Affordable Transit

On Endless Commutes and Ending Empty Promises

Queensboro BridgeQueens Councilman I. Daneek Miller (D-27) recently penned a compelling op-ed in Crain’s New York Business describing the challenges his constituents face getting where they need to go via transit: long waits, high costs, and repeated delays in long-promised improvements.  He proposes a five-point plan — “five E’s” that he says would be easily implemented.

Four out of the “five E’s” are also features of the Move NY Fair Plan, which the Councilman curiously announced his opposition to, even as his colleagues in the Progressive Caucus voted to support it.  What’s more, the Move NY Fair Plan is the most concrete and equitable proposal to fulfill Councilman Miller’s fifth E: Ensure Proper Funding. Regrettably, the Councilman declined Move NY’s request to brief him on the plan this summer, though more recently, at the Somos conference in PR, he expressed interest in learning more about the plan. We believe that once Councilman Miller understands how closely his plan dovetails ours – and how patently unfair and inequitable it is to make everyone else pay high tolls and fares to drive and ride into the Central Business District while one group travels every day for free – he will become a champion of the Move NY Fair Plan.

Let’s consider Councilman Miller’s E’s one by one:

  1. Equalize commuter rail fares and eliminate two-fare zones: Councilman Miller is right that taking Metro North or Long Island Rail Road within the five boroughs is much more expensive than it should be, a cruel irony considering that stations within the city tend to be in precisely the underserved and/or further flung neighborhoods that would most benefit from such express travel into the region’s core.  That’s why Move NY proposes to make CityTicket, which offers discounted intracity fares on commuter rail during the weekend, a weeklong program, and further drop the price during off-peak hours: $6 peak/$4 off-peak.  Move NY will also extend CityTicket eligibility to the handful of intracity commuter rail stations that are currently excluded from it, including the Far Rockaway in Queens.
  2. Extend Express Bus Service: Councilman Miller is right that we need to expend Express Bus Service, and that’s why Move NY proposes to increase service on existing routes, add new Express Bus routes, and drop the price on Express Buses by a dollar.
  3. Expand Vision Zero: The Move NY Fair Plan will make a dramatic contribution to reducing vehicle crashes and the injuries and deaths to pedestrians and bicyclists that go with them by simply reducing the number of cars cramming city streets to get on the free bridges. Further, Move NY will create the city’s first dedicated revenue stream for roads and bridges, $375 million annually, to keep our streets and major crossings in good repair and redesign them to make them more accessible for pedestrians and cyclists.  Finally, the Transit Gap Investment Fund created under the Move NY Fair Plan will include investments in bike and pedestrian access on major bridges like the Verrazzano-Narrows.
  4. Ensure Proper Funding: Councilman Miller writes that we must “…fully fund our transportation agencies and ensure that money raised for the MTA’s city projects are spent on them. It is also vital that the federal government equitably funds mass transit, including through the enactment of a national transportation infrastructure fund.”  However, he proposes no specific plan to accomplish that.  The Move NY Fair Plan does and then some.  It will raise more than $1.3 billion in net new revenue annually. Through bonding, which will also serve to “lockbox” the revenue, Move NY could fund the state’s share ($8.3 billion) of the 2015-2019 MTA Capital Plan and create a new $4 Billion Transit Gap Investment Fund for projects across the five boroughs.

The Move NY Fair Plan is much more concrete and practical than hoping for federal support for transit in New York (especially in 2015).  It raises new revenues through Toll Reform: applying the highest tolls where congestion is most severe and transit alternatives are plentiful, while slashing tolls everywhere else.  Councilman Miller says Toll Reform would be “a regressive tax and an undue burden on low- and middle-income working families,” but what’s really regressive is the current tolling system. Presently, drivers using the outermost bridges, with less traffic, virtually no transit alternatives, and on average lower incomes than their suburban and Manhattan counterparts, are the ones shouldering the largest burdens. Meanwhile, drivers using the most congested bridges crossing into the city’s core (Manhattan south of Central Park) where transit options are plentiful, use the city’s infrastructure for free, further choking city streets and causing more crashes that often end with injuries or deaths. Moreover, everyone else — be it by subway, taxi, commuter rail, bus, or tunnel — is paying to enter to the Central Business District — while a very small portion of New Yorkers pay nothing. The Move NY Fair Plan will reverse this long-standing inequity.

So why does Councilman Miller think the Move NY Fair Plan will hurt his constituents?  The Tri-State Transportation Campaign ran the numbers on how residents of the 27th District get around, and found that they don’t back up his claims:

“According to Census data, of the 83,452 workers residing in Councilman Miller’s district*, only 20 percent travel to jobs in the Manhattan CBD. Of those 16,721 Manhattan-bound commuters, 81.4 percent (13,624) use transit while 16.6 percent (2,788) drive. As a percentage of all workers in Miller’s district, the 2,788 who drive to the Manhattan CBD represent just 3.3 percent.  Census data source: U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey 2006-2010 Five-year estimates. Special Tabulation: Census Transportation Planning.   *This is an approximation since there is not a perfect alignment of census tracts and District 27 boundaries.”

A hair over 3% of Councilman Miller’s constituents would pay more under the Move NY Fair Plan, and they would overwhelmingly come from households with higher incomes than those relying on transit.  Meanwhile, the Move NY Fair Plan will create upward of 30,000 annually recurring new jobs in the New York Region, the largest single category of which will be in public transit itself.  That’s why the National Board of the Amalgamated Transit Union, of whose local 1056 Councilman Miller once served as President, has endorsed the plan.

Councilman Miller says he wants to make sure that dollars raised for transit in the city get spent here, and he participates in the Council’s Participatory Budgeting program.  So why then does he oppose the Move NY Fair Plan, which will direct $1 billion to districts throughout the city, according to need, and to be allocated through a participatory budgeting-style process with elected officials and constituents deciding together what improvements make the most sense for their communities?

We invite Councilman Miller to look closely at the Move NY Fair Plan, “kick the tires,” and work with his colleagues on the City Council and in the State legislature to ensure, as we all agree, that revenues raised under Move NY remain revenues for improving our transportation system.

Perhaps The Daily News said it best in its February editorial endorsement of Move NY:

“Improve on Move NY’s proposals. Challenge the hell out of the details. And find the courage — it shouldn’t be hard — to back a winning idea when you see one.”

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