James Vacca’s Pet Peeve Committee Was in Full Effect Yesterday

When is a budget hearing not really a budget hearing? When the committee chair uses it to air personal grievances instead of exploring major budget issues.

Image: CBS2

Yesterday, City Council Member James Vacca chaired a transportation committee meeting that was billed as three budget hearings — one for the MTA, one for the Taxi and Limousine Commission, and one for the Department of Transportation. But Vacca and some of his committee members were more fixated on parochial issues like the price of municipal parking lots in their districts than the meaty budget issues of the day — for instance, how to deal with the MTA’s skyrocketing debt service ($2.25 billion in 2013, and rising).

After avoiding perhaps the single most important transportation budget issue facing the entire region, Vacca managed to paint the fight for cheap municipal parking as a populist crusade. “Don’t you think an increase of 100 to 120 percent is just devastating to people who count on these parking spaces?” he asked DOT staff at one point. “I have one of these lots in my community and I have people who use these lots and they have no place else to put their car… A 100 to 120 percent increase is going to hit low-income people really where it hurts.”

In Vacca’s district, by the way, car-owning households make, on average, more than twice as much as households without a car, according to the 2000 Census [PDF]. The car-less residents are the ones who will feel the brunt of the MTA’s mounting debt, as it forces fares to rise. But Vacca himself, it turns out, is one of the car-owners. In fact, he belongs to the small percentage of New Yorkers who actually use the municipal parking lots he complained about yesterday. “I park my car in the Belmont municipal lot,” he said at the hearing, before asking DOT to clean up the “aggressive panhandling” that takes place there.

While Vacca didn’t see fit to address the MTA’s debt or the huge funding hole in the MTA capital program that will exacerbate that debt, he did make time for the obligatory swipe at transportation commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan. From NY1:

“We have this constant problem,” said Bronx Councilman James Vacca. “I mean, if Ray Kelly can come to an oversight hearing, I think Commissioner Sadik-Khan can come to an oversight hearing. And I’m very discouraged that she’s not here.”

Vacca must have trouble remembering committee hearings. It was Sadik-Khan who came to the infamous, NIMBY-inspired bike hearing in late 2010, while Ray Kelly was a no-show at council hearings about NYPD traffic safety data and NYPD crash investigations.

One useful slice of information did come up during the MTA and TLC hearings, thanks to Council Member Oliver Koppell.

It turns out that the paucity of accessible taxi cabs in NYC could be exacerbating the MTA’s budget problems. The reason is that Access-a-Ride, the MTA’s federally-mandated paratransit service, stands to reap savings if more trips can be handled by taxis and livery cars instead of the MTA’s own vehicles.

The MTA has been giving out taxi and livery vouchers to some of its customers in an effort to curb rapidly escalating service costs. Koppell asked MTA staff if an increase in the number of accessible taxis (right now there are only 233) would allow the agency to offer more vouchers, and save more money. “It would be better if we had more,” said the MTA’s Aaron Stern. Koppell noted that the city picks up one-third of the tab for Access-a-Ride. Later on, TLC chief David Yassky admitted that the city could probably do more to make the next generation of cabs — the “Taxi of Tomorrow” — handicap-accessible.

After the TLC, it was back to the gripe session, aptly tweeted by the Wall Street Journal’s Ted Mann: “Potholes. Burnt out lights. Missing parking meter tape. Raging Vacca. If I was commissioner, I’d delegate this meeting to staff too!”

  • Herbie

    Can you believe this selfish, incompetent clown might actually be the next council speaker?

  • Anonymous

    Sadik-Khan really did NYC proud at the National Bike Summit this week where she spoke so much sense about how complete streets projects are good for safety and for business.  I don’t know if that’s why she couldn’t get back for Vacca’s peeve party, but I don’t blame her for skipping it in favor of creative, rational, forward-thinking discussions on how to solve the transportation issues facing our country.  She is an icon of articulate, intelligent leadership.  The NYC City Council Transportation Committee could learn a few things from JSK about how to effect change that will keep New York safe and competitive.  For starters, I’ve never heard her bellyaching about how she gets overcharged for car parking. 

  • Joe R.

    World to James Vacca: people with truly low-incomes don’t own cars. Stop making your crusade sound like it’s something which would benefit the little people. Fewer cars on the road to kill them while they’re crossing the street, and lower transit fares, are what low-income people really need.

  • Morris Zapp

    Vacca is clearly qualified to lead the City Council into the 20th century.

  • Guest

    Although this was a budget hearing, let’s not forget that Vacca aired these pet(ty) peeves after one of the bloodiest weeks and months on New York City Streets in recent history.  With thousands of Satmars pouring into the streets to grieve for a young couple and their premature baby, a young mother of two mowed down on a Brooklyn Heights sidewalk, and and a six-year-old killed on his way to school, Vacca’s biggest problem in the transportation world is… aggressive panhandlers.

    Such leadership!  Even imaginary Ray Kelly who comes to transportation committee meetings is better than this.

  • Vacca doesn’t care about the lowest class. No one really wants them here to begin with and he would be very happy if they all packed up and left for Texas tomorrow.

    He is trying hard to make sure that NYC’s middle class housing crisis reverses itself.

    Currently, it is a miserable existence raising four children in a $500k house in the city. 

    I can list 100 reasons why that is, but you already know them all.

    Most rational (cost vs. benefit)  families have left the city already and the city is on a path to become a land of rich and poor.

    NYC never had the extreme decay of other large cities in large parts of brooklyn and queens, but costs are spiraling out of control in both the city and inner ring suburbs.

  • krstrois

    Living relic. 

  • Which accounts for the explosive growth and development of Orange, Rockland and Suffolk Counties.

  • Anonymous

    Michael Klatsky:
    “Currently, it is a miserable existence raising four children in a $500k house in the city. Most rational (cost vs. benefit) families have left the city already …”
    ———————————
    No, most rational (cost vs benefit) families think that two kids is enuff, maybe three.
    Then there are Mormons and other cults where the members are exhorted to make babies until the woman is worn out and then make some more. Please don’t ask the rest of us to support the excess babies that you can’t.

  • WoodyinNYC,
    Family of four in a $450 house in Brooklyn then, if that strokes you in the right place.

    Same problems, same insane housing cost.

  • WoodyinNYC, what you did is just go off on a tangent using a RED HERRING.
    Don’t do it please, it’s disrespectful and contributed nothing to the conversation.

  • Streetsman

    According to Ted Mann’s tweets of the hearing “There are panhandlers in the Belmont parking lot in the Bronx, and Jimmy Vacca would like DOT to get some security out there.” It’s very annoying to me as a non-driving taxpayer (as most New Yorkers are) that the city has to waste its time operating parking garages – something that really should be left to the private sector. But it’s infuriating that now the council is asking that additional security for these garages above and beyond NYPD resources be provided, and in the same turn denying an increase in meter rates to generate additional funding. Car parking is not welfare! If businesses need more or better parking then they should find private land on which to put them and charge whatever the market rate is to provide them. I don’t want to pay more taxes or sacrifice other city services so customers to businesses in Belmont can continue to enjoy cheap, sheltered parking spaces on city property, now featuring a paid security detail. Howabout instead we raise parking rates to improve the welfare and homeless services system so that publicly-financed garages don’t have to be filled with beggars seeking change from the wealthy driving class. The public subsidy for individuals to drive private cars in New York City has to stop!

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