Today’s Headlines

  • Bronx DA Won’t File Charges After Deadly Crash at Kingsbridge Bus Shelter (Post, News, NY1)
  • Profs Sound the Climate Change Alarm in the Daily News
  • TWU Will Run Commuter Van Service on Defunct B71 Route (WSJ)
  • Gotham Gazette Digs Into the Dollar Van Business Model
  • Charlie Ramos Is Making a Run for Ruben Diaz, Sr.’s Seat (Gotham Gazette)
  • Kids’ Creativity Flows at 78th Street Play Street (News)
  • Judge Bans Pedicabs From NYC Bridges (WSJ)
  • Signs of a Residential Upswing Near the Syracuse City Core (NYT)
  • The Challenges of Implementing a Complete Streets Policy in Buffalo (MTR)
  • Biking Is Becoming Essential to NYC Renters (RDNY)

More headlines at Streetsblog Capitol Hill

  • Larry Littlefield

    I think everyone should take a close look at TWU operation of vans on the B71. According to the WSJ, the vans will charge a dollar, and the bus drivers will be paid what they would have earned at NYCT.

    Now think about this.

    The B71 cost the MTA $5.42 per ride to operate, including “fixed benefits” (ie. pensions and retiree health care and other benefits for the retired), overhead, and probably debt.

    And it cost $2.85 per ride for the variable cost of bus service, including bus driver’s benefits, fuel, vehicle maintenance and cleaming. Even that is three times the cost of the proposed TWU service.

    Will the TWU be subsidizing this service? If not, what does that mean?

    1) The unions and politicians have managed to get most of what we pay, as farepayers and taxpayers, for transportation shifted to those NOT working and past debts and benefit underfunding, NOT transportation. Transportation is cheap.

    2) The bus drivers (and other public employees) with the least seniority do not get paid much, compared with those near retirement.

    3) Is the TWU providing health and retirement benefits for the van drivers?

    My guess is that the union figures that the drivers will end up at NYCT eventually, and get their retirement benefits there. But that mean (horrors!) that these workers end up doing something to benefit other people for more than 25 years in exchange for living off them perhaps another 25 years with nothing in exchange.

    And as for health benefits, is the TWU covering that or Medicaid? Probably Medicaid. But then, the health care costs of young people are negligible.

    4) The B71 only carried 1,000 people per day. It is damn costly to run 40+ seat buses at low ridership levels, compared with the cost of vans.

    (That being the case, the MTA should either get out of the business of low ridership lines and overnight service, or get itself a fleet of vans operated by new recruits for that service.)

  • Larry Littlefield

    Now you may ask yourself, if the TWU van service ends up unsubsidized, is this a shocking result? Not if you compare with other public services.

    Consider that in FY 2008, New York City’s schools spent $12,000 per child on instructional wages and benefits. That is the equivalent of $144,000 for a class of 12. Twelve!

    Anyone know of any classes of 12 in NYC? Anybody earning the equivalent of $144,000 in wages plus benefits? Anybody know any teachers earning more than $100,000 in wages alone?

    And since the retroactively enhanced pensions have NOT been fully funded, this is going to get worse.

  • re: “Profs Sound the Climate Change Alarm in the Daily News”

    Tepid response to an accelerating crisis.

  • Streetsman

    Don’t know if it’s still the case but I remember reading a few years back that half the budget of the Board of Ed was spent on administration and half in the classroom. I wouldn’t give a penny to any charity or nonprofit that had even a fraction of that bad an efficiency rating. Gotta believe the MTA is at least as bad as the Board of Ed. If the funding comes from government revenue streams, the organization is mammoth, and the service is near-essential, it is a recipe for complete hostile takeover of the operating budget by the labor unions, which it is becoming plainly evident to be the case with the MTA.

  • Interesting that the City would pursue a pedicab violation based on a photo taken by a lawyer on the Manhattan Bridge and sent to the Department of Consumer Affairs. I wonder if someone sent a photo of, say, a UPS truck parked in a bike lane would the City also issue a summons two weeks after the fact? How about Mr. Softee? Is it the difference between DCA and Parking Violations or is it more about the type of vehicle involved? Maybe trucks are more entitled to break the law than pedicabs.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “Don’t know if it’s still the case but I remember reading a few years back that half the budget of the Board of Ed was spent on administration and half in the classroom.”

    That was never the case and always a myth, even back in the bad old days. (I say this having compiled the data for close to two decades). Administrative spending was always much lower than the national average in NYC, while being much higher in the rest of the state.

    If you want to look at the numbers, read this post and download the spreadsheet.

    NYC school spending had been rock bottom for decades. Now it is much higher, but with most of the increase going to the retired.

  • Ho hum, one dead, several maimed, and the driver who caused all this walks a way with a ticket for an illegal u-turn.

    Speaking of which, I witness illegal u-turns every single day on 7th and 5th Avenues in Park Slope. A couple weeks ago, in fact, while I was on my bike waiting for a red light on 7th Avenue at President Street, a woman in an SUV drove through the red light and made a u-turn in the intersection to head back south on 7th Ave. When I yelled “don’t let a red light inconvenience you,” she turned and said “f**k you” before speeding away.

  • Streetsman

    Thanks for clarifying – that’s one one of those handy popular misconceptions. Anyway I guess the question is more about compensation than administration when it comes to dollar vans

  • Larry Littlefield

    Our pols of all stripes much prefer handy misconceptions to data. Especially when the data show older generations, which most of them are in, have gotten a pretty sweet deal here paid for by younger generations, who are poorer.

  • Clarence Eckerson Jr.

    Interesting to note: so the city attorney took a photo of the pedi-cab using the Manhattan bridge bike path, and then the city 2 weeks later wrote a ticket. So…can we all start taking photos of cars double-parking or cars blocking bike lanes and the city or NYPD will ticket them too? I will get my camera ready….

  • JamesR

    That Kingsbridge crash sounds absolutely horrific. The Post articles states that even the cops wanted to go after this guy but were hamstrung by the DA’s office. I had a look at the Bronx DA’s website (which looks like it was created circa 1995 and is not at all fitting for a branch of NYC government in the 21st century) and there is no mention whatsoever of pedestrian safety or traffic enforcement as issues of interest to his office. He has also been serving since 1989. Looks like we have our very own mini-Morgenthau right here in the Bronx.

  • James, note that Robert Johnson, the Bronx DA, is up for re-election next year.

  • Clarence, maybe the Brooklyn Committee of T.A. can get that unidentified city attorney to ride around with them?

  • Clarence Eckerson Jr.

    There should be a program where people can take photos of illegal behavior in their neighborhood and get tickets issued.

  • What the hell is going on in the Bronx? Somebody makes an illegal u-turn, causes a horrific accident resulting in several people severely injured and one person dead, and, for all that they get a TICKET? Is this not the very definition of vehicular manslaughter?

    Why is killing people okay as long as it’s carried out behind a steering wheel?

    Why this complete abdication of responsibility on the part of the DA and the police?

    I’m speechless.

  • The pedicab ruling is the the definition of stupidity.

  • Ian Turner


    Ratio of administration to programs is a red herring as a charity evaluation tool, and creates many bad incentives. Far more important to look at the effectiveness of programs, the evaluation of which may require administrative expense. Read here for more details:

    We would do well to apply the same reasoning to governments as well.


  • Will the passage of the new Haley and Diego’s law reduce the number of these articles we see each day on Streetsblog? What happened to NYC trying to prosecute vehicular manslaughter?

  • Larry, you’re confusing avoidable with attributed costs. If you just divide the operating cost by the number of riders, you don’t get just avoidable costs, which would disappear if you cut service, but also general administrative overhead, which would not.

    As for what you’re saying about the UFT, the reality is that teachers can’t teach all classes. It’s therefore routine for student-teacher ratios to be much lower than the average class size. In New York, there are 14.1 students per teacher, but average class size is much higher, at about 32. It’s not clear to me whether instructional expenses include things like libraries, school trips, and classroom materials, but if it does then it would easily get teacher salaries down to the level you think they should be at.

  • Urbanis, this is the infamous Rule of Two in action. See here and here.

  • JamesR

    Mark, in this case, we have multiple witnesses confirming that the van did a u-turn in the middle of a crowded street. Clearly illegal and without question a “gross deviation” from the normal standard of care, as Maureen McCormick put it in the Streetsblog interview you linked to. How is this not criminal negligence at work?

  • Ian Turner

    I’m convinced that the “rule of two” is just a ruse. In 2009 there were lots of examples where two or more violations were committed concurrently, which met with the same apathy as any other case of automotive violence.

  • vnm

    I witness people making illegal U-turns every day in front of my building, which makes crossing the street a much riskier proposition. I, like Eric, have noticed that motorists engaged in illegal U-turns don’t like the illegality of their actions brought to their attention by people who aren’t cops.

  • No jury is going to convict anyone of criminal manslaughter whose vehicle did not run into anyone directly. We’re not talking about “I left the loaded gun on the table” kind of culpability here.

    I’ve crossed that intersection (Kingsbridge and University) in both directions several times and it’s a traffic sewer. It seems unfair to me to call for individual automobilists to be blamed for causing accidents on crowded streets that were not designed for safe operation of the volumes of traffic they see today.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Alon, I only included instructional wages and benefits in instructional wages and benefits. Libraries are separate; books are and some of the other things are instructional but separate. Look at the table.

  • JamesR, I’m not defending the authorities, I’m just pointing out the rationales they use. Sure, the van driver should have gotten a lot more than a ticket. No argument there.

    Like several other commenters, I see drivers making U-turns nearly every day. This is what I do: I stop, stand, fold my arms, and stare at them. If they see me, I slowly shake my head. Guess what? They hate this. It makes them feel like the morons they are.

  • Larry: I looked at the table, and it’s not clear to me whether it considers instructional expenses to be just teacher compensation, or more than that. The average takehome per teacher is much lower than even the wage figure you give, and no, it’s not some union ploy – colleges work similarly. When a university says it has 8 students per faculty member, it doesn’t mean there are on average 8 students to a class. Teachers do more than just teach; they prepare curricula and grade homework.

    Generally, your analysis isn’t very good. For one, the cost adjustment you’re using for New York is different from the two that everyone else uses for no good reason. For another, New York doesn’t just pay more, but also gets more – it’s top-ranked among inner city districts, and is improving one-to-one with the recent increases in spending.

    It’s not a union ploy. Both transit and education have their share of those, but they involve other issues surrounding efficiency. There’s no huge pile of money disappearing down the drain, and the managers, who some reformers (including Bloomberg) think need to be given absolute power, tend to be the worst of the bunch.


    “Millions of Barrels of Oil Safely Reach Port in Major Environmental Catastrophe”

    “Best. Onion. Ever.”

  • via @TheOnion – Millions Of Barrels Of Oil Safely Reach Port In Major Environmental Catastrophe

  • I guess I don’t understand this concept that a motor vehicle operator needs to break two laws in order to be prosecutable for criminal negligence when someone else is injured or killed in a collision with the vehicle. It would be one thing if the van driver had been driving within the speed limit, respecting traffic regulations, etc. and a tire blew out or someone darted across the street and they swerved to avoid, thus causing a collision. But in this case the driver made an illegal u-turn and, moreover, did so in a high-risk environment (heavy traffic, lots of pedestrians) and sure enough something terrible happened. How can they simply drive off with a traffic ticket and nothing else? How will that deter this driver from once again engaging in reckless driving and causing the injuries and death of yet more people? How many lives have to be lost?

  • Urbanis, the point is not to deter this driver, who’ll probably not do something like this again regardless of punishment. It’s to deter other drivers. The various rules in use are there to make the system look slightly less arbitrary. The principle is to get rid of the “I’m a good driver, I won’t hit anyone” mentality. Whether it works is something else…

  • Larry Littlefield

    “Larry: I looked at the table, and it’s not clear to me whether it considers instructional expenses to be just teacher compensation, or more than that.”

    Instructional is larger than instructional wages plus instructional benefits: I chose not to add another column.

    And the data is what it is, and says what it says. Yes, at the college that I attended professors each 2 1/2 classes per term when they are not on sabattical, so the college costs $55,000 per year. It has also become unaffordable, compared with the incomes of everyone else.

    And yes, the figure includes money for teachers who are retired and teachers who are out of the classroom at a given time. That is what we spend more on. And that is what cannot be cut abasent bankruptcy, which is why you’ll see education gutted at four times the pace the budget declines (or even if it increases).

    As at the MTA.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “For one, the cost adjustment you’re using for New York is different from the two that everyone else uses for no good reason.”

    First of all, I’m not aware of anyone else using any cost adjustments for public finance.

    The right wing think tanks compare spending per capita straight on, with no adjustment for the difference in the labor market.

    The union-backed think tanks and interest groups somehow choose not to release any information on comparative taxes and spending at all, for some reason.

    The only other cost of living factor I have seen is from an executive pay consulting group, which assumes that whoever it is will live in Manhattan and, probably, have a car, and thus provides a ridiculous number. Based on the other group of people who believe they deserve to be ever better off as others become ever worse off. When I was at City Planning, I would call them up and yell at them every now and then, and got NYC out of their calculations for a while.

    I use what I use for a very good reason: it adjusts for what the serfs make, and can afford to pay.

  • The BLS has its own numbers, which are a little more brutal to New York than I would have thought they’d be but overall make sense. I can hunt down a link if you care, or you can look for it yourself; it’s mentioned in the comments to Glaeser’s blog post about Atlanta from several months ago. Just remember that most teachers prefer to live in the suburbs so you need to use the suburban cost adjustment, not the urban one.

    Teachers who are out of the classroom are not something bad. They prepare curricula, and grade homework and tests. This factor is smaller than at universities, but it’s still quite large, as shown by the difference between 14 students per teacher and 32 students to a class.

  • Larry Littlefield

    People can come up any cost estimates they like. The bottom line is that most people (ie. outside Finance) in Downstate NY in the private sector earn about one-third more than the U.S. average, a ratio that has been fairly stable for a long time.

    The excess cost of living differences some come up with have a number of causes, but perhaps the largest is a failure to adjust for the diminished rate of auto ownership and use the NY area’s transit system and land use make possible. New York’s housing bubble has also been relatively slow to deflate, leaving it overpriced.

  • Larry, if I have to choose between the BLS’s methodology and yours, I’m not going to go with yours. Sorry.

    (Yes, the BLS does in fact adjust for transportation costs, as far as I can tell. And it uses owner-equivalent rents, not purchase prices; it’s actually gotten criticized for understating the cost of housing in the bubble years.)

  • Andrew

    The Rule of Two as interpreted by the NYPD:

    If a motorist violates a traffic law (speeding, running a red light, making an illegal u-turn, driving on the sidewalk, etc.), but nobody is killed, then everything is cool.

    If a motorist kills someone, but there’s no proof that any traffic law was violated, then everything is cool.

    If a motorist violates a traffic law and kills someone in the process, then maybe the motorist should be issued a traffic ticket.