Assembly members Marcos Crespo and Vanessa Gibson pledged their support for transit improvements at a town hall meeting in Soundview last night, starting with a campaign for more rush hour service on the Bx27, Bx36, and Bx41 buses.
The meeting, the third hosted by T.A.’s Rider Rebellion campaign, gave elected officials a chance to present their platforms on public transit to constituents, while residents got a chance to make their voices heard to their representatives. In addition to Crespo and Gibson, City Council Member Maria Del Carmen Arroyo spoke in person. Council Member Annabel Palma, Representative Joe Crowley and Representative José Serrano each sent a representative.
Without reliable transit, said Crespo, “our ability to provide for our families comes to a halt.” In working class districts like his own, he said, “they’re not driving. They’re depending on buses. They’re depending on trains.”
Later in the meeting, more residents raised their hands when asked who had asthma than when they were asked if they ever drove in the neighborhood.
Added Arroyo, “We’re not asking for a favor. We’re just trying to go to work, go to school, pick up our children.”
The irony of Assembly members asking for transit improvements even as the state legislature has raided transit funding was not lost on the politicians. “In a house where we’ve defunded transit,” said Crespo, “I’m almost embarrassed to reach out to [the MTA].” Crespo and Gibson were both elected after the fights over congestion pricing and bridge tolls, but were in office when Albany stole dedicated transit funds from the MTA.
Crespo, however, pledged his continued support for protecting transit funds from future raids by putting them in a so-called lockbox, and he criticized Governor Andrew Cuomo for undermining the legislature’s lockbox legislation. “The governor proposed some changes, some language that gave everyone a key to that box,” he said. “It was the wrong thing for the governor to take that approach.”
Cuomo also took fire for his broader anti-transit policies. “The governor has been given this high horse to ride on,” said Crespo. “He highlights what he needs to highlight to sound good but there are a lot of things we’re not having an honest conversation about. I would say that transit funding is one of those.”
Strong rhetoric about transit, however, was tempered by realism about the difficulties of finding the revenue needed to really improve the system. “During some of the most difficult fiscal challenges, many of the core programs and many of the programs we care so much about are always in jeopardy,” warned Gibson. With the discussion focused more on ways to immediately improve transit service in the area — in addition to the additional buses being requested, Gibson noted her support for Select Bus Service planned for Webster Avenue in her district — how to find that funding wasn’t a topic of conversation.
“This is just the beginning,” said Crespo. “The conversation doesn’t stop.”
T.A. executive director Paul Steely White cheered the results of the meeting. “It is great to see our elected officials really leading on this,” he said. “Riders, standing with their elected officials, standing with advocates, that’s the only way we’re going to protect our service. That’s the only way we’re going to prevent the fare from becoming unaffordable.”