MTA Chief Links Congestion Pricing to Fare Hike… or Not

MTA Chief Lee Sander told CBS reporter Marcia Kramer on Wednesday that the passage of Mayor Bloomberg’s congestion pricing pilot project may help stave off a fare hike.

"The straphanger in my judgment will have to play a role, but if Wall Street turns around and congestion pricing is passed then maybe we can give the straphanger a break," Sander said. "We’ll see."

While a Wall Street turn-around and the passage of congestion pricing are a couple of very big if’s, Sander’s comment was notable enough that Transportation Alternatives saw fit to issue a press release.

"Sooner or later, New
Yorkers will have a choice to make between increasing MTA fares and
implementing congestion pricing fees," Executive Director Paul Steely
White, said. "Unfortunately, ‘none of the above’ is not a realistic,
long-term option."

Congestion pricing advocates were buoyed by Sander’s comment as it represented the first time that the MTA has suggested openness to the idea of using congestion pricing funds to prevent or delay a transit fare hike. Up to now, discussions of these policy initiatives have proceeded along completely separate tracks.

The linkage is potentially significant. A July Quinnipiac Poll showed that New York City voters oppose congestion pricing 52 – 41 percent, but would support the measure 58 – 36 percent if congestion pricing fees were used to prevent hikes in mass transit fares and bridge and tunnel tolls. In other words, the MTA’s willingness to put fare hikes on hold during a congestion pricing pilot project may be a key to Mayor Bloomberg’s traffic mitigation plan gaining approval.

MTA Press Secretary Jeremy Soffin, however, says no such trade-off is in the works. "The MTA strongly supports congestion pricing both to limit congestion and help fund the transit system’s capital needs. Congestion pricing revenues would still be a couple of years off, and were never considered as a substitute for the proposed cost-of-living fare and toll increase."

[Insert Debbie Downer sound effect.] 

* * * * *
On Saturday, November 17, the MTA will be hosting a "public engagement workshop" to discuss the proposed fare and toll hikes. This unprecedented, interactive public input format is being designed "to provide the MTA with informed, meaningful input about which options you prefer and your priorities for the future of the MTA," according to an agency spokesperson.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Again, the key question, the one NO ONE wants to talk about, is what will pay for the 2010 to 2014 MTA Capital Plan. Put that out there on the table. I think everyone in the legislature plans to move to Florida before the bill comes due.

  • anon

    It is not credible to say that MTA needs CP to stave off a fare hike. It already has bridge tolls it can raise. By offering MTA (train and toll) customers metrocard deals, it will compensate NY viz a viz NJ at least a little.

  • Spud Spudly

    “Sander’s comment was notable enough that Transportation Alternatives saw fit to issue a press release.”

    That’s funny. The changing of the wind direction is often all that’s necessary for TA to see fit to issue a press release.

  • press is power

    Spud,

    So that was an insignificant story followed by an even more insignificant press release? Hmmm. where would you place your piss-ant blog comment on the continuum of relevance?

  • Zach

    “It is not credible to say that MTA needs CP to stave off a fare hike. It already has bridge tolls it can raise.”

    This raises an interesting question. In the CP plan, the city deducts any bridge tolls you paid from your total charge, right? What’s to stop PANYNJ from raising bridge tolls, since the consumer won’t know the difference, and draining money out of city coffers?

  • anon

    Nothing. In fact that is what it has already announced it intends to do.
    However, it’s not totally disastrous. It discourages traffic in the city and garners revenue for the Port Authority, which it hopefully invests in transit, as opposed to, say, real estate boondoggles like the Freedom Tower…

  • Niccolo Machiavelli

    Plus, Anon 455, New York can get up to half of the PA bread. PA and MTA have inter-institutional relationships regarding transportation policies as it is. CP ideally will be dedicated to capital investments (how else do we plan on paying of the Transportation Bond debt?)though the commitment of that money to the MTA was absent from the Mayors plan.

    That plan is pretty much dead at this point and we may soon be playing 52 pick-up with CP as well.

    It was all well and good to pass a Transportation Bond Act selling the voters a broad package of capital improvements everyone wants. However, now that it has come down to satisfying multiple Assembly, city council and Senate jurisdictions everyone comes out with the “what are you going to do for my people” schtick when it comes to raising funds to pay off those bonds. Subsequently the broad consensus that sold the Bond Act whithers away.

    And it will get worse before it gets better. As the commission has to revise, chop, dice and slice CP to get it past Shelly and the City Council resources will have to be moved around. Some groups who seemed to benefit more from the Mayors plan will feel thereby aggrieved by the Commission Plan. Any support gained by the changes the Commission puts forth will have to be greater than the perceived losses of these other groups.

    It looks to me that we are still getting further away from more dedicated funds for the MTA, in any form, that Larry began this onslaught with.

  • steve

    I don’t want to see CP’s promise of a massive transit capital infusion pissed away, but the direct linkage of CP to fares is electric. The promised CP capital improvements seem a pipe dream to some, but making motorists pay now to keep fares where they are is plausible and lays bare the political reality (this is mass transit riders vs. motorists, folks) that Brodsky et al. obscure. Upping tolls would simply worsen the distortion of the current structure (more traffic on and leading to free crossings).

  • Niccolo Machiavelli

    Problem Steve is that the electricity you observe is static electricity and not real current. In fact Assemblyman Brodsky has already grounded that circuit. He and the others are cluck-clucking about the fare/toll increase as they can be depended upon to do promising to come up with the State $s that have been missing the last decade or so. They are actually your allies for purposes of stalling the inevitable increase. Brodsky is, and always has been, one of the drivers of the anti-fare and toll increase.

    And for a large part of that decade the fare has actually be going down. Had the average fare not actually been falling to the present level of $1.30 per ride perhaps there would be more of a charge here. That $1.30 increasingly has had to fund the MTA capital as well as the MTA operating budgets.

    That the riders can’t pay for the basic input increases (COLA) of 10% to something like $1.45 or $1.50 merely reinforces the character and stereotype of the MTA as a social welfare rather than a transportation provider. If people can’t afford the extra $0.25 their average ride will cost them (about $60 per work year, $1.25 per week) then their economic issues are greater than what can be addressed in public transportation policy. Clearly there are such people and I feel sorry for them, thats why I support welfare and care for the indigent.

    At the Metro North fare and toll hearings in Westchester the other night the only outright opponents of the increases were the American Automobile Association. The riders guy from the PCAC said he didn’t like fare increases but understood that more frequent more moderate increases were easier on the riders.

    One can always make a case that since the MTA properties, especially Metro North and the Subway system, recover more of their operating and capital expenses from the fare box than the other American systems, that the riders are paying too much and the taxpayers pay too little. But these are not magic numbers and are largely a function of population density. For New York’s population density to have value the MTA must recover more of their expenses from the riders than a system in Denver, or LA or Omaha.

    But one can make the same argument that the two fare zones shouldn’t have ended, that in those further reaches of Brooklyn, Queens, SI and the Burbs that have such low capacity utilization and empty buses should pay more than the efficient subway system in the center. We have chosen not to do that and the same outerborough politicians who are fighting CP loved that. It even made a lot of them (Carl Kruger) into defacto Republicans.

    Unfortunately the debate of fare increases gets diffused into slurs on the Authority and its workers, promised improvements that have not been achieved and what the hell is being done with all the toll money presently being paid by the drivers. Historically it has made the fare and toll payers so suspicious of the agency that they forget the very valuable transportation service the MTA provides. The press has certainly forgotten what the real average fare is and what direction it has been going in.

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    That the riders can’t pay for the basic input increases (COLA) of 10% to something like $1.45 or $1.50 merely reinforces the character and stereotype of the MTA as a social welfare rather than a transportation provider.

    Certainly, transit has that stereotype in plenty of places outside of New York, but I haven’t heard it much here. Can you point to any evidence of it?

  • Older & Wiser NYer

    In the Times’ Real Estate section today, the featured town is lovely Easton, CT. Only problem is that there is not train station, so residents must drive to some farther town’s station – where the waiting list for non-resident permits is 3,500 (i.e. endless). If it’s anything like the Westchester, NJ, and CT towns I know, the daily parking situation is such that only someone who gets there before 8 or after 8 has a chance of parking. So the problem is that the towns that are lucky enough to have a station are holding the entire region hostage. They don’t want to expand their stations, because it will attract traffic. These areas make no sense for local transit solutions, even jitneys. I think these towns (or MTA) should be FORCED to accommodate the real demand for service. Like a public school system has to accommodate all students in the district regardless of needs. They cannot say they’re “full.” The train system is a public benefit whose benefit is the entire region, not the select neighborhoods it happens to stop in.

  • Davis

    Older & Wiser,

    When you say these transit-rich towns should be “forced to accommodate the real demand for service,” what would that look like? Are you saying that these towns should be forced to build gigantic and expensive new parking structures alongside their train stations, many of which are located on old, downtown Main Streets? What does forcing to accommodate mean?

  • Cap’n Transit

    These areas make no sense for local transit solutions, even jitneys. I think these towns (or MTA) should be FORCED to accommodate the real demand for service. Like a public school system has to accommodate all students in the district regardless of needs. They cannot say they’re “full.” The train system is a public benefit whose benefit is the entire region, not the select neighborhoods it happens to stop in.

    I couldn’t disagree more, O&W. Nobody’s saying that these people from neighborhing towns can’t use the train. It’s the station parking that’s being denied, and I think that’s the way it should be. There are probably people who moved to those towns specifically so that they could walk to the train. To ask these people to disembowel their town for more parking and put up with lots and lots of single-occupant vehicles driving through is unreasonable.

    If the areas “make no sense” for local transit, then they make no sense as homes for people who commute to NYC. If people can’t walk to the train, then they probably can’t walk to the supermarket, or their friends’ house, or anything. I don’t want my tax money going to build parking lots to subsidize such a car-dependent lifestyle.

    A little googling reveals that there’s an intact railbed that passes through that area. It’s the dotted line between Bridgeport and Botsford on this map. It’s being used as a rail-trail now, but it could be revived as a Metro-North branch line. That would be a much better use of scarce transit money.

    The car lifestyle is unsustainable. If people don’t want to rebuild the pedestrian and transit infrastructure of the area, then the NYC commuters should move to a town that has such an infrastructure. Park-and-rides are not the answer.

  • Older & Wiser NYer

    I don’t disagree that there are better solutions. Let the suburbs figure out the best one, but force them to do SOMETHING. And I don’t think it should be paid for by MTA or city taxpayers. But neither MTA nor these towns should be allowed to erect barriers to access to this essential service. The same arguments were posed in education and housing. Zoning was the way that towns controlled both, and was struck down (or at least wobbled).

  • Cap’n Transit

    I would argue that the barriers are the land-use patterns enacted by Easton. It’s a legitimate question in sustainable transportation circles, “can this town be saved”?

    In this you’re tying my hands by saying “these towns make no sense for local transit solutions.” I happen to think that local transit solutions make sense for a lot of rural towns. From a long-term sustainability standpoint, I’d turn the traditional anti-transit argument on its head and say that it’s cheaper to run a bus every hour than to let these people continue to drive everywhere.

    The bottom line is that local transit solutions (and bicycles) will eventually be the only thing that is practical. If local transit makes no sense, then living in that area makes no sense.

  • Older & Wiser NYer

    A town like that can’t support a bus every hour. And is it supposed to make house calls?

    I don’t think there will be one solution, but many. I like your idea of reviving the rail beds for greenways to the stations. My point remains that nothing will happen unless the issue is forced.

    That might include making any future developments have a robust plan for connecting residents to transit.

  • gecko

    Bicycles, recumbent tricycles, hybrid human-electric vehicles provided with safe passage are the future and the longer the MTA ignores this the longer it remains a dinosaur and a money pit.

    When times get tough naturally adapting animals get smaller.

    Moving a ton of steel and glass and very often much more for each person moved is a dumb process difficult to understand in a supposedly advanced civilization running out of resources and environment.

  • A town like that can’t support a bus every hour. And is it supposed to make house calls?

    Before making a decision like that, I’d like to see cost estimates for bus service vs. creating lots of parking lots at Metro-North stations and the human cost of a high number of traffic injuries and deaths. Also, what are the revenue sources for those towns? A lot of the people who live in that area are wealthy, right? So why doesn’t the town raise taxes on them?

    I don’t think there will be one solution, but many. I like your idea of reviving the rail beds for greenways to the stations. My point remains that nothing will happen unless the issue is forced.

    I don’t dispute your larger point, and that’s one of the many reasons I support congestion pricing: it forces the issue.

    I want to clarify that I don’t think that a greenway on the old Housatonic right-of-way is an adequate solution given current levels of bicycle usage. I was suggesting replacing the rails and reviving passenger train service on the line.

  • I just looked at the Times article in question, and it looks like Easton is hopeless. From a sustainability standpoint, they’re living in a fantasyland. They don’t want a train station, shopping or “density” in their town – but they want a nice, comfortable train commute to Manhattan. They probably want a pony for Christmas too.

    I have no problem charging these people $8 a day to drive to their Wall Street jobs. In fact, it’s way too little. You want your city job and your country living? Well, pay the city for it.

  • Niccolo Machiavelli

    The rails to trails thing was supposed to take dormant right of ways and warehouse them as bike paths until rail could run again on that space. Does anyone know if a trail has ever turned back into a rail?

    But Captain, almost all of the suburban station budgets are funded by the localities, that gives the local political entities enormous clout in determining the parking v. TOD (Transit Oriented Development) equation. There are plenty of such studies as you request. Look at the recent Beacon TOD on Metro North. It has only taken about a decade to get to where they are now. Yeah, there are great possibilities for the next decade but it only happens over a long period of time.

    And as to density, it is not only the suburbs who resist density. The downzoning frenzy in Brooklyn and Queens is every bit as destructive to mass transit as are the parking lots in the Burbs. The Burbs have to reverse a century of land use decisions to create more transit capable densities, and they have to do that in a political environment where every household already invests $10,000 in owning two cars. Brooklyn and Queens anti-development forces have taken very transit centered neighborhoods like Park Slope and neutered their future TOD potential by forcing future development away from existing transit corridors by downzoning.

    Now the “liberals” who represent the downzoned neighborhoods oppose the fare increase, expect to let the Mortgage Recording Tax gleaned from Manhattan and downtown Brooklyn development pay for the MTA and along the way want increased MTA service.

    They want a pony for Christmas too.

  • Good point about the rails-to-trails, signore! As far as I know, there is no right-of-way that has been “railbanked” and then withdrawn from the bank. The most serious proposal for this is the Purple Line proposal in the DC suburbs, which would widen the right-of-way to include room for a light rail line along the trail. There is a coalition opposed to the proposal, but some groups support it.

  • mkultra

    I am not trying to be personal here, just helpful:
    gecko: PLEASE stop repeating your “hybrid human-powered transport” spiel over and over and over again. You’re starting to sound like a troll and are not adding much substance to the discussion with your kind of eccentric rants. Apparently it’s not only the MTA that is “ignoring” this bold new future of “hybrid human-powered transport” – it’s basically everybody, including most of the readers of your comments on Streetsblog. And if my experience is a guide, then the reason they do is because you endlessly repeat very abstract wishes without explaining the concept in detail – what it is, how it would work, why it’s superior (read: more practical) than the alternatives, how much it would cost, and how we would get there from here. Even better if you know of some real-world examples you can point us to. If you think it is such a self-evidently strong concept, then obviously something is getting lost in translation b/c we obviously aren’t moving in that direction very quickly at all. Making things happen requires a little effort, not just preaching your utopia vision to us. 🙂

  • And as to density, it is not only the suburbs who resist density. The downzoning frenzy in Brooklyn and Queens is every bit as destructive to mass transit as are the parking lots in the Burbs.

    I’m glad someone said it. It’s disappointing that liveable streets advocates didn’t have the time and energy to pay attention to this “downzoning” movement; it’s probably set TOD back quite a bit.

  • gecko

    If it looks like a dinosaur, quacks like a dinosaur, maybe it . . . MTA Chief Lee Sander should be tasked to explain how bicycles, recumbent tricycles, and hybrid human-electric vehicles will be provided with safe passage and incorporated into the transit system to reinvent it as a modern, cost-effective, and resilient transportation network.

  • Hilary

    Gecko, Just wanted to say that I’m glad you are NOT listening to mkultra and abandoning your mantra. There is a valid argument that all personal transport (even bicycles) are ultimately anti-social, and that all planning and resources should be channeled to transit. But if we can design a system that accommodates the luxury of personal mobility devices (including but not limited to bicycles) — why not?

  • re: “real-world examples” of human-powered transport in conjunction with public transit…

    how about most of the netherlands, germany, denmark, etc.??? people there have been commuting (and vacationing, for that matter) via a combination of bicycles and trains for decades. americans may view this is as some radical vision for granola eaters, but the reality is that it is simply common sense — whether viewed from an economic, public-health, environmental, or development standpoint.

  • Chris H

    gecko,

    I think this issue that mkultra is trying to raise is a valid one. Yes human powered transport is a vital component of our transportation future. However, pushing this human hybrid concept, especially when you attack transit, leaves no bridge for many of us to join you. This sort of divisiveness reminds me of what I have learned about the splintering of the new left in their various camps in the late ’60s early ’70s. They all largely had the same goals but got too wrapped up in the details to provide a united front. Perhaps another good example would be PETA’s SUVs and global warming campaign.
    Transit and human powered transport have a synergy with each other. At this juncture, there is no reason to try and promote one at the expense of the other.

  • mkultra

    all I meant is that “hybrid human-powered transport” or whatnot is fuzzy and confusing, and nobody (yet) has done a good job explaining what the heck it is, how it would work, and how the other 99.9% of the populace would be made to understand it let alone support it. may be i am being too anti-wonk – this is, after all, a wonks’ website.

  • mkultra

    in other words, if you want to brand the terminology, focus on the branding and not the policy. if you want to implement the policy, focus on the policy and just call them “walking and biking”. if you try to create a brand no one is familiar with and push a policy no one is familiar with at the same time, all it’s going to do is confuse, as it’s confused me.

  • Hilary

    I say, hold your ground, Gecko! If I understand you, you are advocating for a future that accommodates not only bicycles but also electric bicycles, electric mobility scooters, maybe segways, and whatever non-polluting miniature transports might emerge that can replace cars. Viewed broadly (i.e. including devices that can replace cars for non-bicyclists) the population of users becomes great enough to justify taking not just of entire lanes, but entire roads. Or am I misunderstanding you?
    (I guess you do need to be a little less abstract!)

  • gecko

    One-half billion cyclist built China into the economic juggernaut it is today (many times repeated on this blog).

    A big question is with so many users, why hasn’t anyone taken the leap into transit that meets developed world expectations? Part of the answer is simply brute force key species dominance of automobiles.

    The underlying technology is very mature and is just simply “human-scale mechanical”. It is not nano technology or building bridges and skyscrapers. It is just the art of putting a lot of stuff together that has been around for a long time and maybe some new stuff together into a practical solution.

    Because the technology is so well established and straightforward it may be difficult for commercial concerns to justify, say one-half billion dollars because it may be difficult to secure local monopolies, except in terms of pure value-based know-how and some patents of minor stuff like track switching, design of rail, etc. which has to be standardized or become a defacto standard like Microsoft Windows. It may also be viewed as a cannibalization of high-margin business within a company and comes with high risk (like IBM sold its laptops to Lenovo now with exceptionally high growth); but, most likely it’s currently below the radar.

    Although, one-half billion dollars may be deemed as real cheap considering Microsoft spent well over that for each of the more recent operating systems. Hybrid human-electric transit and transport may be viewed as the operating system for a large portion of global transportation by mid-century able to fit through the bottle necks caused by the climate change crisis for which it is intended.

    It is ironic that the Gates Foundation is making major investments in developing medical saving a huge number of lives, many of which will be lost if global warming proceeds unabated.

    Forty or fifty percent usage in Europe is great, but a complete solution that integrates well with contempory developed world constraints and needs will go viral and will be compatible with the developing world needs as well.

  • gecko

    What is proposed is something that is significantly more practical, fun, safe, cost-effective, near-zero emissions, very high efficiency, etc., than cars to serve the large number of people and cities that require mass transit, though perfectly suitable for simple travel and desired.

    It is elevated and goes over cars and trucks protecting users from them.

    It is a small monorail 8-inch beam (to at least keep things simple for now).

    In a city it might not be quite as high as a lamp post and the spans between vertical supports might be something like 20 feet or more and small enough not to be any more objectionable than double-decker tour buses and probably a lot less because they will be silent. Christos’ “The Gates” Central Park structures start to approximate the idea.

    An adapting sleeve rides along the beam much like a sleeve of a shirt rides up a human arm. A slot in the sleeve accommodates the vertical beam supports. The vehicle can be ridden off the rail providing full distributed on-demand functionality same as bikes. On the rail it attaches to the sleeve and can provide hands-free maximum safety at higher-than-normal urban speeds because of lack of conflicts. On the rail there is nothing to run into except the rider ahead . . . .

    It can provide considerable advantage in non-urban environments as well.

    Recumbent bicycles that ride the beam are preferred (at this time) because they can be very low and a rider is practically sitting directly on top of the beam. They also offer full seats and easily accommodate seat belts, less back strain, lower wind resistance, among other advantages.

    The rail system itself should be modular, easy to put up, modify, and take down to facilitate adaptation to change, local conditions; and because of simplicity of design should be accessible to considerable input by local communities rather than depending on “experts” telling communities what they need.

    This is a full system so there are a lot of design concerns and detailing way beyond the scope of one voice in the dark, but a large part of the idea stage of development can be accelerated with normal CAD/CAM software design and should not even be close to the difficulty of designing a jet or maybe even a brand new model of automobile.

    To get an idea on how much is usually spent on industrial design:

    One model of Rollerblades $750,000

    Lastest Volkswagen Beetle $400 million

    A blue sky estimate for industrial design of a Version I of a hybrid human-electric transit system is a laughable bargain at $500 million; as positive disruptive technology this is quite possible.

    Hope this is not too abstract.

  • gecko

    re: Comment by mkultra — November 11, 2007 @ 4:37 pm | Link

    mkultra, Optibike (Colorado, USA perhaps) is a very commercial hybrid human-electric vehicle among others. Look it up. I have no connection.

    It’s been reported that in China demand far outstrips supply for these type of vehicles at $5,000 US with about 12 million users; versions come 400, 500, and 600 watts.

    The New York Times did an article about someone using an Optibike this year I believe.

    Optibike was at a Tour de Sol in Albany (about 2 years ago) where a non-elite athelete did 100 miles in a little more than 3 hours probably at something like 2000 miles per gallon.

    This type of vehicle is one part of the solution.

  • vnm

    The downzoning frenzy in Brooklyn and Queens is every bit as destructive to mass transit as are the parking lots in the Burbs. … Brooklyn and Queens anti-development forces have taken very transit centered neighborhoods like Park Slope and neutered their future TOD potential by forcing future development away from existing transit corridors by downzoning.

    AMEN! Very well put. The downzoning frenzy led to a disastrous series of decisions that push development out into the sprawl zones and make housing in the city even more unaffordable. I wish livable streets people were more vocal in opposing the downzonings.

    Then you have things like Atlantic Yards, which is a transit-oriented development if ever there was one, except for all the parking it creates. Problem is it’s also a “cataclysmic development,” to use Jane Jacob’s phrase, and is being persued poorly.

    People naturally fixate on a projected traffic increase in their own neighborhood but ignore the related overall net reduction in traffic.

  • vnm

    gecko,

    Thank you for finally explaining what “hybrid human-electric transit” is. Like mkultra, I have been wondering about that for a long time.

    The idea is attractive to the extent that is doesn’t seem like it would use a lot of energy, and would promote health and would discourage sprawl-style development. But its unattractive to me to the extent that it doesn’t seem to provide a very social or communal platform for transportation, the way transit does, which Hilary alluded to. Even the dreaded automobile has more room for human interaction … if there are more occupants than just the driver.

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