So the MTA has released their doomsday scenario. This would be a disaster on many levels, and it's exactly the opposite direction we want to be going. All around the country a consensus is emerging that we need to move people from cars to transit. The current economic woes have many causes, but they have been exacerbated by a transportation system (private cars) that collapses when the price of gas gets too high. That combined with the emissions, death toll and cultural side-effects associated with cars have helped to build this consensus.
However, the Ravitch Commission will release its report on December 5, and the Governor will present his executive budget on December 16. The brightest scenario will be that through some combination of fare hikes, congestion pricing, bridge tolls, taxing commuters, taxing millionaires and abandoning boondoggles, the State and City will be able to not just stave off these really bad cuts, but implement the service increases that they planned last year, and the ones called for in Planyc 2030.
Last year's congestion pricing debate showed that there was a significant portion of the population who had not bought into the consensus. Although the Mayor, the Governor and a significant number of nonprofits understood the need for shifting subsidies from private cars to transit, large numbers of city council and state legislative representatives were ill-informed or chose to pander to their ill-informed, self-interested contributors against the interests of the majority of their constituents. So what if the legislature doesn't budge, and the MTA is forced to cut service?
Here is a way that the Mayor and the Governor, and Commissioners Sadik-Khan and Glynn (as well as Governor Corzine, Commissioner Dilts and Executive Director Ward), can shift some subsidies to transit without legislative approval. First, they can cut any and all road boondoggles from the budget and future plans, such as the Tappan Zee Bridge, Goethals Bridge, Thruway, Turnpike and Parkway widenings, the Shore Parkway and Sheridan Expressway reconstructions.
Second, they can take a page from Jaime Lerner and build BRT. And you know when I say BRT I mean real bus rapid transit, not a new paint scheme and a bus lane full of parked cars. I mean physically separated bus lanes on every Manhattan avenue (including West End) and the major cross-streets (including 181st Street). I mean bus lanes on every bridge and tunnel leading into Manhattan. And I mean bus lanes leading up to the bridges and tunnels.
But the MTA has cancelled plans for the Red Hook Tunnel Bus, and the current budget proposal contains cuts to local and express buses around the city. How can we have BRT if the Council and Legislature won't give the MTA the money to buy and run the buses?
Here's the third thing that the Mayor, the Governors, the Commissioners and the Executive Directors can all do: they can get out of the way and let private transit grow. The State of New Jersey has been pretty good about creating and maintaining a favorable business climate for private buses and vans, the Port Authority has been good about facilitating the use of their bridges, tunnels and terminals, and New Jersey Transit has been good about sharing the territory.
Mayor Bloomberg: please find and eliminate the bureaucratic obstacles to running a privately owned, publicly available common carrier. E.D. Sander and Commissioner Sadik-Khan: please help these buses use your bridges and tunnels, find places for them to load, unload and lay up, and get your people to see private buses as partners, not competitors. Also, please work together all of you to allow bus through-running, so that a bus can go from Hoboken to Williamsburg, or from Woodbridge to Woodhaven.
Some of you might be saying, "who's going to build their business in this economic climate? Who's going to lend them money?" Loans may be scarce, but they're not impossible to find, and I think that if the playing field is properly leveled there is a lot of money to be made in private bus service. It's something we should do even if the city and state pay their fair share of the MTA budget, but it has added urgency if they don't.