Mayor Bloomberg’s Morning Commute

The New York Times metro desk has been staking out "MetroCard" Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s morning commute for the past five weeks. At first, reporter Michael Grynbaum and his colleagues Cassi Feldman and Cristina Maldonado thought they had a big scoop, according to a reporter’s diary on City Room:

We would be following the mayor’s morning commute, and we set out at
first to determine his basic routine. Taking our cue from past reports
that placed him at the 77th Street stop on weekday mornings, The Times
sent reporters Cassi Feldman and Cristina Maldonado (and me) to the
mayor’s Beaux-Arts townhouse and nearby points on the Upper East Side.

For the first few days, we thought we had an amazing scoop: The mayor never takes the subway at all!

The waiting Suburbans would pick up their passenger and zip off, but
the reporter at the 77th Street subway never saw Mr. Bloomberg arrive.
Newspaper vendors and M.T.A. employees at the station all said the same
thing: The mayor doesn’t come here.

Upon further investigation, the reporters learned that the Mayor’s commute isn’t exactly typical:

On mornings that he takes the subway from home, Mr. Bloomberg is
picked up at his Upper East Side town house by a pair of king-size
Chevrolet Suburbans. The mayor is driven 22 blocks to the subway
station at 59th Street and Lexington Avenue, where he can board an
express train to City Hall. His drivers zip past his neighborhood
station, a local subway stop a five-minute walk away.

That means
Mr. Bloomberg — whose much-discussed subway rides have become an
indelible component of his public image — spends a quarter of his
ostensibly subterranean commute in an S.U.V.

So, what do people think? Is Bloomberg just a huge hypocrite or is there still virtue in a Mayor who could easily drive the whole way to work in the plush comfort of his Chevy Suburban but still chooses to get out and use the subway every so often?

Guess how the anti-congestion pricing lobby, self-styled defenders of the common man, is spinning it?

  • d

    Obviously a billionaire mayor of a terrorist-target-heavy city deserves a little extra security and speed in getting to work. I see no problem in this whatsoever. Would we expect a budget-cutting, environmentally aware president to stop flying Air Force One?

  • I agree with d, NYPD maybe “requesting” that hizoner take a particular route, without further info, I’d hesitate to call him a hypocrite.

  • Dan

    What’s supposed to be the point here? That the mayor doesn’t take the train as much as he should or could? I think it’s great that he takes the train at all. In fact even from 59th Street it’s still almost four miles to City Hall and that’s four miles that his cars aren’t on the streets.

    You really have got to wonder if this was the worst dirt they could dig up on Bloomberg.

  • pa

    it’s funny. mayor bloomberg told new yorkers to stop complaining about crowded trains. lets see him walk to the train and ride a local every day. lets see him ride the L or the 7 train during rush hour and then tell people not to complain about their disgusting commutes.

  • What happens to his SUV after he gets on the subway? Does the driver pick him up when he gets off the subway? Even if that’s it, the driver still has to drive back to whereever he came from or circle around for a parking spot. It seems to me that this kind of defeats the purpose of taking the subway.

    Maybe Bloomie should get a bike…

  • Steve

    I agree. The high-net-worth crowd is with very few exceptions completely disconnected from the situation on the ground in NYC. Bloomberg has his flaws but it seems to me that as a matter of principle he deliberately and regularly subjects himself to mass and mass transit experiences. That’s enough for me to swallow t the SUV-to-express-stop leg of his commute.

    What I don’t get is how the Times reporters managed to do this story when the four-block area surrounding Bloomberg’s home is under 24/7 surveillance by extremely agressive law enforcement agents from several different city and state agencies (all with their placarded vehicles illegally parked).

  • I’m not saying I disagree with you, Dan, but I think the Mayor’s two SUV’s still need to get back down to City Hall so I doubt the subway ride is doing anything to reduce traffic on the streets of New York. In fact, if he were skipping the subway stop and just taking the car ride all the way down to City Hall, I bet they’d use the FDR Drive.

  • pa

    i understand his need for security but poor baby can’t ride the local? he rides the express for posterity.

  • Spud Spudly

    This is surely a security issue. If the mayor of NYC was walking down the same street every day to get to the same subway stop in the morning it would be a lot easier for someone to harm him. Read the story — it talks about how he’s flanked by cops just walking from his front door to the car.

    As for the SUVs, there’s a 99.9999999% likelihood that after they drop him off at the subway they head downtown to City Hall empty except for his security detail. And so what? He’s the mayor and a legitimate target for all sorts of kooks and spooks throughout the world.

  • Dan

    Aaron,

    While I agree with you in general that the mayor should be as responsible as possible when it comes to the environment, my problem is more withe the idea of the article and it’s tone than with anything the mayor did. Instead of writing a substantive piece on City Government as environmental leader The Times is just trying to make the mayor look bad because his commute is not up a reputation that they themselves established in the past.

    I’m all for articles lamenting the failure of our leaders to embrace sustainable policies, but the Mayor doesn’t seem like one of those people and the article never quite gets there, instead it just very snidely implies some great hypocrisy and lack of truthfulness that just isn’t there.

    Also, I imagine that gas mileage is comprised by the fact that his vehicles weigh a lot more than the standard SUV due to armor and all the trimmings. And if you want to attack the mayor for not finding better SUVs, that’s fine, and if want to attack the mayor for being lazy, that’s sort of alright, but if you just want to write a little hit piece and throw around some charges of hypocrisy, that’s not really fair.

  • Larry Littlefield

    From the Times: “The mayor is driven 22 blocks to the subway station at 59th Street and Lexington Avenue, where he can board an express train to City Hall.”

    Yes he can board teh Lex express there, but was he actually observed doing so? The article doesn’t say so. And other trains serve the station.

    How about this possibility: the Mayor started riding the Lex (6) at 77th Street back in 2002, but it became so jammed he couldn’t take it anymore. So now he boards the W or R at 59th Street and takes it to City Hall.

    Note that after questioning the need for the Second Avenue Subway early in his term, he now wants congestion pricing to pay for it. Hmmm.

  • Bummer. I’d respect environmental rhetoric-spouting mayors and governors (Corzine) a lot more if they didn’t insist on a black Chevrolet Suburban as the only imaginable executive transport of the modern era. Suddenly, in 1995 or whenever, every top-level politician in the country had to convert to that idiot vehicle (because, right, they are so safe). Now they’re bought and equipped, but it would be nice if B would drop his mysterious extra truck to show that he actually does care about this stuff.

  • The mayor is just acting rationally as a time-constrained individual with virtually unlimited financial resources.

    The guy governs a city that has more people than 39 of the states. This duty probably keeps him, relatively speaking, busy. Every minute counts.

    He’s probably determined that driving 20 blocks is quicker than the 6 train, and the 4 or 5 express is quicker than trying to drive through midtown (even if using the FDR).

    The guy is a billionaire. Other people in his league travel by private helicopter. That he descends the steps at 59th Street, where he can be harrangued at close quarters and for 20 minutes by any disgruntled person or people who happen to be there, is the most impressive good citizenry I’ve ever seen from a public official.

  • david

    I’m not sure what the point of the article was. In my opinion, at least he even occasionally takes the subway, even it it’s from 59th Street. The point is that he’s creating a symbolic effort towards the use of mass transportation. Also, if he took the local, I’m sure there would be many on this site that would complain that his security task force took up valuable space on an over-crowded train.

  • momos

    This Times story is really lame. It’s like their trying to recreate “Helicopter-gate” at the city level.

    The Mayor covers over half of his daily commute by subway. He routinely travels around Manhattan by subway. Unlike most other high-profile politicians in the state, he forever publicly promotes the subway and has made concrete proposals to find new revenue streams for the subway. What more do you want?

    After the Assembly hearing on congestion pricing at the NY Bar Assoc in June, I followed Bloomberg back to City Hall just to see how he got there. Without any reporters, activists, photographers or anyone else to impress, he walked (very swiftly I might add) three blocks over to Grand Central with a security detail and one aide. Along the way he took a phone call on his cell phone. Occasionally people on the sidewalk would say “Hey, that’s Bloomberg!” but he only smiled and continued briskly on his way, like any other busy person with things to do walking down the streets of Manhattan. He went straight down into the subway station, where he pulled out his MetroCard and passed through the turnstiles like anyone else. He waited on a very crowded subway platform, then he got on a downtown train. No big deal.

    It’s irritating that the Times would try this approach to dig up dirt on the Mayor, when there are so many more important issues they should focus on: what is this green Mayor doing to push the cleanup of the largest oil spill in North America? what is this green Mayor, connected to Corporate America as he is, doing to push GE to clean up the Hudson? What kind of emphasis is this green Mayor placing on cleaning up especially polluted zones like Hunts Point in the South Bronx?

  • Eric

    Sorry, folks, but this is just PR. Since the Mayor’s SUVs continue down to City Hall without him, he may as well just stay in the car, which would mean room for several more people on the train (in place of the Mayor and his security detail). His taking the subway — all of two days a week — is just for show.

    As for being able to harangue the Mayor at close quarters on the subway platform, somehow I think NY’s Finest would give such a haranguer the Critical Mass treatment.

  • How do we know his SUVs continue down to City Hall without him? Spud was 99.999% certain, Eric takes it as a given, but I find it entirely plausible that he’s got “uptown SUVs” assigned to Gracie Mansion and the townhouse, and “downtown SUVs” for use at City Hall.

  • daniel

    new york times reporting is getting as lame as gothamist’s.

  • Huh. Kind of a conundrum. If it’s true, then it sucks that his SUVs (plural?!) go down to City Hall anyway, and whether he’s in them or not it doesn’t make any difference. But on the other hand, if he gets to experience mass transit, even if only 2x a week and only on an express, it still makes him that much more aware of the situation than if he just stayed buffered in his SUV. I think it’s better than nothing.

  • While there are reasons to complement Bloomberg which I’ll leave to others, I wanted to note my concerns that:

    now and in future years many grassroots activists will be fighting against nuclear power that he apparently supports, as is the case with other advocates of congestion pricing such as Environmental Defense.

    there are serious problems with ethanol; unfortunately most ethanol for use in autos won’t be manufactured from used cooking oil but will be derived from cornfields in the Midwest or ranches in the Amazon — both sources which seem to generate a fuel which is as bad if not worse in various ways than regular gasoline. To me, that his SUV’s run on ethanol doesn’t redeem his use of them.

    The mayor has been quite haughty in criticizing those who are critical of the state of public transportation, much as he has been defensive of Con-Ed in the past. He’s postured himself as using and tolerating the subways much as others do while denouncing critics of the overcrowding at peak times, thus I think with some justification he’s opened himself up to the criticism that is being heaped upon him for how he actually uses the subways.

  • d

    setting environmental concerns aside for a second, by taking the subway, the mayor gets a taste of what most new yorkers experience every day. if more public servants took the subway, the buses or rode bikes they would have more empathy for transit users and cyclists. mayor bloomberg might not be reducing his carbon emission’s by his car/subway hybrid commute but he does get a valuable window onto the experience of everyday new yorkers.

  • Ian D

    Here’s my question – where are the other electeds on their commutes?

    I remember during the City Hall questioning of DOT over Intro 199a, one of the councilmembers said that they were late because they were stuck in traffic. I’ve never heard one say that they’d taken MTA to the office.

    When I question candidates about their transportation views, I’m usually dismayed at how car-centric their point of view is (on issues like East R. tolls, reversing the Verazzano tolls to close the “free loop”, etc.)

    With that in mind…props to Bloomberg for making any effort at all. As far as I know, he’s got the others beat.

  • John Hunka

    Re: environmental problems with ethanol. As one writer noted above, ethanol is derived from corn. The rapidly rising demand for ethanol is leading farmers around the country to grow more corn. Unfortunately, this is likely to increase the amount of phosphorus and nitrogen going into places like the Chesapeake Bay. This could be a major setback for conservation efforts to protect Chesapeake Bay and other estuaries. Here’s a link to a recent article from the Baltimore Sun describing the problem: http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/local/harford/bal-ha.farm22jul22,0,6715909.story

  • Ian D

    ianqui, #19:

    > SUVs (plural?!)

    No, I think the plural of SUV is SUVi, you know, pronounced S-U-Vigh. Or Veigh. As in fungi.

    🙂

  • jmc

    Due to the high security, he might just be varying his commute in the mornings. Sometimes he might take the 6 from 86th, sometimes he might take the 4,5 from 59th, or perhaps another train from 59th St. He takes the subway to both make a point and experience the conditions firsthand. That being said, I’m sure the NYPD makes him vary his route for security purposes.

    Nuclear power is the only way to keep the lights on without increasing carbon dioxide emissions. That’s why Bloomberg supports it.

  • Clarence

    I have no problem with Mayor Mike making a partial subway commute. If all of the City Council members and other city officials did that even one-fifth of the time, they’d have a better understanding of what the hoi polloi go thru.

  • John Hunka

    Re: nuclear power as the only way to keep the lights on without increasing carbon dioxide emissions.” I disagree. Solar power has the potential to meet all of humanity’s needs around the globe. The problem is that our political leaders are either beholden to the nuclear power industry, or are failing to think outside the box. During World War II, the United States devoted unlimited financial resources and manpower to the Manhattan Project to develop the atomic bomb. What we need today is a politician to advocate a Manhattan Project to develop more efficient solar arrays and panels. If the best scientists were to put their minds to the task — and if we had enlightened political leadership on a national and local level — sunshine could power our homes, cars and factories within our lifetime.

  • rhubarbpie

    I thought the article was actually good journalism — and hilarious. Here’s a mayor who has won a huge amount of applause for being a regular guy, riding the subway to work, putting up with the crowds and the delays just like the rest of us. “MetroCard Mike,” he was called.

    But guess what? The article showed that it’s just so much hooey. The mayor turns out to be really not so much like the rest of us. He gets a ride to the subway (yes, there are New Yorkers who are dropped off at the subway, but most of them do not live on East 79th Street in Manhattan) in an SUV, accompanied by another SUV (that then head down to City Hall, adding to congestion and pollution), so he can take an express train, even though he lives a block or two from the local, which I guess is too crowded or slow or something. OK for the rest of us, but not for the busy busy mayor. Illustrating, in the end, that this was pretty much a long-running p.r. stunt, brilliantly pulled off for years.

  • Christopher

    Big. Fat. Hypocrite. I’m just surprised he’s been allowed to play us along for so long.

    For all of you who default to “it must be a security thing”, consider this: where are you safer – strolling through Park Avenue in the 70’s in the morning, or on a subway train? Where would a police escort (on foot) be able to protect you better? While the mayor’s people don’t seem to offer “security” as a defense, I don’t see how you can justify it on his behalf.

    I am reminded of a story that is, I hope, apocryphal. In the early days of the Bloomberg administration, Planning Commission Chair and fellow UES zillionaire Amanda Burden gave into peer pressure and took the subway to work. However, she didn’t like having to carry her heavy bag of papers to and from the office each day. Her solution? The bag went downtown in a car while she made the appearance on the subway.

    Mike: you can’t take a limo part of the way to work and claim that you’re commuting on the subway.

  • Life Long Subway Rider

    The Mayor actually rides the subway for more than just getting to and from work. My wife and I have randomly ran into him several times in the middle of the day when he was apparently using the subways to get to an event.

  • steve

    The premise of the negative comments is that politicians have to exhibit in their personal lives 100% compliance with the policies they pursue in their professional capacity. We all make compromises and that doesn’t make us hypocrites, its naive to apply a different standard to politicians.

  • rhubarbpie

    Re: Steve’s comment:

    The mayor’s made his morning commute a public issue, by repeatedly drawing attention to it. It was key to his strategy of softening his image from the billionaire mayor who seemed to have bought the election to someone at least a bit in touch with his electorate.

    I don’t care one iota what the mayor does in his private life. I do care about it when he uses a populist — and intentionally public — act dishonestly, and that is what he has been doing here. (Even if he does ride the subway more often than many elected officials, to his credit — but otherwise, on subway issues, he’s been no prize if you look at his record over his mayoralty.)

  • Eric

    Aaron D.,

    OK, I don’t know for sure that the SUVs continue to City Hall while the Mayor rides the subway, but if they don’t, that means we taxpayers have purchased him two more SUVs that get parked at City Hall, with two additional drivers and security details on OUR payroll. So driving the SUVs downtown, sans Mike, is probably the better scenario.

    I’m afraid I agree totally with rhubarbpie and Christopher above in being really disappointed that his riding the subway is more stunt than conviction. I really was under the impression that the Mayor rode the subway every day, and wasn’t being driven to the station. Because it really IS the best way to navigate NYC, both in speed and efficiency and in cost. And if the Mayor needs to be on the phone, then there’s some motiviation for wiring the subways for cellular service (not that I’m advocating for cell phone yakking on the subways, mind you).

    If it weren’t for the SUVs driving around empty, I would give him kudos for at least straphanging some of the time, which, as has been pointed out, the vast majority of placard-enabled officials never do. That needs to change – not least of all because it would mean they’d actually be working more and sitting in traffic less.

    Finally, as for the “varying the route for security” theory, I’m afraid I find that unconvincing. He’s the Mayor of NYC, not el presidente. Someone correct me if I’m wrong, but the number of all-time attempts on the lives of NYC mayors is zilch. In fact, the only killing of an elected official in NYC that I can recall took place in City Hall, unless you conunt Donald Manes and his kitchen knife. You older Livable Streets advocates will recall that he wanted to bould a race track in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park.

  • Eric,

    You’re clearly not reading enough Streetsblog.

    Here’s a photo of New York City Mayor William Jay Gaynor, August 9, 1910, moments after being shot in the throat by a disgruntled former City employee. On the left, moving forward to help the mayor is Robert Todd Lincoln, the only surviving son of the first U.S. president to be assassinated. Garner died a few years later, they say, of lead poisoning from the bullet.

    I believe Garner’s was the only assassination attempt on an NYC mayor.

    http://www.streetsblog.org/2006/12/04/congestion-charging-in-new-york-city-the-political-bloodbath/

  • Eric

    I stand corrected. I never cease to be amazed by the wealth of information that is Streetsblog.

  • Steve

    Rhu, Bloomberg’s in the sixth year of his adminsitration, the coverage suggests he’s only substituted the SUVs for a portion fo the subway trip commuting recently. He made his point about using the subway and it was a good one. I disgree vehemently with a number of Bloomberg’s policies, including his transportation policies. But I admire him for forcing himself to regulalry experience the subway at rush hour first hand. Experience and actions are so much more important that rhetoric and high-sounding principles. To me, it is a detail that he has apparently cut back on his subway use over the years, and his use of SUVs make his current commute a net increase in carbon emissions over his old commute.

  • rhubarbpie

    Steve, I agree that it’s to the mayor’s credit that he has taken the subway regularly. But given the hype around this — much of it purposely generated by the mayor himself — I think it’s more than a detail that this commute isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be. Somehow, the need for special treatment (rides, express stops, etc.) really undercuts the value of the mayor’s gesture. That combined with his sorry record on transit makes the whole thing seem like a charade. But I do understand how one would see it differently.

  • Steve

    Yeah, I can see your side too. He never claimed to ride the subway in order to reduce his carbon emissions, and I guess now we know why. And just to be clear, I don’t disagree with all of his transportation policies–certainly not with his advocacy of congestion pricing.

  • Jay

    I don’t get this at all. he is the number one booster of public transportation in the city: no mayor’s ever advocated for people to get off the streets and into subways like this one. and we’re upset – front page of the Times upset! – that the mayor’s commute isn’t just like ours??? of course it isn’t, guys. come on.

    the bottom line is that he sets a good example. he walks the talk in the way he can – and probably the way his security allows. and all of this criticism is ridiculous.

  • d

    I find this similar to criticism of John Edwards for advocating for the poor on one hand, but living in big house on the other. One can do both and have it not be contradictory. What would people rather Bloomberg do? Tell people to take their SUVs just like he does?

  • rhubarbpie

    Like Dinkins and Giuliani before him, Mayor Bloomberg has shortchanged the transit system of hundreds of millions in capital funds. He has also advocated a low-priority project (the extension of the 7 line) over other, far more important projects like a 2nd Avenue line.

    As a candidate, the mayor pledged during his first campaign to introduce bus rapid transit on Manhattan’s East Side, and that project still isn’t ready.

    He’s otherwise not spoken up for transit (talk to Upper Manhattan residents trying to save elevator attendants on the job in scary stations in Upper Manhattan; his MTA board members would not lift a finger). Some opponents of congestion pricing are concerned that the cash will be used for pet projects like the 7 line rather than real transit improvements. Until he appointed a new commissioner a few months ago, his transportation commissioner acted like the head of the AAA. I could go on and on, and maybe already have.

    And he rode the subway. (From the express stop after he gets a ride in an SUV.)

    I don’t think this makes him the number one subway booster in the city. Every mayor talks up mass transit, and even once in a while rides the trains.

    I’m willing to give the mayor the benefit of the doubt on the congestion pricing front, which I support, and even buy that it’s part of his vaunted transit advocacy. But, as I’ve written elsewhere here, it was so mishandled by the mayor that I sometimes wonder what his real game was in endorsing it.

  • Eric

    rhubarbpie, in addition to being a pretty tasty morsel, has pretty much got it nailed.

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