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TAKE THAT, ANDREW! Council Speaker To Seek City Control of NYC Transit

7:36 PM EST on January 8, 2019

Council Speaker Corey Johnson handed out subway questionnaires in Bay Ridge on Tuesday night. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman

Council Speaker Corey Johnson will unveil within two months a "comprehensive and detailed" plan for the city to take control of the subway and buses from the MTA — a municipal control of New York City Transit that, he says, will bring transparency, accountability and, hopefully, improved service to beleaguered straphangers in the five boroughs.

"The governor told the Daily News editorial board [on Tuesday] that he wants to 'blow up' the MTA," Johnson said. "Well, there's no better way to blow up the MTA than to give the city control of its subways and buses."

Speaker Corey Johnson talks to reporters while Council Member Justin Brannan looks on (for the record, Brannan was not in a bad mood, despite the timing of our shutter).
Speaker Corey Johnson talks to reporters while Council Member Justin Brannan looks on (for the record, Brannan was not in a bad mood, despite the timing of our shutter).
Speaker Corey Johnson talks to reporters while Council Member Justin Brannan looks on (for the record, Brannan was not in a bad mood, despite the timing of our shutter).

Johnson told reporters about his coming proposal as he handed out subway questionnaires to riders at Bay Ridge's 77th Street station — a bit of window dressing to highlight his and other New Yorkers' frustration with how transit is currently run.

"When we ask people to take a survey, first they say, 'The MTA sucks,'" Johnson said, later adding that riders feel "the MTA is an unaccountable unelectable board of people who make decisions that most people don't know about or can't participate in."

Johnson, who is now currently also serving as Public Advocate until next month's special election, has previously discussed city control of the subways and buses. He last floated it in September — but only in the context of getting Albany to properly fund the MTA, which currently has billions of dollars in repairs on hold. At the same event, he discussed the possibility that the city would create its own congestion pricing fee if the state fails to act.

At that time, he was also criticized for lacking details about how municipal control of transit could be funded when the state would not likely give up control of the lucrative properties controlled by the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority, one of the MTA's six agencies. But on Tuesday night, Johnson was ready for Streetsblog's question on that very subject.

"The detailed plan I will unveil in the next 60 days ... talks about debt obligation, bonding authority, the tunnels and the bridges," he said. "And it does not just talk about the subways and buses, but talks about breaking the car culture by investing in mass transit, prioritizing pedestrians and cyclists and making New York City a livable safe city."

Johnson's use of the term "breaking the car culture" was in part a reference to his being named the Vision Zero Hero of the Year by Streetsblog.

He's not the first politician to pitch city control of a sprawling transit system with 2.3 billion rides per year, and he said he is aware of a huge political challenge.

"When Michael Bloomberg ran for mayor in 2001, he talked about municipal control of the school system and people said, 'That's crazy. That will never happen. The state legislature won't give it to you. We can't dissolve the school boards,'" Johnson said. "Well, he got it done in his first year in office. The conversation we're having now is about accountability and transparency."

One footnote for government nerds: Johnson said his plan was being created under the auspices of his role as Speaker, not as the acting Public Advocate, which is technically the more-important job under the city charter.

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