Upper Manhattan Assembly Candidates Square Off on Transit Issues

Three candidates vying for the 72nd State Assembly District seat, representing parts of Washington Heights and Inwood, discussed transit issues and the state of MTA service last night at a forum sponsored by WE ACT for Environmental Justice and Transport Workers Union Local 100.

Three of the four Democratic candidates for the 72nd Assembly district attended last night's forum.

As the forum progressed, key differences emerged on congestion pricing and other issues, even as the candidates often dodged the questions asked of them.

There are four candidates running in this Democratic primary, which will be held on Thursday, September 13. Mayra S. Linares, Gabriela Rosa and Ruben Vargas came to last night’s forum. Melanie Hidalgo declined due to scheduling conflicts.

Asked how they would improve bus service, only Linares had a response that addressed the topic. She said that she supports more Select Bus Service and that gains in bus speed are worth the possible inconvenience of having to move parked cars out of rush hour bus lanes.

Dedicating new revenue for the MTA by enacting congestion pricing got a mixed reaction from the candidates.

Linares opposes pricing. “There’s too many of us who drive back and forth,” she said. “If we add another toll, you can imagine it would go up — and go up again.”

After asking the moderators for a definition of congestion pricing, Rosa voiced support for the concept. Vargas took a more cautious approach. “If you are driving downtown, it’s chaos. What the congestion price would do is motivate people to use mass transit,” he said. Noting that he opposes tolls on Upper Manhattan bridges, Vargas said, “I would support a reasonable congestion price.”

When asked how they would fund MTA capital projects and operations while reducing reliance on debt, none of the candidates mentioned road pricing. Rosa said that “the first step to balancing the budget is to cut out the contractors” and replace them with trained TWU employees. Linares said that the MTA should negotiate down its debt, while Vargas said that renting out space within subway stations for commercial uses, including restaurants, could be a potential funding source.

Vargas also suggested eliminating overnight subway service to reduce costs and improve maintenance. The other two candidates rejected the idea of not having a 24/7 subway system, though Linares said that expanding FASTRACK overnight closures to Upper Manhattan “could help speed up some projects.”

One thing that united the candidates was the state of elevators in Upper Manhattan’s deep stations. “Elevators in the train stations have long been a concern of mine,” Vargas said. Linares said that elevator repairs take too long. “There’s something going on that we’re not getting enough attention uptown,” she said.

For a good portion of the evening, the candidates took shots at the MTA board and management. “We need people with the right motivations to be working for the MTA,” Vargas said, worrying about a slide into corruption at the top. Vargas also wanted a city residency requirement for high-level MTA employees. Rosa called MTA executive salaries “humongous” and said, “It’s not just on Wall Street. We have the 1 percent in the MTA. We just have to focus on that and target them.”

Candidates also opposed reductions in staffing levels. “If there are jobs eliminated, I cannot agree with that,” said Vargas. “When they started removing the elevator operators,” said Linares, “I knew it was downhill from there.” All three candidates opposed proposals for one-person train operation and part-time bus operators. Rosa specifically called out the new Tier 6 pension plan and called for it to be rolled back.

The forum was moderated by journalist José Manuel Simián and WE ACT staff member Jake Carlson. Ronnie Cabrera, who is running unopposed in the Republican primary, did not respond to an invitation to participate.

The assembly seat is currently occupied by Guillermo Linares, the father of candidate Mayra S. Linares. Guillermo Linares is vacating the position and vying for the  31st Senatorial District seat against Martin Chicon and incumbent Adriano Espaillat.

The senatorial candidates were also invited to participate in the forum, but because only Chicon confirmed his attendance, WE ACT cancelled the senatorial forum to comply with election law restrictions on non-profit organizations.

  • This sounds like a flat-out disaster of a panel.

  • Brad Aaron

    Ugh.

  • Ian Turner

    Elevator operators? Oh dear.

  • fed up

    Not a mention of expanding subway service? What? The subway is the only reason why Washington Heights exists. Do elected officials actually live in NY, or do they really live in the burbs?

  • Anonymous

    Do they even live on the same planet ?

    Their grasp of the MTA budget and funding is outstanding.
    They will balance a multi billion dollar budget by cutting out a few contractors, shaving a few dollars off the top of the executive floor, and selling hotdogs at the stations.  The MTA exists entirely on selling bonds because the city and state won’t fund pay as you go for capital maintenance.  Living off the credit card and building up the interest owed.
    These clowns don’t care – and don’t seem to realize that only the banks are getting rich on the bond interest.  The MTA, the city and state and the riders are loosing.

    Dumb and dumber.

  • Anonymous

    The subway may be the reason Washington Heights exists, but now that it exists, the neighborhood feels like the Bronx. The car culture thrives.

    But a pity no one seemed to have much vision for improving public transit. One shout out for Select Bus Service was good. Back when Bloomberg and the MTA were pushing for congestion pricing, they put out a loaded buffet of proposed improvements, mostly in the bus service. Surely some would have been in Washington Heights. I’d have hoped that some dreaming of high office would have remembered items on that wish list.

  • Ex-driver

    I’d like to pose these questions to the candidates running in the MTA board elections … oh, wait …

  • Anonymous

    “There’s too many of us who drive back and forth.”  

    Are you sure this isn’t a panel for a seat in Northern Westchester?

  • Ian Turner

    Don’t forget, once elected these folks will serve office for life (unless they leave in handcuffs first).

  • So we shouldn’t do congestion pricing because too many people drive into Manhattan. We shouldn’t reduce staffing to cut costs, we should lower executive pay and increase staffing. Real winners.

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

Council Candidates at Fort Greene Forum Agree: Don’t Touch Parking

|
If you were hoping for inspiring leadership from the City Council on transportation issues after the next election, you may want to look somewhere other than District 35, which covers the neighborhoods just east of downtown Brooklyn. Two-thirds of households in the district are car-free, according to the 2000 Census. But while most candidates supported traffic calming […]

Vacca Staffer, Running for Council, Bucks His Boss on Complete Streets

|
In a City Council district in the heart of the Bronx, where the overwhelming majority of households are car-free, an aide to Council Member James Vacca distinguished himself last night by vocally supporting congestion pricing, on-street parking reform, and protected bike lanes. The District 15 seat, representing Bathgate, Belmont, Crotona, Fordham, East Tremont, Van Nest, […]

What the Manhattan BP Candidates Said About Bike-Share Last Night

|
Borough presidents have limited power, but the influence they wield can still make a big difference for livable streets, especially by making community board appointments and weighing in during the city’s land use review process. The four Democratic candidates for Manhattan borough president — City Council members Gale Brewer, Robert Jackson, and Jessica Lappin, plus former Community […]