Has John Liu Jumped the Shark on MTA Rescue?

While his colleague from Brooklyn Bill de Blasio has given his blessing to tolls on East River bridges, Queens City Council Member John Liu — who, as of this writing, is running for city comptroller — seems to have officially joined the chorus of electeds who insist that the MTA’s dire financial straits constitute a crisis of the agency’s own making.

A reader who attended a CUNY forum on bridge tolls last week sent us this summation of Liu’s remarks:

  • The MTA doesn’t need the money because it’s for capital, not operating, expenses, and in any event is earmarked for bus improvements mentioned but not specified in the Ravitch report.
  • The MTA hasn’t bothered to itemize what they would do with the toll money, which they would apply to their capital plan.
  • Making the MTA accountable takes precedence over bailing them out.
  • Auto commuters to the CBD drive because they have to (ignoring, obviously, Bruce Schaller’s "Necessity or Choice" report [PDF]).
  • I supported Bloomberg’s congestion pricing proposal (true), because it was an excise tax (huh?) and offered drivers choices (huh?), but I can’t support bridge tolls because that’s not an excise tax and doesn’t provide choices.
  • The MTA, being run by the likes of Nancy Shevell, doesn’t need or merit our money (begging the question, of course, that the MTA will in fact get our money — it just won’t be getting it from drivers).

This litany, while damning enough, doesn’t do justice to the inanity, vehemence and shallowness of Liu’s remarks. Indeed, there was a surreal riff in his remarks that we can and should punish the MTA, divorced from any impact on the human beings, communities and businesses that make up this city.

There’s more. On his campaign website, Liu links to an MTA-bashing article in the Amsterdam News that says he "agrees" with City Council Member Charles Barron, who is quoted as follows: "I think the MTA needs to be dismantled. These are a bunch
of rich white men who have no clue of the needs of the working class
family. We are not sure about their books and they need oversight. The
responsibility of transportation should be taken away form the MTA and
given to the Department of Transportation."

Our tipster notes that at the CUNY event, Liu also spoke of "the need to have prices reflect costs, the value of social pricing, even the need ‘to take away subsidies for drivers … for drivers to pay their own way,’" but then "fell back into the tired riff of ‘Bridge Tolls No, MTA Must Go.’" So how can Liu reconcile his obvious contempt for the MTA and suspicion of bridge tolls with his stated wish that drivers "pay their own way"? Is this the kind of intellectual inconsistency we can expect from Comptroller Liu?

  • Glenn

    Everyone should update their facebook or twitter accounts and say they will not vote for John Liu for any Citywide office…because he obviously doesn’t care about sustainable transportation policies.

  • Perhaps the MTA’s biggest problem is that it’s a large slow-moving target for lazy pols and assorted other pitchfork wavers. If the MTA were run the way highways are run, its board would not meet in public, its budget would never be published in any newspaper, and its spending would be both silent and unconstrained. If highways were run the way the MTA is run, details of federal, state, and local road spending would be on everyone’s lips, the newspapers would run one thumb-sucking editorial after another about it, and the people like Liu would complain about the cost of every salary, pension, contract, cost overrun, and boondoggle. Instead highways are run in stealth mode, while spending by public transit agencies is the subject of loud and ultimately unedifying debate.

  • bob previdi

    Brad, Your comments are dead-on. I don’t see how Mr. Liu’s comments can be viewed as progressive urban policy.
    Save the tolls – Are you kidding??
    I find it so sad that people and Pols feel the need to save these tolls over the future of the MTA – and more importantly the future of the City!

    It is so sad, we now have a president (finally) that will support mass transit. He wants to reduce our dependency on oil but NYC wants to save free bridge tolls. He wants to reduce our GHG emissions – but NYC wants to save bridget tolls. I don’t get it.
    NYC should be telling the nation what it needs to do to reduce oil dependency and GHG but we are arguing about saving bridge tolls.

    Please, please NYC wake up! You must have watched too many car ads!

  • drosejr

    My bad on my previous comment under the de Blasio story that Liu was running for Public Advocate. I tend to get my MTA-bashing, Queens politicians confused from time to time; Eric Gioia is running for Public Advocate, not Liu. The sentiment still stands, however.

  • m to the i

    You would think that NYS and NYC politicians, who continue to talk about MTA corruption as the main problem, would realize at some point that transit operators all across the country are cutting service and raising fares. Maybe they are all corrupt or maybe transit is not funded enough or by sustainable means.

  • Shemp

    This is standard fare for John Liu throughout his political career – he’s on all sides and none. Which John Liu will show up at any particular meeting? He’s on the side of getting on TV that night. A lot of these guys are real imbeciles. Liu isn’t as dumb, but he is about as close to 100% shameless and opportunistic as anyone can get. He will say virtually anything.

  • Culo Cagado

    John Liu is another tool. Here’s an idea –decrease the size of City Council from 52 idiots to 10. The cost savings from that alone would cover the MTA’s money problems.

  • There are few politicians who will play the race card as predictably and inappropriately as Charles Barron.

  • Glenn

    I love CM Charles Barron’s quote as well. It’s as if his way of getting back at “rich white men” is to keep the bridges free while raising mass transit fares and cutting service for most of his constituents.

    After the MTA is dismantled, then what CM Barron? Direct Mayoral Control? Sounds like that would also be a rich white guy in charge…

    Maybe he could help organize a coup led by Gene Russianoff & Curtis Sliwa resulting in a straphanger’s / guardian angel Junta?

  • Emily Litella

    I just dont get it. Forget every moral argument that supports congestion pricing via tolls or other means. Drivers, your time is worth more than a few dollars per hour. Reduction of unnecessary vehicular trips will save the remaining motorists significant travel time. I am a motorist, transit patron, pedestrian and reluctant voter.


Congestion Panel to Recommend Abbreviated Pricing Plan

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