Today’s Headlines

  • MTA Out of Money for Anti-Terror Measures on Subways and Buses (NYT, SAS)
  • At a Cost of $66 Per Trip, Access-A-Ride Is an Expensive "Mess" (Fox 5)
  • More Elmhurst Ped Summit: DOT Wants Motorists to Be Safe; NYPD Wants Them Happy (MTR
  • Sanitation Worker Killed by Truck Driver in Queens; No Charges (News, City Room, Post, NY1, WNYC)
  • "Fed Up" Bay Ridge Organizes Against Dangerous Drivers (Post)
  • NYPD Axes Journalism Students From Ride-Along Program (News)
  • Bruce Ratner Nets Another $31M From City for Dean Street Properties (News)
  • New Republic: Viable Transit Service Must Be Considered Part of Employment Equation
  • Cyclists Find Peaceful Streets in the City That Sometimes Sleeps (City Room)
  • Walking: Easy, Healthy, Politically Unpalatable (American Prospect)
  • Tired of Gov’t Inaction, Climate Change Victims Look to Courts (NYT)
  • Bob Noorda, Designer Behind Modernist Subway Signage, Dies at 82 (NYT)

More headlines at Streetsblog Capitol Hill

  • Larry Littlefield

    Each trip is $66. That’s way more expensive then most limo services. People who qualify only pay $2.25 per trip. That’s the normal subway and bus fare for door-to-door service by appointment. The companies supplying the rides rake in $346 million a year for the hours the vehicles are on the road. That includes the time we caught drivers sleeping, getting lost, and parked with their engines running.”

    Note to privitization fans: contractor organizations also hire lobbyists and make campagin contributions to the state legislature, same as the TWU, in exchange for the ability to rip off the serfs. They are just associated with a different political party.

    Try to get fair value by contracting with non-profits? That’s a solution from the 1960s, in a more idealistic age. Now we have non-profiteers. See Local 1199, the Greater New York Hospital Association, and New York’s Medicaid program.

  • Larry Littlefield

    One more note about paratransit. No one expects and gets more, in exchange for paying less, than New York’s senior citizens. Just find a physician who will agree you now need it, and you get a door to door ride instead of a subway, bus or car service you pay for yourself — and NYCT has no choice but to comply due to federal regulations regardless of cost.

    What about those living in car-dependent areas in the suburbs and exurbs? Is a comparable burden placed on auto companies, oil companies, and others who profit from selling private auto based transportation? Do they have to pay for contractors to offer door to door rides when former drivers can no longer drive? NO.

    And that is going to be a big issue.

  • J:Lai

    Larry, the ostensible goal of privatization is to introduce competition. without that element, there is no real difference between public or private except who gets to skim the grift. “Private” contractors with long-term, exclusive contracts, who were awarded those contracts without competitive bidding, can’t really be expected to provide any increased efficiency.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “Private” contractors with long-term, exclusive contracts, who were awarded those contracts without competitive bidding, can’t really be expected to provide any increased efficiency.”

    And that is the tendency. For example, the school bus companies have automatically renewed contracts with escalators, and are one of the leading campaign contributors to the City Council. When Bloomberg tried to cut costs (high in NYC even though a high share of students walk or take transit) they responded by dumping kids everywhere in January.

    Competitive bidding is becomming more difficult. Does it really make sense to award a software contract to the lowest bidder? You’ll end up with something that doesn’t work (like the MTA). Simple rules do not allow a tradeoff between cost and quality, quality is sometimes hard to measure, and detailed specifications tend to favor one vendor over another or require custom production ($400 hammers).

    My suggestion has been to just set the price (much lower than it has been) and keep bidding until you get it. Particularly for the MTA — if the bid isn’t met, the MTA can’t afford it yet. If there are multiple bidders, award based on higher quality, as best as can be measured.

  • J:Lai

    Larry, this is an interesting economic problem and there is a fair amount of literature on it. The main problem arises when there is an activity which benefits from economies of scale, and has relatively high barriers to entry. Transportation services often meet these criteria because a large upfront investment in infrastructure is required, and the marginal cost per trip/mile keeps going down as you provide more service to more people.

    In these situations, there is a tendency toward monopoly. Thus, you get fake-privatization where there is a winner-take-all one-time decision which precludes any real competition.

    However, I do not believe that access-a-ride falls into this category. Providing car and van service for seniors (or anyone) is a robust and competitive market. Every neighborhood in the city typically has multiple car service companies competing with each other to provide exactly this service, not to mention yellow cabs.

    This is a case where a voucher system might work very well. Those who qualify for the program would receive travel vouchers that can be redeemed by any licensed car service. I have no doubt that this would produce a far cheaper cost per trip than the current arrangement.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “I have no doubt that this would produce a far cheaper cost per trip than the current arrangement.”

    But perhaps not a lower total cost.

    This gets into the problem of induced demand for subsidized services. If the city were giving out free car service rides, everyone over age 55 with an ache or a pain would be off to the doctor (perhaps all to the same to doctor like those seeking disability pensions at the LIRR) who, for a fee, would certify that they needed handicapped transit service. Including those who otherwise would pay for car service themselves or take a bus. It is likely only the fact that para-transit service is so awful that keeps demand down, which is why the MTA wants to make it worse to save money.

    Remember, services for seniors are NOT means tested. They are presumed to be needy, even if they have higher incomes than those who work. And they are much more politically powerful than the poor. Meals on wheels are a good example. Lots of people order food for delivery and pay for it on their own, after all.

    My wife’s grandmother lived at a senior complex in Bay Ridge before she died. She had volunteered to deliver meals on wheels for the homebound in the complex. She was outraged to find herself delivering the free meals to neighbors who were better off and healthier than she was (she was in her late 80s), but just didn’t want to be bothered cooking, at a time (early 1990s) when services for children were being gutted. Most folks don’t think like she did, needless to say.

  • Ace

    NYC should be proud that they are able to provide these services. The dollar amounts quoted don’t seem unreasonable to me at all. Fox needs to find someone else to pick on.

  • Larry Littlefield

    It’s not Fox, it’s the MTA and every other transit system in the country that are objecting to these costs. It’s been a big issue for years. No doubt the article is part of a PR push, given the MTA’s plan to cut the services by only delivering beneficiaries to an accessible station or bus route rather than door to door.

    Unfortunately, it seems nearly impossible for public agencies to determine those with real needs from those with a greater sense of entitlement in cases like these. Often the latter is served, and the former does without.

  • As I said before,
    it’s important to have the [AAR] service be as offputting and inconvenient as possible in order to limit demand to those who are truly without other options. Such a brief neatly explains the poorly trained and rude drivers, noisy and uncomfortable vehicles, and long and incomprehensible delays.

  • Larry Littlefield

    I’d like to think there was a better alternative. After all, plenty of people are legitimately handicapped.

    One of the problems is contractors marketing themselves to the not so needy to increase their profits. “You’re entitled to this, and it’s free!” You get people signing up who wouldn’t have done so on their own. And people who don’t exist using the service. I’m not saying that’s happening here, but it has happened in other cases.