Today’s Headlines

  • On Transit and the MTA, Cuomo Fails to Distinguish Himself From Rag-Tag Gov Candidates (City Room)
  • PPW Bike Lane Supporters: Be Nice to These People When You Rally on Thursday (News)
  • 800 People Filled Out the PPW Bike Lane Survey Last Week. Have You? (Bklyn Paper)
  • Are Bike Lane Fights New or an NYC Tradition? (Observer)
  • City Will Pay Out $1M to Crit Mass Cyclists Harassed By NYPD (NYT)
  • LaHood, Local Pols Swing Hammer at Stim-Funded Moynihan Station Groundbreaking (NY1, SAS, Post)
  • Daily News: Why Does It Take Forever to Build a Train Station?
  • Penn Station Turns 100, Sort of (City Room)
  • Taxi of Tomorrow Frontrunners Include Highly Transparent Entry From Turkey (News)
  • Internal Affairs Looking Into Parking Ticket Fixing in the Bronx (News)

More headlines at Streetsblog Capitol Hill

  • Cuomo’s comments on the MTA last night officially lost him my vote. The fact that he actually brought out the “two sets of books” claim shows that he hasn’t taken a second to understand the issues affecting transit riders.

    His accusation that “nobody is leading” the MTA paired with his accusation that they’re “wasting money” is Cuomo trying to have it both ways: union labor is expensive and draconian union rules waste money. But accusing the transit unions’ #1 enemy, Jay Walder, of “not leading the MTA” while he’s made hundreds of millions of dollars in cost-saving reforms plays right into the unions’ hands.

    It’s a disgusting, vicious cycle. Lashing out against the MTA with flat-out lies will do nothing but hurt transit riders.

    Side note: while I’m never usually keen to third-party fringe candidates, Green Party candidate Howie Hawkins reiterated his support for congestion pricing last night.

  • Glenn

    My Two favorite quotes from the PPW bike lane article:

    “Now you cross two lanes of traffic, then you go across this weird space in the street and then you hit a two-way bicycle lane on a one-way street. . . . It’s very hard to learn new behavior like that.” – Anti-bike lane senior citizen

    “This community-requested project has already made a noticeable dent in the street’s rampant speeding and sidewalk cycling, and we will continue to monitor its effect on safety,” said DOT spokesman Seth Solomonow.

    The main takeaway I get is: All these safety improvements are confusing. I prefer if it more dangerous like it used to be.

  • JK

    Cuomo’s anti-MTA comments were disgraceful. Cuomo knows better, and he didn’t need to join the moronic lynch mob of gubernatorial fringe candidates making unfounded accusations about the fabled “two sets of books,” or falsely claim that the agency is “leaderless.” This was yet another exercise in the worst political cynicism, abetted by the loaded set-up interview with some ignoramus transit rider. This “MTA bloat, MTA corruption, MTA leaderless” frame is a prelude to a massive Albany screwing and the big losers are transit riders.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “This “MTA bloat, MTA corruption, MTA leaderless” frame is a prelude to a massive Albany screwing and the big losers are transit riders.”

    The official representative of transit riders, the Straphangers, has spent 15 years convincing people that all that is true.

    I don’t know why they aren’t demanding that the hidden $billions be used to raise wages, pass the 20/50 pension, and roll back all the fare increases since 2000. They might as well. At this point, there is no longer a point in doing otherwise. Game over.

  • Doug G.

    Glenn, the same quote was the thing that stuck out for me:

    “It’s very hard to learn new behavior like that.”

    Sorry, but that’s not an argument against bike lanes, senior citizens. It makes them look about as informed as Grandpa Simpson: “I used to be with it, but then they changed what it was. Now what I’m with isn’t it, and what’s it seems weird and scary to me… it’ll happen to you!”

    All kidding aside, seniors should understand that those of us who are in favor of more bike lanes are also pro-senior. The positions are not mutually exclusive. Responsible cyclists want everyone, young and old to be safe on and near city streets.

    There is a senior center on the corner of PPW at GAP. Instead of crossing three lanes of traffic to get to the park, residents of that center now have to cross two before getting to a safe spot. I have to believe that it’s now a heck of a lot safer to cross than it was before, even if one has to pause on the other side to remember to look for bikes. Besides, if cyclists are engaging in behavior that is dangerous to seniors, there are remedies: signs, speed bumps, etc. Going back to the way it was is not a solution.

    Give it just few short years and there will soon be a time when hardly anyone has to “learn” new behavior.

  • re: PPW Bike Lane Supporters: Be Nice to These People When You Rally on Thursday (News)

    Lighter-than-human-weight transport and transit should completely address the Americans with Disabilities Act using technology such as recumbent tricycles with full seats and infrastructure-based safe-speed regulation near pedestrians.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Another objection to the bike lane, from a senior, is that bicycles should just ride in the park. The opponents are misinforming people.

    I did ride in the park, on the way home from work. On the way to work, the only option was 8th Avenue, and 8th Avenue is dangerous.

    Now it might be possible to close the park to cars and put in a two-way bike path there. But I doubt any PPW bike path opponents would actually push for that, and the opposition (from Lew Fidler, etc) would be much greater.

  • Kevin

    And the Prospect Park loop is officially closed after 1am. Not that it should be, but that is how it is.

  • World Resources Inst
    Reading – China looks to U.S. to learn from Clean Air Act, even as some seek to dismantle it (@greenlawchina)

  • Larry Littlefield

    I’m sorry if I can’t keep coming back to this, but the 15 years of MTA bashing by transit advocates has had severe consequences.

    In exchange for a substantial reduction in the fare relative to inflation, they provided cover to those who have destroyed the transit system financially.

    The damage was done in the “two sets of books” controversy. And the truth is there was a fraud in what was being presented. But it was the opposite of the fraud as asserted by Alan Hevesi and the Straphangers — that the MTA was rolling in dough and had massive surpluses. Their assertions were themselves a fraud.

    The truth is the MTA was running up huge debts without building any of the long-promised improvements. The “surpluses” everyone has been busy trying to seize were merely lower increases in debt than predicted, in the short run, due to higher than expected real estate transfer tax revenues, the product of a bubble. The MTA was hiding the future fiscal disaster, not hidden billions.

    But at this point, as I’ve said, there is no downside to simply demanding that the hidden billions be used. There is an upside. A systemwide shutdown and bankruptcy would be better for those who hope to be living here in 20 years than ongoing decline.

  • Am I the only one to not take umbrage with Cuomo’s MTA comments?

    The MTA is broken. It is corrupt. No one is arguing this.

    Let’s remember that the MTA was created to shelter elected politicians from voter back-lash against inevitable fare hikes and service cuts. So Cuomo wants to abolish this shelter and place the Governors office behind the MTA. Is this kind of “buck stops here” rhetoric so bad?

    MTA bashing is easy political fodder. Ask Carl “abolish-the-mta” Paladino. Any transit rider that’s had to wait 30 minutes on the platform for a train hates the MTA for at least those 30 minutes.

    I don’t think Cuomo was MTA bashing. He was asking that the Governor’s office be allowed to accept responsibility in the future. Again, this is bad?

    I do think that Walder inherited a bad situation and should be given time to try and right things. I hope that Cuomo has the good sense to keep him on if he’s elected. Yes, Walder has made unpopular decisions thus far but ‘correct’ and ‘unpopular’ shouldn’t be confused. But Cuomo’s “anti-MTA” comments seem to have elicited mostly knee-jerk reactions from transit riders.

  • biped: Cuomo said that “nobody is leading” at the MTA. Regardless of the “two sets of books” myth and the accusations of corruption and waste, Cuomo took at shot at Jay Walder, the strongest leadership the MTA has had in years.

    We can all agree that waste is still an issue, and the corruption will take a generation to root out, but for Cuomo to ignore the tough decisions Walder has had to make and the massive cost reductions he’s been able to achieve flies in the face of the crux of his argument… and it suggests that Cuomo would remove Walder on Day One for no other reason than the fact that he inherited a mess that will take decades to clean up.

  • Chris, based on the fact that you’re preparing to vote Paladino because Cuomo doesn’t worship Walder, I’m going to guess that you’re not gay and don’t know anyone who is.

  • Alon: Whoa, whoa, whoa! When did I ever say I was voting for Paladino? What logic would there be in voting for Paladino, who wants to “abolish the MTA?” I’m voting for Green Party candidate Howie Hawkins, who is the only candidate to support congestion pricing and finding a reasonable funding source for the MTA.

  • J:Lai

    Well, good for Jay Walder for negotiating a large severance package if he is fired. I think he is providing better leadership than that agency has had in quite a while, and I hope he is given more time. Maybe the cost of replacing him will give the next gov a reason to keep him . . . although a few hudred thousand for Walder is drop in the bucket compared to the supposed billions of waste in the MTA’s secret budget.

    Restructuring the way transit is run to remove it from an authority and place direct control with elected officials is not going to happen, at least not without the authority filing for bankruptcy.

  • J:Lai

    I might vote for Paladino. I don’t see how he can be worse than Cuomo, and might actually follow through, at least partially, on his campaign promise to cut billions out of the state budget. I think we’d be better off if Albany had a smaller budget, even if they’re doing the wrong things with it.

  • Car Free Nation

    Whoa J:Lai. Don’t vote for Paladino. He might pull a Christie and drop the 2nd avenue subway to lower the gas tax.

  • Glenn

    The only thing left to do with the MTA based on all the rhetoric and the real need to provide transit is to decentralize it from the MTA into its components – NYCTA, MetroNorth, LIRR, etc. While there might actually be some inefficiencies, it would more than make up for the near universal feeling that there is no accountability for the money raised and spent.

    This would be a great thing for NYC actually because more money is raised in Manhattan that subsidizes the suburbs and this would make that plainly clear.

    And I believe it would make new revenue easier to raise since people would know that it goes directly to the transit they use. For instance, Bloomberg doesn’t want to increase his aid because that would just go into a big pot of MTA funding and could get squandered on something outside the city.

    More local accountability is the only path forward and the only logical conclusion to the “big fat bloated bureaucracy” image that the MTA currently has.

  • J. Mork

    What do people think about Warren Redlich’s position?

    Governor candidate Warren Redlich proposed that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority be completely privatized. The move would reduce operating costs dramatically, allowing for fare reductions and improved service.

    “The MTA chronically overspends and underperforms,” Redlich said. “It’s yet another example of government failure in New York State.”

    Privatization would solve the problem of ridiculous salaries and benefits. Over 8000 MTA employees made over $100,000 a year in 2009, with 50 making over $200K. One conductor made $239K. The authority has also been plagued by pension scandals.

    Further benefits would be realized through savings on capital projects, as the private sector would be free from expensive state requirements placed on public sector capital spending.

  • J. Mork

    Howie Hawkins might be a little better:

    The MTA and other public transit systems should have dedicated and sufficient sources of funding. The Greens favor dedicating a portion of higher gasoline taxes to public transit. Gasoline taxes are now the half of what they were in the 1975. The Greens also support a carbon tax escalating over time to send clear, predictable market signals that investing in carbon-free alternatives will pay off. The revenues of a carbon tax should be partially rebated as a per capita and progressively graduated refundable tax credit that protects low and moderate income people. The other part of the revenues should be dedicated to the Clean Energy Transition program, including public transit.

    For the MTA and New York City, the Greens would implement the congestion pricing plan developed by Ted Kheel and Charlie Komanoff to raise $1.5 billion a year for the MTA while reducing or eliminating fares and increasing ridership. (See Congestion pricing in London has been successful far beyond expectations in increasing public transit ridership, decreasing car usage, decreasing traffic congestion, and reducing greenhouse emissions. We should bring it to New York City.

  • vnm

    Delving into a little bit of what Larry has been saying, and just reiterating what many here already know:

    The phrase “two sets of books” was the name given by disgraced former State Comptroller Alan Hevesi to a contention embodied in lawsuits brought in 2003 by the Straphangers Campaign, TWU, AAA, and the now-disgraced Congressman Vito Fossella. These parties challenged the 2003 fare/toll increase by taking issue with the notices advertising the associated public hearings.

    Specifically, the MTA had a cash balance available at the end of 2002 and intended to apply some of it to 2003 expenses and some of it to 2004 expenses. The Straphangers et al. argued that the public hearing notices did not adequately inform the public that if this cash balance were to be applied just to 2003 and not to 2004, there would be no or less need for a fare increase in 2003 (but, presumably, there would then be a bigger one needed in 2004).

    Got that? The MTA was trying to do multi-year planning, and the Straphangers, et al., cared only about the then-present.

    The New York Supreme Court unanimously threw out (pdf) the “two sets of books” argument in July 2003, and found that “the MTA’s notices were neither false nor misleading.” Further, the court said: “There is nothing in the law that requires the MTA to devise its budgets and financial plans on a single-year basis. Indeed, doing so would appear to run afoul of its statutory obligation to establish five-year financial plans.”

    The phrase “two sets of books” has nevertheless proven to be such an alluring soundbite that more than seven years later, politicians still can’t resist it. I suspect that if the Straphangers campaign had known back then that the “two sets of books” charge would be used as a way to avoid investing in public transportation, they would have urged Hevesi not to use it.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “I suspect that if the Straphangers campaign had known back then that the ‘two sets of books’ charge would be used as a way to avoid investing in public transportation, they would have urged Hevesi not to use it.”

    An accurate portrayal, except for this statement. Given that the Straphangers didn’t give a damn about one year later it is hard to imagine that they gave a damn about seven years later. They still don’t. Their answer to problems is to use borrowed capital plan money to subsidize operating expenses.

    But to understand the full disgust of transit buffs with recent transit politics, you have to go back to the “save the fare” populism that began in the 1920s. Which resulted in deferred maintenance, inadequate reinvestment — and much higher fare increaes in the end.

  • J:Lai

    I don’t think privitization of transit would help.

    Maybe on surface transit, where buses and vans from different lines could compete with each other, this would add some benefit. But you already have options that include city bus, dollar van, and taxi/livery cars, so there is only marginal value from new classes of surface transit. The real improvements needed for better surface transit are structural, legal, and enforcement issues, such as those related to SBS, which can not be provided by a private operator. A private bus operator can’t add dedicated lanes, signal timing, etc.

    For subways and trains, the problem is that any operator is going to be restricted to using the existing rails (unless you want to add new capacity, like bringing back elevated trains, or something radical like that.) It’s hard to imagine a situation where there is adequate competition to allow for improvements in operating efficiency or cost control. Even the old system of IND, BMT, IRT would be unlikely to create direct competition except where there are nearby parallel lines (upper west side?), although it could indirectly create long-term geographic preferences.

    Without competition, there is no incentive for a private operator to act more efficiently than a government operator, and thus no reason to believe that such would be the outcome.

  • lee

    most people I know who are not transit/transportation buffs believe the “two sets of books” line and by the time you are explaining that away you have already lost the debate.

  • Kaja

    Here, Lee, here’s how to show a man prattling two sets of books they’re ignorant without “losing the debate”:

    ask them what specifically they mean.

    Then lean back and sip your beer.

  • Ian Turner


    That’s not necessarily correct. The MTA could operate the subways as a public concession, essentially leasing out the system to a private operator but reserving control over fares, which would be negotiated as part of the contract. The private operator would have an incentive to cut costs, because any cuts would pad its profit margin. As long as the profit margin were thick enough to keep competent operators interested, and thin enough that the MTA could take back some of the improved efficiencies in the form of reduced fares or subsidies, it could be a win-win situation.

    Unfortunately, managing a private contractor is a competency unto itself: One must ensure that an operator provides adequate service and leaves the system in reasonable condition (as opposed to allowing it to decay). Given the MTA’s inability to do this even with fairly simple things like escalator maintenance suggests that leasing out the whole system would be a colossal failure without some new talent.

    Also, the approach described above is essentially the one that the UK has adopted for its national rail system, and UK residents still complain viciously about the trains. But for all that, they’re still better and cheaper than Amtrak, IMHO.


  • The state-run French train system is gorgeous and a world leader in high-speed rail design. Privatization is not always the answer.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Perhaps, but evidently they can’t afford their pensions either, which are age 60 after 40 years of work compared with age 55 after 25 years of work at NYC Transit.

    Then again, the French pension deal (and universal health care) is what everybody gets. As opposed to what relatively few people get and everybody except the retirees pay for. I’d take their equal deal, no matter what it turns out to be.

  • @Urbanis: SNCF is a world leader in high-speed rail; it’s a world lagger in everything else. Its regional rail systems are neglected, and at times scheduled to just miss the TGV connection. French regional rail is still much better than anything available in the US, but behind its German, Swiss, Austrian, and Japanese counterparts.