said. "We’ve gotten a little comfortable because we had such extraordinary success over the last couple of years. The first two years alone that I was in office was about 250,000 jobs. The difference now is the keep generating an intensive pace of job creation, but to focus more on the high-paying jobs. That’s going to take government stimulative effect, if you will. That’s going to take us doing smart, strategic things to keep growth high.”

EDC’s Patchett at the May 9 City Council budget hearing said the plan won’t “identify every sub-initiative of like 17 jobs here and 14 jobs there, because it’s over the next 10 years and...we need to be aware of the fact that the plan will change and the economy will change over time. But we are going to go sector by sector and talk about specific job targets and a series of specific initiatives that we can announce right away that will make up a significant portion of those jobs.”

“OK, we’ll look forward to seeing that,” Council Member Garodnick responded.

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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Where’s the Mayor’s Jobs Plan? Tue, 30 May 2017 04:00:00 +0000
A Closer Look at BQX Funding Plans http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6325:a-closer-look-at-bqx-funding-plans http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6325:a-closer-look-at-bqx-funding-plans bqx presser bdb

photo via nyc.gov


In his State of the City address on February 4, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a major new transportation project: a “state-of-the-art” streetcar that will run the waterfront on a 16-mile route between Sunset Park in Brooklyn and Astoria in Queens. This Brooklyn-Queens Connector, or the BQX, has drawn a somewhat mixed response. The de Blasio administration quickly publicized support from a variety of business and civic leaders, elected officials, and several transportation advocates. Some transportation experts and residents of the neighborhoods where the BQX will run remain skeptical.

De Blasio hailed it as another key step in fighting inequality by offering more mass transportation to underserved New Yorkers, especially those in the public housing complexes near the route. It would also be a project the city would control itself, unlike the MTA, a state agency that runs the trains and buses. One immediate question, of course, was ‘who’s going to pay for it?’

On February 16, the administration offered up more details in a media release that included the line “Self-financed streetcar line would generate 28,000 jobs and over $25 billion in wages and economic activity for New Yorkers.” A key phrase being “self-financed.”

The project is estimated to cost about $2.5 billion, which the city will raise through a method of value capture and creation unlike the usual procedure of financing capital projects. Instead of selling municipal bonds to borrow money and paying those off from city revenues, as is done for capital funds, the city will create a non-profit entity -- likely a Local Development Corporation (LDC) -- which will then issue tax-exempt bonds to raise funds. This debt will be paid by “capturing” the increases in property taxes of existing real estate and new developments along the streetcar corridor. In effect, the plan is that BQX will pay for itself with the revenue it creates.

Although LDCs are non-profit entities that are usually set up by private individuals and businesses interested in developing their communities, the city can also set up LDCs like the Hudson Yards Infrastructure Corporation (HYIC) and give them bond-issuing authority to raise funds.

Private LDCs often receive support from the New York City Economic Development Corporation (EDC), a city-run nonprofit organization that promotes businesses and economic growth. For instance, the Greenpoint Manufacturing and Design Center LDC has received more than $4.4 million since 2014 from the City Council and the Brooklyn Borough President through EDC to convert an auto parts warehouse into a multi-tenant manufacturing center.

The city is nowhere near setting up the nonprofit -- officials are currently courting public opinion and further assessing the BQX proposal -- but a similar structure was used under Mayor Michael Bloomberg for the redevelopment of Hudson Yards on Manhattan’s West Side. HYIC was set up in 2005 to raise funds by issuing $3 billion in bonds for projects including the extension of the 7-train subway line and building green spaces from West 30th to 42nd Street between 10th and 11th Avenues. This is an analogous example of how the BQX will be funded and built.

“As imagined, there would be no new taxes,” said an official from EDC. “This project will make it so that value of properties will go up so property taxes will go up nominally. Property taxes sliced off the top would be funnelled towards debt service.” In other words, increased property tax revenue is used to pay back the bonds.

The EDC official added that there will be revenue through property taxes on new development along the corridor.

Two key mechanisms of value capture are tax increment financing (TIF), which seems to be planned for BQX, and payments in lieu of taxes (PILOT). TIF is formulaic while PILOT is discounted payments negotiated with developers instead of regular property taxes. The administration has not clarified yet whether they will use both tools.

In the case of Hudson Yards, HYIC garners revenue chiefly through PILOT, Tax Equivalency Payments (TEP), which are property taxes collected by the city from new development in the area, and District Improvement Bonuses paid by private developers for the right to build additional density, among other sources.

City officials have not yet provided a detailed funding plan or fully explained why they are choosing value capture, which may have advantages in that it doesn’t add to existing capital debt, but also risks leading to higher costs that take longer to pay off. This was apparent in the years after the Hudson Yards project began. By 2014, the city had paid about $439 million to service HYIC debt owing to shortfalls in projected revenue. That’s added onto the millions in cost overruns that the city also had to bear. The city had signed an Interest Support Agreement to service HYIC debt in the case of revenue shortfall.

“There can be risks,” said George Sweeting, deputy director of the Independent Budget Office, a nonpartisan publicly-funded budget watchdog. Sweeting pointed out the disconnect between when the investment is made and when the city can start capturing value and making payments, since development doesn’t happen overnight. That’s why, in the case of Hudson Yards, the city agreed to pay off part of the debt directly from its general fund in the form of interest support payments and HYIC raised additional revenue by selling developers the right to create additional density.

“It depends on how fast you think development will occur,” Sweeting said. “Some of where the [streetcar] is going has significant development already,” he added, noting that land along the waterfront has already become more valuable in recent years. “You might not be able to attribute [further growth] to the BQX.”

With the traditional model of capital funding, Sweeting said, the city can “cross-subsidize” using other resources to pay off debt. That’s not necessarily the case with a dedicated value-capture scheme. “It can take longer to pay back,” he said.

Bridget Fisher, associate director of the Schwartz Center for Economic Policy Analysis at The New School, highlighted many of the risks in value capture funding in a report from July. Looking at the Hudson Yards redevelopment project, she sought to dispel the “myths” of self-financing.

“Like Hudson Yards, describing these projects as self-financing is a rhetorical tool that can be misleading,” Fisher told Gotham Gazette. “There’s nothing magical about value capture. It’s still debt and it’s still expensive. It’s a decision to go outside the municipal bond market that adds cost, but the city’s still on the hook for the cost.”

These bonds, issued by a nonprofit rather than the city directly, are also in a “legal limbo,” she said, since they’re not backed by the city but by an entity created by it. Adding to that, bond buyers receive higher interest rates because the bonds are not directly backed by the city, but still have the security of knowing the city will pay them back. “It does pay for itself,” Fisher said, “but all capital projects pay for themselves. They’re paid for with debt and debt is paid back with profits.”

“The question to me is, why choose a route that’s more expensive when you have the capacity to do it through the normal city capital budget, which also has democratic checks and balances?” Fisher added.

There is an advantage to the mechanism, depending on your budgeting perspective. The city has a constitutionally mandated debt limit and value capture funding does not add to it. “It preserves the general obligation debt capacity for other important projects,” Sweeting said.

According to a report by New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer, the city’s debt limit in fiscal 2016 was $85.18 billion. As of July 1, 2015 (start of the 2016 fiscal year), the city’s outstanding debt counted towards the debt limit was $57.43 billion, leaving $27.76 billion in debt-incurring power for the city. For fiscal 2017, the city’s debt is about $72 billion, owing to capital plan additions in this year’s budget.

“The only pro,” said Fisher, “is that in an environment hypersensitive to spending, local officials can provide growth opportunities and still maintain a rhetoric of fiscal discipline.”

“There is no absolute right or wrong,” said IBO’s Sweeting. “There are a lot of considerations to take into account -- how much new development there will be, the time between when you make investments and development will occur, and how you structure the value capture.”  

For the City Council members whose districts will be served by the BQX, funding is just one of the many concerns about the project. Council Member Carlos Menchaca represents Sunset Park, at one end of the line, and Council Member Costa Constantinides represents the other end, Astoria.

“As we get more thoroughly through the process, there’s a lot of questions that have to be answered in my mind both on financing and the actual route and how it’s going to affect the communities,” Constantinides told Gotham Gazette shortly before an unrelated hearing at City Hall.

He intends to be a strong voice throughout the process, he said, and wants to be part of the LDC when it is set up. So far, he believes the city is taking the right approach to community outreach and seeking input on the project - EDC held its first BQX visioning session in Astoria on Monday night. “That is a welcome change from when we used to have a mayoralty that would dictate to us how things were going and we’d have to respond,” Constantinides said.

The Council member sees the potential in value capture funding, but also the risks. “I just wouldn’t want to see residents that are further away from the site…One, two, three-family homeowners that live two blocks from where this would potentially be...to see them get crushed by some sort of increase in their taxes would just not be where I was at,” he said. For homeowners, additional property value can be a great thing, but if you do not intend to sell in the near term, making larger property tax payments based on new assessments can be challenging.

Menchaca reiterated these concerns. “I want to make sure that residents of affected neighborhoods like Sunset Park and Red Hook have a leading voice at the beginning of the process and in a way that determines the exact details and impact of the project,” he said in a statement. He emphasized that the BQX could provide relief to “transit deserts” like Red Hook and create better mass-transit for the growing manufacturing zone in Sunset Park. But he recognizes that it could also contribute to gentrification and displace existing residential and commercial tenants.

“We've all seen ‘it will pay of itself’ projects fail to live up to expectations or have unintended consequences,” he added. “The impact of BQX – including the financial impact – must be studied carefully in public with residents at the center of the conversation.”

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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A Closer Look at BQX Funding Plans Tue, 10 May 2016 04:00:00 +0000
The City's Next Steps to Ensure Vibrant, Creative Communities http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6139:the-citys-next-steps-to-ensure-vibrant-creative-communities http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6139:the-citys-next-steps-to-ensure-vibrant-creative-communities nyc culture

photo via @NYCulture


Earlier this month, the city's Department of Cultural Affairs announced a promising new program aimed at strengthening cultural organizations in targeted neighborhoods. The initiative, known as Building Community Capacity, was introduced in conjunction with Mayor de Blasio's rezoning proposal in East New York, where the program will be launched.

The new initiative is consistent with several of the recommendations from Creative New York, the Center for an Urban Future's recent report on the city's arts economy. The report found that a number of small and mid-size arts organizations in low- and middle-income neighborhoods are financially strained. To address this issue, it encouraged the de Blasio administration to integrate the arts into its rezoning proposals, ensuring that existing artists and arts organizations are supported, preserved, and fortified.

In recent years, government support for New York City cultural organizations has declined significantly. Adjusted for inflation, programmatic and operating grants from the National Endowment for the Arts fell by 15 percent, from the New York State Council on the Arts by 37 percent, and from the city's Department of Cultural Affairs by 16 percent. As a result, cultural organizations have become increasingly dependent on private philanthropy. Many mid-size and small organizations have struggled with this adjustment. In 2012, for instance, we identified 14 "mid-sized" performing arts venues whose revenue did not cover expenses.

Small organizations are also under pressure, particularly those located outside of Manhattan and those serving communities of color. Among New York organizations that explicitly listed their constituents as non-white, earned revenue—primarily attendance fees—covered 32 percent of their expenses, compared to 55 percent for those with a general audience. Likewise, individual and board donations covered only 11 percent of expenses for these organizations, but a much higher 21 percent for those serving a general audience.

Given the extensive challenges facing small and midsized art organizations—particularly those in communities outside of Manhattan—it's encouraging to see the Department of Cultural Affairs (DCLA) focus on fortifying these groups.

While the specifics of the DCLA program will be developed in partnership with local community members and organizations, Building Community Capacity has several worthwhile objectives. They include: helping organizations with board development and fundraising capacity, equipping arts leaders with essential management skills, activating underused spaces for cultural activities, and streamlining the permitting process.

To address these challenges and achieve these goals, DCLA and community-based cultural organizations should look to nonprofits and other city agencies for inspiration. To assist with board development and fundraising capacity, for instance, DCLA could replicate the Robin Hood Foundation's Board Placement Program. Robin Hood helps connect talented, committed and wealthy individuals with social service nonprofits throughout the city. The DCLA could provide a similar matchmaker role for small cultural nonprofits.

Likewise, to help arts administrators develop their management skills, DCLA should look to the New York City Economic Development Corporation's Fashion Fellows, a yearlong training and networking program for rising stars in fashion management. The DCLA could introduce a similar platform for administrators at cultural nonprofits in low-income neighborhoods.

As East New York artists and arts organizations search for affordable and underutilized performance and rehearsal facilities, they should partner with the Department of Education. Schools in East New York (District 19) contain 46 "primary" and "non-primary" dance rooms, 64 music rooms, 50 theater classrooms, and 61 auditoriums. After school hours, most are left unoccupied. Opening these facilities in the evenings and on weekends could provide stable, affordable space to hundreds of local artists, helping them remain in the neighborhoods where they live and work.

Finally, to streamline the permitting process and enliven vacant retail spaces in the target neighborhoods, DCLA should look to the Mayor's Office of Film, Theatre & Broadcasting (MOFTB) or the Street Activity Permit Office (SAPO) for assistance. The current permitting process is extremely cumbersome and expensive, requiring individual approval from several agencies, including the police and fire departments.

For film and street fairs, on the other hand, the MOFTB and SAPO have established a one-stop-shop, helping to simplify this bureaucratic tangle. Given their resources and expertise, the MOFTB or SAPO could assume permitting duties for all East New York performances and exhibitions, on a pilot-basis. If it runs smoothly, the city should consider delegating all performing and visual arts related permitting to one of these two agencies.

With the Building Community Capacity program, the de Blasio administration is redoubling its efforts to strengthen local organizations and improve access to the arts in all of the city's neighborhoods. From permitting to management training, board development to activating underused spaces, the Mayor's initiative can help build more vibrant, resilient and creative neighborhoods.

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Adam Forman is a Senior Researcher at the Center for an Urban Future.

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

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The City's Next Steps to Ensure Vibrant, Creative Communities Wed, 03 Feb 2016 00:18:43 +0000
Cautious Optimism Ahead of Hearing on Citywide Ferry Plan http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5892:cautious-optimism-ahead-of-hearing-on-citywide-ferry-plan http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5892:cautious-optimism-ahead-of-hearing-on-citywide-ferry-plan ferry DOT

(images: NYC DOT/EDC)


Mayor Bill de Blasio's proposed expansion of the city's ferry system, announced in February, appears to be one of the least politically controversial initiatives of his term. Ahead of a City Council hearing on the topic scheduled for Monday, no Council member has publicly opposed the plan, while some have loudly praised it.

But this support comes despite concerns from transit advocates that ferries may not be the most cost-effective form of transportation for New Yorkers and that other investments in buses or bike lanes should not be overlooked. Meanwhile, others like Staten Island Borough President James Oddo want the system expanded further.

The five planned ferry routes, connecting 21 locations in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Queens, will be rolled out in two phases in 2017 and 2018, according to the city's Economic Development Corporation (EDC). A sixth route to Staten Island is "proposed" but not part of the two phases or included in cost estimates. De Blasio said in February that rides would cost $2.75—the same as a subway or bus swipe, though MetroCards won't be accepted for payment—and that the system would bring residents of far-flung waterfront neighborhoods "closer to the opportunities they need."

"Beyond connecting residents to jobs in Manhattan, our new citywide ferry system will spur the development of new commercial corridors throughout the outer boroughs," de Blasio said during his State of the City speech.

One reason why the ferry plan is uncontroversial may be its relatively small size: its estimated 4.6 million riders per year by 2018 is less than the subway's average daily weekday ridership of nearly 5.6 million in 2014 (with 1.75 billion subway rides for the year). The boats' estimated $55 million price tag and $10 to $20 million annual operating subsidies are also a fraction of the city's $78.5 billion budget for the 2016 fiscal year.

"Because it's cheap, politicians can say they're pro-transit," Nicole Gelinas, a fellow at the Manhattan Institute think tank, said. "I think the bigger danger is neglecting other transit."

Few Concerns
Council members interviewed by Gotham Gazette were all supportive of the plan, which they say will provide a convenient mode of transportation in neighborhoods poorly served by subways.

"We are in a city with an existing transportation infrastructure that is at capacity...So we need additional alternatives," Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer of Queens said. His district includes Long Island City, which has seen tremendous residential development in recent years and will be served by one of the new stops.

At Monday's Council hearing, Van Bramer said he wants to "get a timeline on just when we can expect the landings to be sited, and when we can start service."

Council Member Ben Kallos of Manhattan's Upper East Side and Roosevelt Island said making sure the three stations planned for his district are moving forward is a "high priority."

The few concerns expressed about the current plan are oriented around the locations of landings. Residents at a recent community meeting in Long Island City were divided over where the neighborhood's stop should be: at Center Boulevard, close to waterfront high-rises, or at 44th Drive, less pedestrian-friendly but also less disruptive for a nearby boathouse.

Council Member Carlos Menchaca of Brooklyn said EDC should try to offer solutions to siting concerns as it implements the project. Menchaca represents the busy waterway neighborhood of Red Hook.

Ydanis Rodriguez, Council member for Washington Heights and Inwood and chair of the City Council transportation committee, said that he is looking forward to hearing more details about the plan from EDC—as well as promoting his own proposal for a ferry route along the west side of Manhattan.

"I believe ferries play an important role when it comes to identifying different modes of transportation," Rodriguez said in an interview with the Gotham Gazette. "I hope that in the near future, all the areas not included in the present plan will be included." Rodriguez will co-chair Monday's Council oversight hearing, dubbed "Evaluating the Plan for a Citywide Ferry System" on the Council website.

Staten Island Borough President James Oddo is also aboard the ferry plan, even though the first two phases of the plan will not reach his island and a sixth route has only been proposed for Stapleton, near the Staten Island Ferry's St. George terminal. Oddo said he's working to see if some sort of public or private service can one day reach other parts of the island.

"To me, it [ferries] doesn't take a great deal of capital investment in our borough," he said. "It's the quickest avenue Staten Islanders have to getting some help to their commutes."

Traffic engineer and former traffic commissioner "Gridlock" Sam Schwartz said that some of the issues he wants discussed at the Council include more details on expected ferry ridership, operating costs and fares, and integration with other forms of transit.

"I think it would be a mistake not to have as robust a ferry system as possible...as well as improving transit, bus, and rail," Schwartz told Gotham Gazette.

Cost and Control
Gelinas, of the Manhattan Institute, says an important question Council members should ask is how heavily the city should subsidize the ferry routes—especially if Mayor de Blasio sticks to his promise that each ride will cost the same as a MetroCard swipe.

"It really has to come down to a cost-benefit analysis of how many New Yorkers will benefit at what cost," Paul Steely White, executive director of Transportation Alternatives, said. "Ferries are a great option, but it's an option that should only be considered after rail and bus options have become untenable." White's group advocates for expanding bike lanes and mass transit projects like Select Bus Service, or express bus lines.

A 2011 EDC study showed a subsidy-per-trip of $5.95 for the fare-free Staten Island Ferry and $21.22 for a pilot Rockaway ferry service launched in 2008.

"Some subsidy is reasonable," Gelinas said. "It will also depend on how much development we get [along the waterfront]...The more people you have, the lower the subsidy."

Manhattan Council Member Dan Garodnick, who will also co-chair Monday's meeting, said that officials from EDC will have to answer questions about the status of the project, costs, community input, and integration with the rest of the city's transit system. He said he wants riders to be able to use MetroCards for boat fares—something EDC has ruled out, saying the 23-year-old card will be soon phased out.

"Many of us are extremely enthusiastic about growing our ferry system," Garodnick said. "At the same time, we want to understand its cost and long-term viability."

Other Council members were more optimistic about ferry finances.

"This is another piece to the puzzle," Kallos said. "Despite initially low projected ridership, when you are speaking about the infrastructure we're building, and the cost of it...This is providing a lot more service to four or five boroughs, and it's improving people's commutes."

EDC representatives are expected to testify Monday and say that the plans for the ferry system are on track. The agency is currently reviewing responses to a request for proposals for a ferry operator and plans to integrate the East River Ferry operator into the new larger ferry system. Officials point to the successes of the East River Ferry as they imagine expansion of ferry service.

Rodriguez said that ferries are also particularly effective when natural disasters hit—a route between Manhattan and the Rockaways was established within days after Hurricane Sandy knocked out subway service to the neighborhood in 2012. He and Kallos also pointed that the ferry system would be completely under the city's control—unlike the MTA, which is state-run.

"Investing in our waterfronts and our ferry system is a way for our city to have strong accountability and control over our infrastructure," Kallos said.

Gelinas and White said that there are ways for the city to invest in transit without relying on the state. The 7 train's new 34th Street-Hudson Yards station, for example, was funded primarily by city tax bonds.

proposed ferry network

Waves Ahead?
Schwartz said political opposition to ferries may emerge as waterfront dwellers start to complain about the noise and pollution boats generate. Residents of Battery Park City have long complained about ferry horns in the early morning hours—required by Coast Guard regulations.

Noise was one of several concerns expressed by Long Island City residents at a recent community meeting on the ferry plan. But even there, most speakers said they want even more ferries to more destinations, not fewer.

With the current plan, "you're only serving part of the community," resident Rebecca Olinger said. "I think it's foolish to put something in that serves such a small part of the neighborhood."

***
by Christian Zhang, Gotham Gazette
@ChristiZhang

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Cautious Optimism Ahead of Hearing on Citywide Ferry Plan Fri, 18 Sep 2015 15:51:58 +0000