Quinn, Citing “Middle Class Squeeze,” Ignores High Cost of Transportation

Just hours before her final State of the City address today, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn released a report on the challenges facing middle-class New Yorkers. But her vision has a conspicuous blind spot: the transportation costs consuming more than one in ten dollars of the average NYC household budget.

Today, Christine Quinn talked about keeping New York affordable for the middle class without mentioning the cost of a MetroCard. Photo: ##http://www.flickr.com/photos/shankbone/6943398244/##David Shankbone##

Quinn’s report talks a lot about housing policy, but if she is serious about making New York an affordable place, she can’t ignore the other half of the equation by failing to mention transit and the city’s role in ensuring that it remains affordable.

The average NYC household spends 12 percent of its income on transportation, according to the Center for Neighborhood Technology’s Housing and Transportation Affordability Index. That’s 5.5 percentage points lower than the regional average, due in large part to the city’s robust transit network.

But transit fares have gone up in four of the last five years, and the added costs hit New Yorkers who have no other options the hardest. And City Hall is still a powerful bully pulpit from which to tackle New York’s transit funding problems, even if the mayor doesn’t have direct control of the MTA.

Additionally, the mayoral candidates could land a one-two punch against household budget busters by linking housing and transportation policy. The Department of City Planning’s move to eliminate parking requirements for affordable housing developments, for instance, will help drive down the cost of some new housing. There’s an opportunity for the next mayor to extend these cost-saving measures to all apartments and houses.

Even if Quinn doesn’t have the stomach to talk parking policy in an election year, attention to bread-and-butter transit issues — like getting the buses to run on time — could go a long way with voters who put up with long commutes. So far, though, Quinn has stayed true to form and ignored the transportation concerns of transit-riding New Yorkers yet again.

  • Jeff

    We might be better off for this omission.  I get the feeling that if Quinn were to indeed address transportation costs for “middle class New Yorkers”, it would be a call for lower tolls and parking meter rates.

  • I’m of the mindset that if we need to accept Quinn as mayor, then no news is good news. She seems to be another in a long line of NYC politicians who thinks that their transportation policy needs to pander to the people who are purposely misusing transportation in the city, and not attempt to fix what’s actually wrong with the big picture here. We’re pushing a world-class mass transit network out of the way to make more room for smarmy suburbanites in their cars, and it’s hurting far more people than it’s helping.

  • Guest

    Dare I suggest, as someone at the lower end of middle-class (46k per year), the cost of a MetroCard is relatively negligible. I’m 32 and have lived all but my sophomore year of college car-free, the value is incredible. 24-hour transport nearly anywhere in the city worth going? I’d probably pay $150 a month before seriously considering alternatives as my primary mode. 

    I’m not for increasing the fare, and I think we waste our tax dollars on roads and highways and various Albany nonsense; but I think (compared to other cities I’ve lived in) that $109 a month/$2.50 a ride is still the best deal in town.

  • Bolwerk

    Quinn is another libservative, mostly just conservative with just enough “I got mine” liberalism in there. Her ideal world, like Chris Christie’s, is one where everyone lives in the feudal suburbs and drives. Cities are revanchist playgrounds for her (upper middle) social class.  Deviance is okay, as long as it doesn’t undermine authority, and as long as you know the safe word if you get really crazy.

    If she wins, I really might consider relocating. Twenty years of heavily authoritarian mayors.is enough. That she is getting a pass is deeply troubling. Here’s to hoping she loses the mayoral contest and retires to a soccer mom utopia countryside.

  • Bolwerk

    @abb249055208c7af4d35568e422dfd63:disqus : it’s a good deal, but it’s a big hit in a family. Multiply it by two parents and maybe two teenage children, and it adds up. And that $46k probably isn’t too far off the median family income for a family of four in this city, so the costs hit many lower-middle class people hard.

  • Bolwerk

    @abb249055208c7af4d35568e422dfd63:disqus : it’s a good deal, but it’s a big hit in a family. Multiply it by two parents and maybe two teenage children, and it adds up. And that $46k probably isn’t too far off the median family income for a family of four in this city, so the costs hit many lower-middle class people hard.

  • Joe R.

    @abb249055208c7af4d35568e422dfd63:disqus The subway fare is a big hit on people making $2 or $3 an hour. There are more people out there making subminimum wage “off the books” than a lot of people would like to admit. And they’re not all illegal aliens, either.

    $46K doesn’t seem like lower middle class to me. That’s good money in today’s job market. If I looked for work now I would be hard-pressed to find anything much above $25K or $30K, and I’m a college graduate. One of my friends had someone working in his taximeter shop for $8 an hour who used to make 6 figures on Wall Street. The guy was happy just to have work.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “$46K doesn’t seem like lower middle class to me. That’s good money in today’s job market. If I looked for work now I would be hard-pressed to find anything much above $25K or $30K, and I’m a college graduate. ”
    People just don’t get it.  

    Taking your word for I, I looked at what the $18,000 per year job I was able to finally get as a college graduate on the back side of the early 1980s would be worth in today’s money.  The answer?  It was the equivalent of $39,775.  The comparison with the minimum-plus wage jobs I held in high school and before graduating would be the same.

    And when I couldn’t get a job my relatively modest student loans were deferred WITHOUT INTEREST, even though interest rates were sky-high and funding that loan was killing the bank.  Today the students pay interest.

    Moreover, those who were six-plus years older had it better than I did.

  • Davidmhanna

    She is just another pol pandering to the masses.  The subway is just the tip of the iceberg compared to all of the tax money that goes into the MTA.  If she wants to really lower the cost of living in New York City, she would find a way to streamline the the zoning and building permit process.  The housing shortage is massive.  Let people build more tall buildings in all 5 boroughs.  This would provide construction jobs, increase property tax revenue, and lower housing costs for all New Yorkers.  

  • Bolwerk

    $46k is pretty good for a single person in his 20s. It’s lousy for someone mid-career or with a family, etc.

  • Joe R.

    @f9b2cb395abd5a101456b3b0a40912e1:disqus During the last year I worked full-time, prior to getting laid off, I made a bit over $20K in eight months. This was in 1990. I would have made about $30K had I finished up the year. This is about $50K in today’s money, and would actually be considered quite good nowadays for a person in their late 20s (my age at the time).
    The kicker is I would probably have trouble finding anything paying much over $30K nowadays. OK, there’s an apparent gap in employment of over 20 years but I was in business for myself the entire time. My sister, who has worked continually since college, isn’t making much over $40K. It’s an employer’s market for sure.

    And yes, you’re right about the student loans. It gets even worse though for those who go into default. They offer a so-called “rehabilitation loan” which has a balance equal to the previous total of principal and interest, plus another 20% or so in collection fees. And if you default on that, the process repeats. I’ve heard of some people owing five or more times the amount they borrowed because of this. How on earth this is even legal is beyond me.

  • To get the attention of those vying for the Mayoral throne:  Pick one.  Stage a Critical Mass style street slowdown, only use cars.  Make the candidate and/or wealthy donors miss a big dollar plate fund raiser due to traffic.  Repeat.  Rinse.  Keep doing so until the Pol is reported in the press as “going to the fund raiser by subway due to traffic uncertainty”  

    At that point, you will at least have a conversation…

  • Bolwerk

    @facebook-100002964351452:disqus: That’s a pretty good idea. 

  • Zach

    Transit fares have gone up, but have they outpaced inflation? Let’s not forget the pizza connection.

  • Larry Littlefield

    ‘How on earth this is even legal is beyond me.”
    Back in the day it was common for affluent people to default on their student loans as a matter of course when they were young and making little money.  Later when the were making more money, the debt would be gone instead of having to pay it back.   Which really bothered those who hadn’t gone to college, because back then most of those who did were set for life.

    To correct this abuse, the draconian terms now in place were imposed on today’s young people.

    This is sort of typical of everything in general.

  • Joe R.

    @aebd0a67c277d4f3b37e0e1e6cb155a9:disqus Fares have outpaced inflation for the last decade. It’s also important to note that the CPI seems questionable at best when used as a benchmark. Real prices have increased far more than the CPI would lead you to believe. Food costs about twice what it did 5 years ago. And housing in NYC has outpaced general inflation at least since the 1990s. Between these two things, that leaves far less to spend on the subway. Even if subway fares had remained the same, they would still present a greater burden today than five or ten years ago. It might be time to seriously consider giving reduced fare cards to people with low incomes (and either increasing the base fare, or having a dedicated transit tax to make up the difference). Or perhaps even doing what Bloomberg himself suggested-making transit free. Fare collection cost/evasion enforcement has to cost a good percentage of what is collected at the fare box, so this might not be as far fetched as it seems. In one fell swoop you can get rid of token clerks, turnstyles, bus fare boxes, the MetroCard computer system, and the army of maintenance workers who fix all these things.

  • Why can’t she understand that the City could open up massive swaths of Brooklyn and Queens to responsible development for middle income New Yorkers by building express rapid transit? It’s as simple as that. Instead she wants to use expensive and market distorting tax breaks to turn market rate apartments back into stabilized apartments?! WTH

  • Bolwerk

    @2555783a6f62598b6aadd2d882a4830f:disqus: you may have the chicken and egg backwards. Rather than inflation mis-measuring food costs, higher food costs may be what’s driving inflation.  Compare inflation and core inflation over the past decade.  Perhaps drops in other household spending to pay for food is tempering the inflation rate.

    (Core inflation is generally defined as inflation excluding food and energy prices.)

    @aebd0a67c277d4f3b37e0e1e6cb155a9:disqus: It’s not hard to do the math yourself. The rate depends on the time period, of course, so you need to define what period you’re talking about. I made another comment where the rate was 16% in the course of a year.

  • jrab

    The only cost mentioned in the report is the cost of housing. Comparing the housing costs within New York City to housing costs in suburbs shows that housing costs are much higher within the city, which is offset by the low cost of using public transportation to get places. If you leave New York City for cheaper housing in the suburbs, your transportation bill goes up. Also rising is your commute time.

  • Anonymous

    Ugh. I just read that so-called report. It’s worse than I even imagined. It (a) offers pseudo-scientific (or pseudo-statistical)* justification for pretending that a family of four with total household income of $199,000 represents the middle-middle-class and (b) offers only the vaguest possible solutions to the very vague problems it identifies. Near as I can tell, all she’d be interested in doing is subsidizing developers to create mixed-income buildings. Ugh. Ugh. Ugh. I feel dirty.

    * Actual quote: “For example, an experienced, single public school teacher earning $100,000 would have been upper income since 200 percent of AMI, adjusted for a single individual, is $93,000. It is hard to think of someone living on a school teacher salary as upper income.” If that’s not the essence of “pseudo-statistics,” I don’t know what is.

  • Joe R.

    @e022fdea653897e77dd613c84576950d:disqus You may be right but inflation should include housing and food costs. If it did, the rate would certainly be well into the double digits.

    @dporpentine:disqus I haven’t read the report yet what you quoted explains the disconnect between those in charge and the people they lead. I most certainly think of someone making $100K as “upper income”. I don’t personally know anyone making that kind of money. In fact, not two many two-income households I know of have that kind of income. Anyway, this nicely explains a lot of the so-called “affordable” housing built under Bloomberg with rents over $2000 for a 2 bedroom. I guess if you consider $100K middle class income then $2000 a month nicely falls into the 25% of your income which is often used as a guideline for affordable rents.

    If the city built lots of express rapid transit as Jared Rodriguez suggests, plus got rid of zoning preventing higher density developments near transit stops, the market might well provide lots of housing which is truly affordable to the poor and middle class (i.e. rents of $250 to $1000 per month). $199K is middle-middle class? What planet is Quinn living on?

  • Bolwerk

    @2555783a6f62598b6aadd2d882a4830f:disqus: CPI includes food and housing costs. IIRC, core inflation includes the same measures as CPI, less food and energy costs, so that the volatility of those things can be excluded from long-range projections. CPI growing faster than core inflation implies that food and/or energy costs are increasing faster than mundane stuff like recreational reading materials.  See this PDF for a complete list from 2011.

  • Mark Walker

    Quinn got congestion pricing through the city council. Sure, hold her feet to the fire, but this seems like a major omission, both from the original post above and the 21 comments below. The real obstacle to progress is Sheldon Silver, who prevented congestion pricing from even coming to a vote in the state assembly, a decision that continues to cost the MTA hundreds of millions a year. Shouldn’t the livable-streets movement be targeting him? I donated to his last primary opponent and would gladly do so again. (Incidentally, I haven’t decided to vote or or against Quinn. I’m trying to keep an open mind.)

  • Bolwerk

     @m_walker:disqus: She let it come to the floor. Maybe it’s worth noting, but I for one am not going to shower praise on her because she once did what she was supposed to do at no cost to her or anyone else. It’s not especially courageous.

  • Joe R.

    @m_walker:disqus There was still no guarantee congestion pricing would have passed. A lot of the outer borough council members and even some in Manhattan were against it. In fact, it could be argued that’s why it never even came to a vote in the State Assembly. I’m not 100% sure, but I think the Mayor could have done something similar via executive order if he wanted to. He could have, for example, banned single occupancy vehicles from entering Manhattan on security grounds (i.e. they could be carrying car bombs). This wouldn’t have been much of a stretch in the post-9/11 world. Keep the executive order in effect long enough, and then start redesigning on the approaches to Manhattan and the streets themselves around the new, much lower traffic levels. Make this permanent and costly to reverse so your successors can’t change things back to the way it was (i.e. widen the sidewalks on all Manhattan streets). Granted, there wouldn’t be any money via congestion charges, but you solve a lot of costly problems caused by congestion in one fell swoop, without needing legislative approval.

    The single biggest problem with all of the current mayoral candidates is they just don’t get it that car travel and parking isn’t a terribly important issue to the average city resident. It only seems that way because of a vocal minority. Why they insist on catering to a demographic which is probably 90% suburban car commuters (and therefore can’t vote for NYC mayor anyway) is incomprehensible.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “There was still no guarantee congestion pricing would have passed”

    More to the point, there is still no guarantee Silver would have remained Speaker if he pushed it.  I dislike what the guy has done as much as anyone.  But the problem is all the legislators, and the interests that support them, and the majority of the generation that produced them.

    There were plenty of cries of “someone primary that guy” here over the years.  But at some point, just calling for “someone” to do something won’t get it done, and becomes unsupportable.  At least that’s what I decided.

  • Adam Anon

    The middle class isn’t really concerned with transit costs. The middle class is concerned with housing costs and taxes. When I’m looking at $2000 rent and $200 electric bill in an middle class area of Queens or Brooklyn and I lose 40% of my salary to taxes then the cost of the Metro card isn’t all that relevant.

  • Bolwerk

    Part of why CP failed might be the fall of Spitzer, who, unlike Cuomo, actually cared about transportation. There’s a chance Spitzer might have been able to armtwist Silver enough to get it up for a vote.

  • J_12

    Median household income for NY State in 2011: $62K
    Median family income for NY State in 2011: $75K

    In this context, an increase in monthly metrocard cost of $10 or even $50 per person is not that significant, even for a family with 4 non-subsidized cards earning the median income.  Granted, for those earning in the bottom quartile it will represent a significant cost, but that is generally the cohort which depends on public assistance for most necessities including housing and food.

    The real problem is that there is not enough money to avoid dis-investment in the city’s public transportation without major new revenue sources.  Whether the cost of a metrocard represents value to the user is a microeconomic question that is largely answered by observing how many people pay for the cards.  It’s is perhaps interesting politically, but not economically.

    The more interesting question in economic terms is whether greater public funding for transit is justified given the expected return on investment in terms of increased productivity, mobility, etc.  I believe the answer is yes, but it’s a question that can only be answered on a longer time scale than most politicians care about.

  • sugarntasty

    Cristine ego was tarnished unfortunately still part, of bureaucracy saying present housing policies. Inept Cristine LGBTQ aware really care, about deceit you denied how? Tax abatements for developers NYC along hospital deal admire. Knowledge of “shell companies” Christine you own multi-family dwellings, San Francisco,NYC and Santa Ana using astute
    LGBTQ realtors whom, don’t give a care. About gentrification well mayoral election around corner soon NYC,shall return to ballots? Quinn your nobody friend nor kin use your wisdom, honesty if can Christine assist progress of affordable housing. Concern your politician and REIT owner you can’t why profits and financial power of lobbyist Christine get real job someday!

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