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Transit Union Leader Urges Labor to Back Transit on the New Tappan Zee

3:53 PM EST on December 13, 2011

Despite widespread opposition, Governor Andrew Cuomo is plowing forward with plans to build a new Tappan Zee Bridge without transit. Even so, there's still no plan for how to pay for the bridge. Cuomo has proposed that union pension funds put up some of the money, but there's been no explanation of how those pension funds would be paid back.

Stepping into the mix is Amalgamated Transit Union International President Larry Hanley, a former Staten Island bus driver who now leads an 190,000-member union, the largest transit union in the country. In a letter sent out last week to leaders of other major unions, Hanley urged his colleagues to use their influence to ensure that mass transit, and bus rapid transit in particular, is included on the Tappan Zee. His audience is especially relevant in this case, given that Cuomo is relying on these unions to finance the bridge's construction.

"We think that those unions ought to join us in speaking out for people who are transit-dependent," Hanley told Streetsblog. In addition to helping working people, he argued, union support for a transit option would also help New York City thrive. "Anybody who has ever read The Power Broker understands the harm brought to cities as a consequence of not including mass transit in significant highway projects like this," he said.

Hanley said that he'll be reaching out directly to individual unions over the next weeks. His letter went out to officials including teachers union president Michael Mulgrew and SEIU Local 1199 president George Gresham.

In comments to Streetsblog, Hanley also blasted Andrew Cuomo and the state government for not adequately funding mass transit. "The political class of this country is allowing mass transit to die a slow death," he said. "It's a really short-sighted view in a state where we have the most transit riders in the country."

Though Cuomo has promised to make the MTA whole for every dollar lost due to his $320 million payroll tax cut, Hanley said he doubted that money would come through year after year. "In my 30-year-plus history of transit in New York City, it's been rare to see elected officials fulfill their promises to transit once they've made them," he said. If Albany ever yanks away the promised funding, Cuomo's payroll tax cut could force fare hikes and service cuts that make the austerity measures of the last few years look tame.

Hanley and the ATU also signed onto the press statement released last week expressing disappointment in the governor for allowing the transit lockbox bill to be eviscerated. The lockbox would have been "a step in the direction of trying to protect mandated funding," Hanley said, but Cuomo "did not see fit to allow it to go through intact."

The final Cuomo transit policy that Hanley touched on was the governor's decision not to fund the last three years of the MTA's capital program, a decision he said would hurt transit for years to come. The MTA was "put in a position where they had to borrow huge amounts of money just to keep their rolling stock in repair," said Hanley. "There has been an abdication, a long-term abdication from New York's political structure."

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