More on the Ravitch Commission’s MTA Fix

Brad hit the major points from today’s Ravitch/Paterson/Bloomberg press conference. Here are some more details on the MTA rescue plan they unveiled. (The whole Ravitch Commission report is available as a PDF.)

  • Bridge tolls would be cashless, using E-ZPass and license plate capture
    technology, not toll booths. The city would transfer ownership of East
    and Harlem River bridges to the MTA. Ravitch described this process as
    "very complicated" and said discussions were ongoing, but did not
    specify which legislative approvals would be required.
  • The payroll tax, expected to generate $1.5 billion yearly, would be used to finance bonds for the MTA capital program. Ravitch described this as a lockbox structure that would keep farebox revenue separate from capital funding. (The underlying principle is that straphangers should pay for operating the system, not the capital program.) An exception would be made during the first year the tax is in effect, when it would be used to stave off deep service cuts and hold down the fare hike to eight percent, as opposed to the 23 percent hike that was unveiled last month. The state legislature will have to approve the tax.
  • Bus service would be extended before the bridge tolls take effect. Ravitch endorsed BRT as a vital component of the rescue package, but did not give specifics about the number of lines to be added. He referred instead to the city’s plan for pilot routes in every borough. "The more we’re able to demonstrate to the public that this is a good thing, the better," he said.
  • Expect action in the state legislature soon. "Time is critical because the MTA is required by law to adopt a balanced budget in December," Ravitch said. The fare increase process will start in January if the legislature does not act by then.

Paterson and Bloomberg gave the plan full endorsements, with the governor portraying its release as a day of reckoning. "The delays, the ways in which responsibility has been shirked if not just ignored in the past, to live for another day — that day has come," he said.

City Room has a good run-down of the press event and some early reactions from advocacy groups and local pols. Looks like many of our electeds see the commuter tax and car registration fees as their preferred alternatives to bridge tolls.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “The delays, the ways in which responsibility has been shirked if not just ignored in the past, to live for another day — that day has come.” So let’s get deeper in the hole and put it off five more years, once again, by borrowing.

  • carbot

    As someone who drives much and pays many tolls, I agree that the bridges to LI should have modest tolls. It should cost as least as much to drive from LI to the city as it does by subway ($4RT). Right now, I have a disincentive to take the subway- its cheaper to drive (incremental cost of driving). I drive in the evening when it is usually possible to park for free.

  • Rhywun

    Sounds like the payroll tax only applies in New York State, as I expected. What about NJ and CT?

  • Seaman Drake

    I predict a likely compromise — there will be no Harlem River tolls and a modest, subway-fare toll will be imposed on East River bridges to phase Brooklynites into the toll era.

  • Here’s a question I haven’t seen answered: Will I95 from the Bronx into Manhattan allow for a toll-free crossing? Or will the exists into Manhattan be tolled?

  • Lew from Brooklyn

    Any Streetsbloggers remember where they first heard of the proposal of a one third of one percent payroll tax to support the MTA capital plan??????

    Shoulda been done 6 months ago…..

    Lew from Brooklyn

  • Chris H

    @Rhywun,

    NJ commuters use much less MTA infrastructure than NYers do. We mainly use PANYNJ bridges and tunnels, buses owned by the state of NJ (and operated by NJ Transit and private bus companies) which go to PANYNJ owned terminals, NJ Transit owned trains using Amtrak owned tunnel and terminal and the PANYNJ owned PATH system.

    The MTA infrastructure that we do uses is mainly the NYCS within Midtown and Lower Manhattan.

    In any case, NJ is building a new rail tunnel ($8.7 billion) into Midtown which will allow MTA commuters on the west of Hudson Metro North lines a one seat ride into the city.

  • Niccolo Machiavelli

    Sure Lew, props all the way around, good broad basing man, let the people who actually need to drive in the reverse commute to the burbs where all the jobs went pay for the privilege of the people who refuse to get on mass transit to go to the business district. Just what the economy needs now, a tax on wages.

  • @Lew,

    Payroll taxes are fundamentally more regressive than any kind of income or use based tax. Everyone pays the payroll tax. At a time when wages are stagnant or declining, raising payroll taxes is a terible idea. Not to mention the fact that over the last 25 years payroll taxes have grown to take a huge bite out of even the poorest of taxpayers. Insane.

    To be clear Lew, you won’t subsidize my environment-saving, congestion-reducing commute by transit with any kind of road pricing, but you want me to spend my money to support your automobile infrastructure AND the transit infrastructure I’ve already paid for once at the farebox? No thanks.

  • Niccolo Machiavelli

    Those who repeatedly demanded a “broad based” tax to replace the revenues lost withthe demise of congestion pricing were really demanding a regressive tax. The broader it is, the more regressive it is by definition. The only thing that is not CP that is not regressive is the millionaire’s tax. And, while it may be progressive it isn’t “broad-based”.

  • The idea that these bridges are free is wrong to begin with. Local citizens pay for their maintainence in their taxes. Ironically you can make the case that subway and bus riders are penalized twice. first by not having a free way to cross like drivers do, then they pay their city taxes to fix these bridges.

    But the real problem is that we are encouraging more driving when the city is not desiged for it. A 14 year old girl died on Thur or Friday in an area near Queens Blvd in Elmhurst known for being congested. Congestion hurts the outer boros as well.

    And if it hurts the outer boros, how do free bridge help encourage less driving?
    President elect Obama wants to reduce our dependence on oil. How does a free bridge help that?
    President Obama wants to reduce our CO2 Emissions and get the USA engaged in the Climate Change solutions. How does a free bridge help that?

    The fact is Ravitch has this right. Put in better bus service (BRT) and then put the tolls in and reduce congestion, pollution, CO2, oil dependence and hopefully – improve the safety of the city so 14 yr olds don’t get killed.

  • Maybe the bridges shouldn’t be free, but it is just as wrong to charge $10 round trip that probably will become $15 in 2 years and $20 in four. A better solution would be to charge $5 or $6 round trip on all the East River Crossings to more evenly distribute traffic and keep this rates for at least five years.

    I detailed my reasoning why these proposed tolls are wrong under Pols Skeptical… (Dec 4) article and won’t repeat them here.

    NYC will never have BRT because we do not have wide enough right-of-ways for BRT as other cities do. The MTA already recognizes this and has changed the name of BRT to Select Bus Service, because it will not be rapid. It will just provide minor improvements on a few routes, hardly enough to make any significant difference overall.

    It is not fair to penalize motorists without giving them any viable alternatives. The mass transit system does not even have the capacity to handle additional riders during rush hours. How about this? Eliminate all the seats in subway cars and in buses to increase capacity? It looks like the MTA has already started to think along those lines.

  • Maybe the bridges shouldn’t be free, but it is just as wrong to charge $10 round trip that probably will become $15 in 2 years and $20 in four.

    Thanks for reconsidering your stance, but can we please keep the discussion to the proposal at hand, not some fantasy straw man?

    NYC will never have BRT because we do not have wide enough right-of-ways for BRT as other cities do.

    What is “wide enough for BRT”?

    It is not fair to penalize motorists without giving them any viable alternatives.

    So everyone who was stupid or greedy enough to move to sprawlsville deserves a subsidy in perpetuity? How do we stop hemorrhaging money supporting unsustainable lifestyles?

  • Marty Barfowitz

    NYC will never have BRT because we do not have wide enough right-of-ways for BRT as other cities do.

    BrooklynBus: With all due respect, what’s becoming increasingly clear here is that you really don’t actually know very much about bus rapid transit design, operations or best practices. I’m assuming that you’ve never been to a city where it actually works.

    Every European planner and traffic engineer who comes to town these days seems to comment on how NYC, particularly Manhattan, is blessed with remarkably wide right-of-way on its avenues and many of its major streets. They laugh when we suggest that the city’s major thoroughfares are too narrow to accommodate buses and bikes. See the recent Jan Gehl interview on Streetfilms.

    The only way you could make a statement like the one you made is if you’re working under the assumption that NYC’s streets *must* be filled with private motor vehicle traffic. Otherwise, I don’t see how you look at the six-lane highways running up and down the isle of Manhattan and think to yourself that there’s not enough space on those streets to run an exclusive busway.

  • Cap’n Transit:

    I did not change my position. I previously said that it would be okay to charge reasonable tolls on the East River bridges, providing the tolls on the existing crossings were cut in half and all the crossings charged the same amount.

    I’m not sure what types of subsidies you are talking about. When I said “viable alternatives” I was referring to mass transit improvements. Sounds like the problem you have with surburban sprawl is poor city planning.

    Marty Bartowitz:

    There are a number of inaccuracies in your comments. The Manhattan avenues, which are five lanes wide, not six unless you remove all parking from both sides of the street, are not filled with private motor vehicle traffic. I would guess that no more than about 20% is private motor vehicle traffic. The rest are taxis, delivery trucks and buses as well as government and emergency vehicles.

    Yes these avenues are wide enough for BRT and bicycles, if you restrict all non-bus traffic to two lanes with one of them filled with double parked trucks. Is that what you are proposing? BRT is much more than an exclusive busway, which I have never opposed. We already have those on at least Madison Avenue and it doesn’t help that much.

  • BrooklynBus: “I would guess that no more than about 20% is private motor vehicle traffic.”

    Even in taxi-stuffed midtown, in my observation, at least 50 percent of all traffic is private cars.

    In my neighborhood, West Nineties, it’s more like 80 or 90 percent. And this is a neighborhood loaded with both IRT and IND subway lines as well as buses. As I’ve said before, the private car traffic in my neighborhood has tripled since I moved here in 1975.

  • From my experience, in Midtown, at least during the weekday (especially middays), it is far less than 50%. Weekends and at night, I would tend to agree.

    The question is where are those 80 or 90 percent in the Upper West Side coming from? Are they from areas where people can conveniently use mass transit? What I mean by this is if those people did use mass transit, could they make the same trip in about the same time or a little more? Or are we talking about a trip they now can make in 30 minutes by car that would take them 2 hours by public transit? They may not be coming from up or down the avenue where the mass transit runs.

    Also, if those people did use mass transit, is there the capacity for the system to handle the additional passengers? It’s very easy to say that people who drive should take mass transit. But as I previously said, it must be a reasonable alternative. You must ask yourself why has traffic tripled where you live since 1975. My guess is that it is is due to much of the low and middle income housing being replaced by luxury housing. The more affluent you are, the more you can afford to drive. The problem goes much deeper than policies toward mass transit vs. the private automobile.

  • The question is where are those 80 or 90 percent in the Upper West Side coming from? Are they from areas where people can conveniently use mass transit?

    Bruce Schaller has your answers.

    Also, if those people did use mass transit, is there the capacity for the system to handle the additional passengers?

    As the Ravitch report said, “Bus service would be extended before the bridge tolls take effect.”

    The more affluent you are, the more you can afford to drive.

    And the less likely you are to be a “little guy” who can’t afford to pay a toll.

  • BrooklynBus, you answer the question posed at the start of your second graf in your third graf: They are neighborhood residents, and most of them drive because they are more affluent, not because they need to. Their cars are a status symbol, one that unfortunately detaches them from the life of the neighborhood and the city. I preferred the neighborhood better when it was quieter and the air was easier to breathe. And yeah, I’m sure every New Yorker (if not every aging human being in general) says things aren’t what they used to be. But in this case, it’s really true. In terms of the physical upkeep of buildings and Riverside Park, the neighborhood has improved. But in terms of noise, pollution, and the civility of the streets, it has deteriorated. And that’s tragic, because it means a truly beautiful neighborhood is occupied increasingly by people who don’t appreciate its finest intrinsic qualities, and they are making life more dismal for the rest of us.

  • Marty Barfowitz:

    I just watched the Jan Gehl Interview. I really can’t argue with any of the points he makes, but he speaks in generalities, not specifics. Yes, if you make it easier for bicycles, you will get more of them. But what he doesn’t say is that New York City is much bigger than European cities where bicycles may work well. The distance needed to traverse for many of the trips that need to be made here are far too great to be conveniently made by bicycle unless you are very physically fit.

    That doesn’t mean we should not make improvements for bicycle travel. But no matter what we do, it will not make a vast difference, and will not get cars off the road. No one is going to say, I’ll leave my car home and use my bike. They might say, I’ll bike rather than walk, or I’ll bike rather than use the bus.

    I couldn’t help but notice the numbers of taxis and trucks in the videos shown. I didn’t see vast numbers of cars. Also, trucks and buses take up much more street space than cars, so on a street space basis cars even take up a smaller percentage of space than previously stated. Don’t interpret this statement that I am against buses. I realize that one bus can remove 40 cars from the street. I’m just wondering why everyone focuses all their efforts on removing cars, and so one ever says anything about the trucks. In my opinion, they pose a bigger traffic problem than the cars.

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