Pols Skeptical Ahead of Ravitch Report Release

The much-anticipated report from the Ravitch Commission is scheduled to be released within the hour. The report is expected to include recommendations for an eight percent increase in transit fares along with tolls on East River and, possibly, Harlem River bridges — measures deemed necessary to avert the MTA "doomsday" scenario of a 23 percent fare hike and massive service cuts. And yet, in this morning’s media coverage, we couldn’t find one quote from a politician other than Governor David Paterson who was willing to keep an open mind on the idea of new bridge tolls.

Here’s some of what was said in advance of the report’s release.

From the Times, "Paterson Voices Support for M.T.A. Rescue Plan": 

The governor said he was still reviewing the plan, but was "quite
pleased with what I see so far." "As an alternative to a fare hike,” he
said, "I think it’s very viable."

The governor said at a news
conference in Manhattan, "The message we keep trying to deliver is that
we are in a very difficult fiscal time, and so it’s either going to be
fare hikes or it’s going to be tolls and a combination of payroll
taxes, but it’s the only way."

"Those who are upset about this,
what I would urge them to consider is, it’s the inaction in the past
that’s led to this overwhelming deficit," he said. "This is a very
difficult endeavor, but we are trying to show leadership."

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said that he had not seen the final report, but that he favored keeping
the fare affordable. "I am not afraid of reasonable tax proposals that
will provide the revenues that are necessary to do that," he said.

"Even
the businesses that might be called upon to pay it would be better
served by having that affordable revenue stream there, and an
affordable fare," Mr. Silver said. "We can’t afford service cuts that
make the subways and buses inaccessible."

Asked about tolls on the bridges, however, he reiterated that he was waiting to see the report.

Some of the difficulty that proponents will face in winning
approval for the plan could be seen at a meeting of Democratic members
of the Assembly in Brooklyn on Wednesday, some of whom voiced
misgivings about both tolls and taxes.

"This proposal is the
beginning, not the end, of a process, and there’s going to be a
tremendous amount of deliberation before a final product is acted
upon," said Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries of Brooklyn. "We have to make
sure that the outer boroughs don’t bear a disproportionate share of the
pain."

From the Daily News, "Gov. David Paterson: Panel to suggest much smaller MTA fare hike":

The commission "found a way to reduce the fare increases to 8% by
distributing the responsibility among all those who use the service,"
Paterson said.

From Newsday, "Panel touts 8% fare hike, city bridge tolls for MTA":

"I think the MTA had a certain number of options, and what the MTA had
done was to raise fares by 23 percent," Paterson said yesterday at a
news conference in Manhattan about judicial appointments. "What the
Ravitch Commission . . . did is they came in and found a way to reduce
the fare increases to 8 percent by distributing the responsibility
among all those who use the service."

From the Post, "Gov: $ave MTA":

"Let’s not make the bridge tolls be the center of the proposal,"
said Assemblyman Micah Kellner (D-Manhattan). "There’s been widespread
opposition to it for decades. I’d hate to see Ravitch make that the
centerpiece of a proposal and watch it go down in flames because of
it."

Kellner said that even though he’s in favor of the toll proposal,
the panel should focus on options that are more politically possible.

From AMNY, "Familiar fix for budget crunch — Raise fares and toll bridges":

"They’re coming up with the same old tired solutions that the public
has rejected already," said City Councilman Tony Avella (D-Bayside). "We have too many bureaucrats who can’t think out of the box."

Another critic of fare hikes, state Sen. Bill Perkins,
(D-Manhattan), suggested the MTA sell some of its real estate holdings
to raise money.

"I want to see some creativity," he said. "I’m very concerned about that old idea that keeps coming back: Raise the fares."

Perkins, a member of the Transportation Committee, called the East
and Harlem River tolls a "Quixotic" idea that’s "been around for a
while and never gone anywhere."

Gene Russianoff, an attorney for the Straphangers Campaign who has
been sharply critical of the MTA, said the Ravitch Commission appears
to have struck a good balance.

"(It’s) asking everybody who benefits from the subways, buses and
commuter lines to help contribute to their maintenance," he said. "That
includes drivers, riders and businesses."

  • I don’t get your point about the 27% in Lew Fidler’s district. Of course they’re inconvenienced. Are you saying that everyone else also should be inconvenienced? Are you saying that if no one owned a car, the City would be forced to build a subway line there?

    I’m saying that if the people who “matter” (to the politicians) in Lew’s district rode the bus, there would be a subway line there by now. There’s been a lot of money spent ensuring that people from that district can drive where they want to go, enough to pay for a subway or at least a light rail line.

    They spent I think 3 billion dollars on Airtrain and it’s really useful only for Long Islanders.

    Yeah, the MTA really fucked up on that Airtrain, didn’t they? Except it was the Port Authority.

  • BrooklynBus, in the context of out-of-towners passing through Manhattan via free bridges and highways: “I don’t see how that makes Manhattan residents ‘suffer.’ These people mostly take the FDR and don’t even use local streets.”

    I can speak with some authority on this because I live next to the Henry Hudson Parkway on the Upper West Side. I do suffer from the constant noise. It’s not as bad as living on Broadway (my previous apartment) but it never goes away. I hear it at four in the morning. And I understand carbon monoxide is toxic. Less traffic on the highway would make my life pleasanter and probably longer.

    Incidentally, I enjoy reading your comments, and they are often interesting.

  • Cap’n Transit:

    Regarding Lew Fidler’s district, I thought I answered that already. But I’ll repeat myself. It wouldn’t matter if the Utica Avenue Subway was built (and it would have gone right through Lew Fidler’s District). People still wouldn’t give up their cars to ride it because it would be too overcrowded. Even if they would use it, it still wouldn’t satisfy all of their travel needs. The people who presently ride the bus would save time by taking the train but that’s it.

    Don’t get your point about them spending money to ensure people can drive because they didn’t build a subway. How does that apply moreso to Lew Fidler’s district than to anywhere else? If the subway money was spent on roads instead, and you haven’t even proved that it was, it was spent all over, not only in that part of Brooklyn.

    My bad. I should have said Port Authority instead of MTA. So they’re not guilty on this one. It nevertheless still was a boondoggle. Funny how before AirTrain, the PA was highly regarded as doing everything right. There were always comparisons made that the MTA should be more like the PA.

    Mark Walker:

    Thanks for the compliment.

    I really wasn’t talking about out-of-towners, unless you consider anyone not from Manhattan to be one. I meant the people from the five boroughs. And I sympathize with having to put up with the ill-effects of traffic. But you’re mainly talking about the Jersey crowd, not those who use the free East River bridges.

    I realize that I’m probably the only one here against the tolls but I just thought of another reason. There are other and fairer ways to raise the money that no one has mentioned. I just read that the Mayor wants to raise the hotel tax by less than one percent. Even with the proposed increase it will still be less than 5%. Why can’t it be raised to 10 or 15% with the money going to the MTA? The mayor would probably say that he doesn’t want to hurt tourism. But someone who is already paying 300 or 400 a night can certainly afford to pay a little more and will still visit the City. Isn’t it fairer to tax someone who only has to pay it for a week and who is benefiting from mass transit, than someone who is not directly benefiting and must continually pay for it? I don’t know how much money this would raise, but it would be significant. When I spent a night at a hotel in Connecticut ten years ago, I was charged a 100% hotel tax. ($50 for the room and $50 for tax.) I don’t think 10% would be unreasonable.

    Also, I remember reading last year that the City Council proposed to raise some type of corporate tax by .1% that would have raised millions but it was opposed by Mayor Bloomberg. I don’t feel that all the possibilities have been properly investigated.

  • I don’t know if you can see the decimal point in the last paragraph. It says Point 1 percent.

  • “But I’ll repeat myself. It wouldn’t matter if the Utica Avenue Subway was built (and it would have gone right through Lew Fidler’s District). People still wouldn’t give up their cars to ride it because it would be too overcrowded.”

    Please, repeat this one far and wide. Put it on a tee shirt! Berra may want a cut, however.

  • BrooklynBus, you’re probably right about the exact nature of the highway traffic. But for those living near highways, the end result is the same, whether it’s good upright Brooklyn citizens traveling on the FDR or folks from out of town using the Henry Hudson. Noise is noise, pollution is pollution. If anything, those living near the FDR probably have it worse than I do, because they don’t have the green lung of Riverside Park filtering out (some) of the noise and truck particulates.

    I must say I don’t agree about raising the hotel tax. If anything, it should be lowered. The existing tax is 13.5 percent plus the city/state 8.25 percent sales tax. This is already the straw that breaks the camel’s back, and if it’s increased, it’ll break even more backs, denying the city even more tourism revenue. Even as things stand now, visiting the city is something only the relatively affluent (or those who have relatives here) can afford. Are we now going to deny some of them, leaving only the super-rich?

    When I book a hotel in Europe (which I do once a year) I never pay more than $180 all inclusive and the average is more like $140. We’re talking good city-center hotels and sometimes even 1BR suites. New York’s inflated hotel rates effectively prevent tremendous numbers of people from visiting New York — why should they, when they can go to London, Paris, Rome, Berlin, Amsterdam, Venice, Madrid, Munich, Brussels, Vienna, etc. for half the hotel cost? Forget about rising airfares, hotels are always the biggest component of any vacation that doesn’t involve borrowed housing.

    The city needs to cut hotel taxes to the bone and find ways (perhaps further tax breaks) to encourage hotels to reduce their rates — not to give money away to out-of-towners, but to obtain the economic jolt local restaurants and other businesses would get from increased tourism. With the financial industry shrinking, tourism is the ace up our sleeve. We’re going to need to play that card soon.

  • Ian Turner

    If the subway was crowded from day one, and people were not giving up their cars, the implication is that all the trips taken on the subway are new trips that would not have been taken before, or that trips were shifted from other subway lines. That seems highly implausible to me, do you have any reason for believing that this would be the case?

    To put it differently, where do the trips that would “overcrowd” the new subway line come from?

  • Mark Walker:

    So maybe he hotel tax is not the answer. I was misinformed. I didn’t realize that the City tax was only a small portion of the entire tax. I guess what I read didn’t tell the whole story.

    Ian Turner:

    I used to get on at Utica Avenue and Eastern Parkway on a daily basis from 1967 to 1977. During rush hours there was a 50% chance that you would not get a seat at the first stop on the express on the first train that arrived. Sometimes you couldn’t even get in the first train at all if you were willing to stand. There are not too many other places that crowded. Half the people traveling past that point came from the New Lots Line. The other half boarded at Utica Acenue. About 80% of them came from the northbound Utica Avenue bus where the subway would have gone. All those people would have been on the extension. A significant number of new riders would have been shifted from the Nostrand Line (if that line had not been completed at the same time), those taking the Church Avenue and Avenue H(B6) buses to Nostrand Avenue from the east. People riding the Remsen Avenue bus would have boarded at a point on the extension rather than at Eastern Parkway because there probably would have been some bus reroutings to allow this. Also some Brighton Line riders currently on the Avenue U bus would have shifted to Utica Avenue. My guess is that all the seats during rush hours would have been taken after the first one or two stops. Even if the extension were not that crowded, it would get intolerably crowded along Eastern Parkway perhaps shifting some of those riders to other lines. For that reason, there were those who didn’t even think it was a good idea to build that extension in the first place since the line was at capacity already and you couldn’t add any more trains. Building both the Nostrand and Utica would have eased the crowding on Utica a little.

    Perhaps other options should have been investigated like a Utica Avenue line that would have connected with the Bay Ridge LIRR line and then again (if possible) with the el on McDonald, since the Rutgers Street tunnel was only at 50% capacity. That would still be possible if it makes sense engineering-wise and the money and will is available.

    Coincidentally, I just found the study a few days ago that stated the line would have been overcrowded on Day 1 and could provide you with the actual quote if you want.

  • On an earlier note, the MTA was still partially responsible for Airtrain, because they did not push for the Rockaway Line reactivation as an alternative which is under their jurisdiction.

  • Also, the Utica Avenue line would have also attracted riders from the Rockaways and if there were commuter parking at Kings Plaza or Floyd Bennett Field (with a shuttle bus), even more riders would have used it. Some people in Rockaway, I believe, would have given up a second or third car but most would have kept their first one because Rockaway is so remote.

  • Perhaps other options should have been investigated like a Utica Avenue line that would have connected with the Bay Ridge LIRR line and then again (if possible) with the el on McDonald, since the Rutgers Street tunnel was only at 50% capacity. That would still be possible if it makes sense engineering-wise and the money and will is available.

    That’s one way. Another plan was to run it through the South Fourth Street tunnel.

    Incidentally, park-and-rides are not the answer.

  • At least the Rutgers Street Tunnel exists. The Houston St one was only planned.

    You shouldn’t build park and rides if the line is already operating at capacity. Of course, the ideal solution is to have properly planned communities where you won’t need park and ride in the first place. Barring that scenario, I think it makes sense to have them on an underutilized line if it keeps people from taking their car all the way into the city center.

  • Heather

    A DAY OF RALLYING
    TUESDAY, DECEMBER 16, 2008
    5:00 PM
    Assemble at MTA Headquarters
    347 Madison Avenue at 44th Street

    IN ORDER TO PROTEST:
    SERVICE CUTS
    FARE HIKES
    LAYOFFS

  • J. Mork

    Heather — will you be passing a hat at the rally, or clapping your hands and saying you believe Tinkerbell will save us, or what?

    Or, it’s a rally for bridge tolls or the Kheel Plan 2, maybe you should publicize _that_ on SB.

  • Seriously. The first rally should be at Silver’s district office, and then subsequent ones at the offices of every Assemblymember who had “concerns” about congestion pricing.

  • Boris

    These people mostly take the FDR and don’t even use local streets. Most are smart enough to make their trip during off-hours to avoid traffic so they are not contributing that much or at all to congestion. That’s why they would have been exempted from congestion pricing. So why punish them even at 1 AM?

    It’s not about being smart. Most people don’t have a choice as to when to drive. What I’m talking about here are those New Yorkers who go away for the weekend- the ones who cause traffic in Manhattan on Friday nights, Saturday mornings, and Sunday nights that’s sometimes worse than traffic on weekdays. They go when they have to go. And they don’t just stay on the FDR; some people take the Williamsburg Bridge to the Holland Tunnel, for example, as one free route from Brooklyn to New Jersey. This fouls up all of Canal Street.

    It’s true that this wouldn’t fall under congestion pricing unless the program is extended to treat all congestion, not just that which happens on work days.

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

More on the Ravitch Commission’s MTA Fix

|
Photo: New York Times 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 […]

State Sen. Velmanette Montgomery Sides With Fare Hike Four

|
The Fare Hike Four have absorbed most of the fire from advocates and editorial boards for derailing the Ravitch plan, and rightfully so. But by calling so much attention to themselves, they’ve also given cover to other members of the State Senate. So, what does the rest of the Senate majority have to say? Here’s […]

Three Men in a Room Spike Bridge Tolls

|
Photo: The Politicker Breaking news from The Politicker’s Jimmy Vielkind: David Paterson, legislative leaders and top staffers just emerged from a 90-minute meeting on an M.T.A. bailout package and declared that it will not include bridge tolls. "The framework I see is that the Senate has really eliminated what my choice would be, which would […]

Will Richard Ravitch Resurrect Congestion Pricing?

|
Marc Shaw, former chair of the Traffic Congestion Mitigation Commission, caused something of a stir in the local press on Friday, when he predicted that congestion pricing would "rise again" as a proposal to toll East River bridges and a cordon across 60th street. Speaking at a panel discussion at the RPA’s Regional Assembly, Shaw […]

MTA Budget Proposes Severe Service Cuts, Perpetual Fare Hikes

|
Elliot "Lee" Sander As expected, the proposed 2009 MTA budget is rife with grim news. In addition to various cutbacks at the administrative level, the budget and 2009-2012 financial plan — minus an infusion of aid from the city, state or federal government — will have a direct impact on transit customers in the form […]