Joan Millman Shows Why Pols Should Be Banned From Fare Hike Hearings

The MTA fare hike hearing circus is wrapping up, and while the first event in Manhattan was relatively free of political grandstanding, the Brooklyn Heights blog reports that the scene was different in Brooklyn Tuesday night. Assembly Member Joan Millman, a long-time incumbent who cruised to victory in her northwest Brooklyn district on primary day last week, had this to say to the MTA Board:

She sharply criticized MTA management for focusing on fare increases and service cuts to solve the Authority’s fiscal problems instead of rectifying what she said are serious management deficiencies that are costing the MTA “hundreds of millions of dollars each year” according to a report issued by State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli. One of several areas in which Millman said the MTA could save money is in its management of real estate, pointing in particular to the huge office building at 370 Jay Street (photo above) which has sat unused and in a partial state of rehabilitation for years.

Millman also noted the MTA’s sale of the Atlantic Yards property for less than half of its appraised value, and its failure to demand that developers of new, large residential buildings along the Fourth Avenue corridor provide funds to assist in the rehabilitation of subway stations along the corridor affected by increased ridership. Finally, noting that she voted against repeal of the commuter tax, which was levied on suburbanites who work in the City in order that they pay their share of the cost of the City’s subway and bus systems, Ms. Millman accused the MTA of subsidizing commuter rail lines serving the suburbs “at the expense of hardworking New Yorkers.”

Millman represents one of the most transit-dependent districts in the city, and her constituents cope with torrents of traffic bound for free East River bridges every day. When she had the chance to get behind the single most transformative policy for the city’s streets and transit system — congestion pricing — she failed to say a word until it was much too late. If the MTA had $420 million in annual revenue from congestion pricing, its fiscal problems wouldn’t be so severe today.

By now, the MTA has been audited to death, and it’s clear that no amount of efficiency wrung out of the agency can offset the effects of long-term, systemic neglect and disinvestment on the part of the city and state — especially the state. It’s not clear which DiNapoli report Millman was referring to at the hearing, but recent findings from DiNapoli’s office have identified $56 million in potential overtime savings each year, and $13 million in potential annual savings on fuel contracts. Meanwhile, the agency had to plug an $800 million deficit this year, and its yearly debt payments are expected to increase $1.5 billion by 2020 [PDF].

There have been 13 MTA audits by the state comptroller’s office since 2007, according to Ben Kabak’s tally at Second Avenue Sagas, and that’s not counting the granddaddy of them all, the forensic audit that will finally inspect the agency’s ledgers like a murder scene in CSI.

The crime that Millman never mentioned in her testimony has nothing to do with the MTA Board and everything to do with the Assembly where she serves. Millman was one of the Assembly members who voted last December to take more than $100 million in dedicated transit taxes away from the MTA and deposit the revenue in the state’s general fund.

If only we had fare hike hearings where transit riders could vent at the people who are actually responsible for the fare hike.

  • Anon

    Regardless of her lack of support for congestion pricing, Millman has good points about the missed opportunities with 370 Jay St, Atlantic Yards, and 4th Ave. Of these, the Atlantic Yards deal was surely more due to larger political shenanigans than a lack of will inside the agency. But it would have been reasonable for City Planning to require new buildings on 4th Ave to contributed to subway rehabs, given the additional demand they are placing on the system.

  • I really can’t believe that she suggested that the MTA has control over zoning/land use in NYC. Is the MTA supposed to pass a law that developers contribute funds to transit? By what legal mechanism?

  • Anon

    I believe there have been instances where developers have contributed to or built parts of transit stations, not because MTA had the power to require it, but because the Dept of City Planning considered it to be good policy. Also, in many cases stairway widenings were required by the CEQR process.

  • Tralfaz

    So glad Joan Millman is no longer my rep since moving out of the area. She is a career nothing.

  • fredup

    “Regardless of her lack of support for congestion pricing, Millman has good points about the missed opportunities with 370 Jay St, Atlantic Yards, and 4th Ave. Of these, the Atlantic Yards deal was surely more due to larger political shenanigans than a lack of will inside the agency. ”

    Millman also did jack and said jack about the Atlantic Yards MTA giveaway while it was happening or when it mattered. Jack.

  • epc

    We’ve been having a fun little chat about this at Brooklyn Heights blog: http://brooklynheightsblog.com/archives/22858

  • epc

    …and if I’d done more than scan the headline I’d realize you linked to that very article.

  • Danny G

    Given the culture of hate against the MTA, I don’t understand why they don’t just throw in the towel and say ‘hey, we tried, go ahead and run the subway yourself’. What would be the worst that happened if they gave they city what it’s wished for?

  • Danny G

    (and by “they city” I mean “the city”, and by “the city” I mean “somewhere between the opinions of most people some of the time, of some people most of the time, and the historical mythology of NYC”)

  • Fake Marcia Kramer

    Joan Millman is just saying what real New Yorkers knows is true. Richard Brodsky has secret MTA papers that prove it. During our I-Team series on Jay Walder’s super sized salary, Ernie interviewed some drivers waiting to cross the Verrazano Bridge. They all agreed that making Walder work for free would save enough to balance the MTA budget. The TWU agreed.

  • How about a StreetFilm with Fake Marcia Kramer? I’m starting to love that pseudo-pseudo-journalist.

  • Joe R.

    Sure some efficiencies can be squeezed out of the MTA but that’s at best a distraction. The long-term problems facing the MTA are the same as those facing mass transit in general. We’ve starved mass transit for the last 50 years, continually expecting it to operate on ever-smaller budgets. Fares already cover 70% of the NYC subway’s operating costs. This is more than any other mass transit agency in nation. We need the state and federal government to put more money towards mass transit. If anything, fares should be lowered to encourage more use of mass transit. And new lines should be built in the outer boroughs. It’s all about funding. Get mass transit funding on par with highway funding then the annual budget woes will go away.

  • Fares already cover 70% of the NYC subway’s operating costs. This is more than any other mass transit agency in nation.

    Having the highest farebox operating ratio in the US is like winning the Special Olympics. You may win, but you’re still retarded. Is it too much to ask that New York try to play in the same league as Tokyo and not Atlanta?

  • Larry Littlefield

    What makes me sick is the MTA is not some profitable private corporation. It is part of the state government Millman is etc. are running into the ground, operating under its rules.

    The state outsourced a lot of the debt to the MTA, because Wall Street believes we’d have no choice but to pay it or face economic collapse. The state passed every pension enhancement, and funded none of them.

    Democrats against the government. Sickening. It’s one thing for Republicans to say they are wrecking the government because we’d be better off without it. It’s another thing for “reformers” like Millman.

  • Kevin Love

    I wonder what all these duplicate, redundent audits cost. Seems like waste to me.

  • Larry Littlefield

    By the way, in DiNapoli’s “forensic audit” does not provide an estimate of the cost to the MTA of retroactive pension enhancements passed since 1995, identify the sponsors of those pension enhancements and those who voted for them, and contrast the actual cost with the cost announced in the fiscal notes accompanying the bill, it is a fraud.

  • You can find the reports of the fifteen audits that the Comptroller’s office has done here.

  • Larry Littlefield

    The Comptroller audited MetroNorth air conditioning, but not the cost of pension enhancements compared with what was promised, or the escalation of costs in the capital program, or the decline revenue sources (fares, tolls, tax) vs. revenues.

    Lots of NYCT operating costs are paid for with borrowed money. There was no questioning of “reimbursable expenditures” charged to the capital plan.

    A load of PR crap.

  • paulb

    About the looming fare increases and the June service cuts, among my co-workers 100% of the resentment is directed at the MTA. Who even knows the name of their assemblyperson or state senator? (A: Nobody.) And the reply when I’ve mentioned the failure of the congestion pricing scheme? Blank looks.

  • LD

    “Having the highest farebox operating ratio in the US is like winning the Special Olympics. You may win, but you’re still retarded.”

    Hey ALON LEVY: how ’bout some respect for people with disabilities you jackass.

  • LD, get a grip. It’s a riff off of an Internet trope – no insult intended, except to American transit agencies.

  • Thomas J. Hillgardner

    To suggest that congestion pricing is at the root of the problems at the MTA is to ignore that the root of the problem is that we allowed an “authority” to shield our elected officials from personal responsibilities for their actions and the policies they adopt. The next pol to propose an “authority” to solve our problems should face the death penalty. Maybe that’s too harsh. But they should be harshly punished.

    Moreover, it seems to me that the chief beneficiary of a wonderful mass transit system is big business. Their hiring pool is greatly increased by the facilitation of the ability to move people quickly and cheaply. Business taxes should pick up the slack. Congestion pricing is like trickle down economics in that there is no direct benefit promised from a tax increase. As long as an unaccountable bureaucracy remains in charge of the purse strings, I wouldn’t be counting on any trickle down soon.

    Finally, congestion and the natural desire to avoid it is its own solution to congestion. Notice how you haven’t heard much about any more 60 mile traffic jams between Inner Mongolia and Beijing lately? If you build it they will come. If you build it bigger, more will come.

  • Moser

    Millman is also wrong about the commuter tax, which never had anything to do with funding transit.

  • Bolwerk

    The MTA is probably a fairly efficient operation within the operating parameters set by the New York State government. To make it more efficient, start changing the framework the MTA has to follow.

  • J:Lai

    One of the main functions of the MTA is to shield elected politicians from responsibility for the legislation and policy choices they make with respect to the transit system.
    The fact that the MTA is excellent at this job, while only so-so at the job of providing quality mass transit for the NY metro region, suggests which of those responsibilities is the priority.

  • I’m also loving the Faux Marcia Kramer–the hottest commentator to hit Streetsblog since Marty Barfowitz. I second the call for a Streetsfilm!

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