Spitzer Basks in Fare Freeze Afterglow

Liz Benjamin at The Daily Politics has been posting to-the-minute developments surrounding this morning’s fare freeze announcement from Governor Spitzer.

Assemblyman Richard Brodsky says the move was a good first step, but that he wants other fare increases — including tolls — delayed as well.

“We welcome the governor’s intervention, but there’s been no change in
the Pataki policies that starved the MTA in the first place, so we’re
not quitting,” Brodsky said. “I’m not sure why they’re saving the case
fare and making unlimited users pay more…I think a lot of this is
unclear in terms of its impact on riders.”

Benjamin also notes the sudden nature of today’s presser, and how it may hinder — initially, at least — a solution agreeable to all parties.

Still, in a subsequent post, TDP finds Spitzer the recipient of more praise than he has enjoyed since the heady days following his inauguration (remember the "man crush"?).

Says Shelly Silver:

“Governor Spitzer and I, along with my Assembly Majority colleagues
from the metropolitan area, agree that the $2 fare should be saved. The
Governor this morning also acknowledged something that I have been
saying all along – that there is a need for additional state resources
for the MTA. I will continue to fight for those additional resources,
so that there is no added burden on straphangers.”

Now let’s hear it for mom and apple pie!

  • One thing that could bolster the MTA finances, get more people riding mass transit, riding in their cars less and preserve the fare would be to require large employers in the city to buy unlimited MetroCards in bulk for all their employees. Less cost per card, but much higher volume. Sort of like a corporate membership. This could also apply to any large institutions.

    I think the MTA should also get a dedicated funding stream from parking taxes in the major NY/CT counties the MTA serves

  • Hilary

    At this afternoon’s Traffic Mitigation Commission meeting, Gene Russianoff just made a very good case for a coterminous freeze on transit fares during the 3-year congestion pricing pilot. If the goal is to use congestion pricing to increase transit ridership, we should not be simultaneously doing something that reduces it. It even threatens the validity of the experiment. The same would not apply to bridge tolls, as they are implicit in the congestion pricing plan.

  • Mark Fleischmann

    Re the suggestion of employers buying in bulk, one of my former employers used to let employees buy metrocards using before-tax income. It was a voluntary program but it did help those participating save some money without the MTA providing any special discount.

  • Jonathan

    Mark, what you’ve described is a common program called TransitChek. To quote:

    Under Federal law, you can allow your employees to set aside up to $110 per month/$1,320 per year of their salary before taxes (pretax) to pay for transit and eligible vanpooling expenses, and up to $215 per month/$2,580 per year for parking*. You can also offer this benefit as a tax-free fringe up to the same monthly limits. This is IRS-approved.

    On Glenn’s buy-in-bulk tip, the Department of the Army used to buy me a metrocard every month through some esoteric government program used for people who worked on certain installations. If the federal government can do it, why can’t the state and local governments?

  • Or whatever – we just need new dedicated funding streams and incentives that also serve to reduce automobiles traffic and get more people on the unlimited ride system.

    In the EU a lot of countries have extremely low monthly rates for everyday commuters and higher rates for casual riders.

    The better the carrots and sticks & convenience to encourage people (or their employers) to buy the unlimited pass the better in my book.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Meanwhile, the Democrats in the State Senate have proposed basically taking the cash reserve out of all state public authorities (including, one presumes the MTA) to help balance the state budget, and requring them to cut headcount (and presumably services) to avoid going bankrupt. The also propose emptying the tiny state rainy day fund this year.

    Don’t believe me?

    http://www.r8ny.com/node/14584

    Something for nothing sells, as long as there is someone else to blame for the consequences.

  • Niccolo Machiavelli

    I don’t think the consequences matter all that much either Larry. The consequences are always later down the line and a very small percentage of the population has a long enough institutional memory for that to matter. The degradation of the transit system is a slow insidious project. Rust takes a long time but (as Neil Young said) never sleeps.

    It also takes a long time to build the sort of civic trust necessary to raise taxes. Thats how you really tell a society is committed to something, if they are willing to raise taxes to support it. Sadly, it will be easier to raise taxes to expand roads and create more congestion than to actually tax it.

    Congestion pricing died when people were ashamed to call it a tax. Of course it is a tax, taxes are necessary. Yeah, they are high in New York but guess what, there are three million jobs within a half hour subway ride from the stop on my corner, easily worth the 25 cents a day fare increase. Watch now, it will be easy to find a majority to spend taxes, it will be easy to find a majority to borrow more money, but it will be hard to find anyone who will commit to raising taxes. That is the litmus test.

    Take Dinkins, he loved the cops enough to raise taxes to pay for them. Rudy took the credit for the extra cops and then screwed the PBA on their next agreement. They voted for him anyway.

  • Larry Littlefield

    (The consequences are always later down the line and a very small percentage of the population has a long enough institutional memory for that to matter.)

    You’ve got that right. For example, financial firms beginning with Freddie Mac are going to be issuing stock, devaluing the holdings of existing stock holders, to raise capital. But they need capital because they bought back stock at higher prices, while handing out stock options to executives. In the Robber Barron era the executives just issued each other stock. Now they do it in two phases — like the pension enhancements for those with seniority followed some years later by lower pay and benefits for new hires. Don’t have anything to do with each other, do they?

    (It also takes a long time to build the sort of civic trust necessary to raise taxes.)

    I’m losing that trust. People seem to think the community is a big bag that you try to pay in as little to as possible and suck out as much as possible. Why would I want to pay more into that? What hope is there that it would do any good? What is the proof that my higher tax payments won’t lead to a redistribution of income to those BETTER off than I am? Perhaps that is the ulimate victory of years of Republican governance — with Democractic help.

    Hey, bicycles are making more sense that ever. IF there will be enough money to maintain the few roads with bike paths.

  • “Congestion pricing died when people were ashamed to call it a tax.”

    Well, okay it’s not dead and even if it dies we can at least be glad it was made an issue of. In the alternate (and expected) universe where Bloomberg was not visited by the angel of transportation reform last year, it’s not at all likely that c.p. would have been proposed by the next administration and sold with whatever beautiful politics you would like to see. This way more people know what it is and have something to think about when they try to cross streets clogged with largely unnecessary personal cars, possibly leading to a public that chooses more wisely next time it comes up.

    As for being afraid to call it a tax, resistance is a good reaction to a hostile imposition of terminology by opponents. If we define tax as anything that takes money from people and gives it to a public entity, then sure, it’s a tax. (I got no problem with taxes, personally.) But there are plenty of things in that category that we never call taxes, like highway tolls or camping fees for a state park. Calling them all just “taxes” is reductional and confusing. Is the aim to reduce spoken English to a hundred words? Tax is simply not the most correct, natural, or even convenient word for pricing, and there’s no reason for supporters to endorse calculated terminology from opponents just because they are, um, afraid to look afraid (is this Democratic party thinking or what?).

    In fact pricing supporters have shown plenty of gumption in the way they name and describe the program. Pricing intends to reduce driving by eliminating the trips that are of the least value to drivers and society. It’s exactly that forwardness that “Lew from B…” cited when he said he could never accept pricing (though, I’m sure if we were less honest about the aims and motivations of pricing he’d find some other reason). This isn’t the right angle of self-flagellation, nor do we even need to start on that now.

  • Bloomberg: “The Governor and Lee Sander sat down with me and Dan Doctoroff to brief us about this announcement last night, and they committed to working with the city’s M.T.A. board members to share all of the numbers that underpin this decision.”

    Quinnipac : “Surprise, surprise! Support grows substantially if pricing prevents a hike in mass transit fares, with 53% supportive and 41% opposed.”

    Mmmm…Will the numbers show the need for congestion pricing to close the gap?
    This fare increase annoucement timing was masterful. Pearl Harbour theories anyone?

  • (Speaking of wrong words, dictionary says “reductionist” is the right one for my “reductional”.)

  • Niccolo Machiavelli

    That crap I wrote above about death and taxes is poorly considered I stand corrected Doc, of course the language is important and perhaps I overstated the case.

    Unfortunately the drivers do feel that the bridge tolls are taxes. They have lots of votes and convincing me won’t convince them but neither would have us calling it a tax. Once they drop $35,000 on their second car they are pretty wired in. And when I go try to explain why those tolls are justified I am often back to the forgone taxes wasted by the space given to their on-ramps as a justification for the transfer of money from their pocket to the budget of the MTA. Everyone in Staten Island thinks that just because the capital cost of the Verrazano was paid off years ago that everything else has been taxation. The TBTA tolls are tolls but they are also pricing. Either term would work but to many people, maybe even most, they are taxes.

    Either way I concede to you that I was incorrect that fear of using the word killed it. And I hope it is not dead and I’m doing what I can to pass it. But I always thought it was dead on arrival. I’m trying to decide when to give up the ghost on C.P. and move onto the fuel TAXES as a source for MTA dedicated capital money. Cut and run.

    Now as to “whatever beautiful politics you would like to see”. I never asked for a beautiful politics but rather an effective politics. We got nothing. Worse, so far the Mayor has walked away from congestion pricing once it was separated from his holy grail PlaNYC. Great coffee table book though.

    When do we get to see the media campaign? My fear is that his bungling politics has so empowered the opposition that it will drive the next Mayoral campaign away from an urbanist agenda and into the arms of the automobilisti.

    However, an idea can move by its own momentum and in the likely event that c.p. goes down, whether or not Weiner becomes Mayor, each time people are caught in traffic in future years some of them will remember the concept fondly. Ideally that will turn peoples heads politically in years to come.

    The Mayor took a concept that was polling at 46% positive and drove it down to 38% in a few months. By the drop dead date in spring it may be down to George Bushes numbers. The Mayors political approach has snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. Right now C.P. is getting a better reception in the suburbs than in the city.

    I think it has been an ugly politics.

  • Larry Littlefield

    (an idea can move by its own momentum and in the likely event that c.p. goes down, whether or not Weiner becomes Mayor, each time people are caught in traffic in future years some of them will remember the concept fondly.)

    In the near future, both drivers and transit riders should be reminded that they were unwilling to pay, as consequences arise. And they should be reminded which pols told them they shouldn’t have to.

    When CP goes down, it’s time to organize the backlash.

  • Sitting in completely immobilized Flatbush Avenue traffic Tuesday morning on the way to LGA for a Thanksgiving family trip with two cranky kids in the backseat, I couldn’t help but think that if you really wanted to build support for pricing all you’d have to do is hand out fliers at Flatbush and Atlantic during the morning rush hour explaining the projected benefits on that particular corridor. Holy cow, it was just horrific. If I had to do that drive every day I’d blow my brains out. I’d have been more than happy to pay $8 to get a few hundred of those other drivers off the street at that hour and I couldn’t be the only one. Someone needs to figure out a way to communicate to outer borough drivers that the Fidler’s, Weiner’s, Weprin’s and McCaffrey’s of the world have essentially chosen to maintain this dysfunctional status quo on behalf of the very motorists stuck in that traffic. It’s just a disaster out there, it’s only getting worse, and if these guys kill pricing, the ever-worsening traffic jam is on them. We need to get Clarence out there for a StreetFilm. Words don’t do it justice.

  • Larry Littlefield

    One more thing about Mr. Spitzer. I’ll take him and his policies over his predecessor any day, though I find them far from perfect.

    But notice how Bloomberg takes the hit for his underlings even when they blow it, so they won’t be afraid to do things. Not so here.

    Although I agree that keeping the base fare steady and cutting the discounts/upping the unlimited is the way to go here, the way it came down means Sandler looks like a dishonest slime. So, there never was a need to raise the fare! So there never is!

    Were I in his shoes, I would be tempted to draw down the MTA’s cash to zero, then shut the system and resign, leaving it to the next guy to propose the next fare increase.

    Thank God in my public sector career I never worked directly for (or even close to) a politician.

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    Were I in his shoes, I would be tempted to draw down the MTA’s cash to zero, then shut the system and resign, leaving it to the next guy to propose the next fare increase.

    Yes, because that worked so well when LaGuardia did it. 😉

    Second Avenue Sagas has a good post about the fare issues:

    http://secondavenuesagas.com/2007/11/21/specter-of-the-5%C2%A2-fare-haunts-the-current-fare-hike-debate/

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

MTA Cheered and Jeered, But Mostly Jeered

|
Reactions were mixed to yesterday’s MTA fare hike approval. That is to say — with the exception of the New York Post — there was enough criticism to go around as to generally avoid repetition. The Daily News, which has pounded the transit agency with its "Halt the Hike" series ("Even as the MTA is […]

Spitzer Calls on MTA to Retain $2 Base Fare

|
Governor Eliot Spitzer has "directed" the MTA to keep the base fare for subway and bus rides at $2. City Room reports, however, that Spitzer held out the possibility for increases in unlimited ride card rates at a press conference held this morning. Mr. Spitzer said it was possible to keep the base fare at […]

Spitzer Backs Congestion Pricing

|
Is Mayor Bloomberg actually going to pull this off? Governor Eliot Spitzer came out in favor of congestion pricing this morning. Elizabeth Benjamin at the Daily News reports: Standing with Mayor Mike Bloomberg, Gov. Eliot Spitzer this morning said he is "in favor of embracing a congestion pricing model" at a press conference where U.S. […]

Russianoff and Schneiderman Map the MTA’s Road to ‘Ruin’

|
In today’s Daily News, Gene Russianoff of the Straphangers Campaign and State Senator Eric Schneiderman examine how the MTA ended up the most debt-ridden transit system in the United States, and urge state leaders to chart a new course. The governor must prevent next year’s state budget from being a carbon copy of the budgets […]

Congestion Pricing Plan Advancing Rapidly

|
Sewell Chan at the New York Times’ Empire Zone has more on this morning’s meeting between Mayor Bloomberg, Governor Spitzer and US Dept. of Transportation secretary Mary Peters: Mr. Spitzer said at a news conference this morning, "There will always be some congestion and the good news is there is economic growth and there’s vitality […]