Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Working Families Party wants the MTA to stop defunding itself

Streetsblog reports that the "Working Families" Party is at it again. After being completely AWOL in the congestion pricing debates, last year they came out with a "Halt the Hike" campaign that coyly refused to take a position on Dick Ravitch's proposal to toll the "free" bridges. Last May they asked candidates to support Bus Rapid Transit - but not necessarily to fund the buses. This February, in response to the planned service cuts, they targeted first the MTA, then Mayor Bloomberg, and finally Governor Paterson.

Yesterday, Streetsblog's Ben Fried linked to a petition on the Party's website, which is so short I'll just quote it in full:
Another Fare Hike? Tell the MTA No Way

The MTA just announced another round of fare hikes -- including a new, limited ride $100 monthly MetroCard. Enough is enough! Sign our petition to the MTA and help us reach our new goal of 5,000 7,500 signatures:

"Limited unlimited MetroCards for $100? Fuggedaboutit! The MTA needs to stop using fare hikes as a short-term fix and come up with long-term solutions to solve its budget crisis."

There it is again, that weird frame that anti-transit people use to attack government-run transit agencies. The WFP is pretending that the MTA is not a government agency, that its revenue streams aren't determined by state law, and that it has some kind of control over its income, like it can go out and take a second job washing dishes to pay off its debts or something. Congratulations, Dan Cantor! You're using the same kind of rhetorical sleight-of-hand that right-wingers like John McCain and Wendell Cox use to attack Amtrak.

This petition demands the impossible, and because it does so, it sets the MTA up for failure. It's like that stupid bully trick where the bully hits you with your own hand and says, "Stop hitting yourself!" In this case it's a tag team effort where the State Legislature is the bully, and the Working Families Party is the sidekick who gets to play the moronic - but sadistic - mind games. Stop defunding yourself, MTA! Heh, heh! Now make like a tree and leave!

Of course, "the MTA" doesn't have feelings, and Jay Walder probably has a good therapist to help him deal with the stress of running the agency. The bullies' real victims are you and me, the people who actually ride the subways and buses. When the MTA hits itself, we're the ones who get bruised.

Of course, the Legislature has been relying on the public authority structure to hide the fact that the MTA is the state that is us. The WFP knows that if they tried to hold every state legislator accountable for defunding the MTA they'd have nobody left to endorse, and if they don't endorse a large subset of the candidates they risk being seen as irrelevant, so they go along with the lie.

Unfortunately, it seems to be working. The WFP was looking for five thousand signatures, and they had more than that as of this morning. They've now raised their target to 7500 signatures, and they're at 6257 right now.

It may not be much, but I put up a counter-petition asking the WFP to deny its ballot line to those who voted to cut funding for transit. I threw it up in ten minutes, and the Petitionspot site is kind of weird, but I've already gotten 36 signatures today, with just a link on Streetsblog and a single tweet.

The Working Families Party is clearly afraid to deny its ballot line to too many candidates, because they don't want to be seen as irrelevant. I actually think it's the other way around. If they endorse only 10% of the candidates in a given year, they send the message that they've got strong principles - and the ballot line is that much more valuable to those who actually get it. On the other hand, if they endorse a candidate in almost every contest, then it becomes clear that they have no principles, that they just choose the lesser of two evils. That really lowers the bar, because all you have to do to get the ballot line is be slightly less evil than your opponents.

I kinda figured out that the WFP was a craven, spineless organization back in 2000, when a Working Families volunteer handed me a flyer supporting Hillary Clinton for Senate. I keep hoping that some day they'll grow up and figure out that it's okay to have principles and to hold others to them, and that you can wield power without turning yourself into a half-assed version of Ray Harding. Maybe next year.


George K said...

I just don't see what they expect to accomplish. They know that the MTA is going to have to raise the fares sooner or later, and they aren't going to get help from Albany. If they generate enough public outcry, what happens? Nothing.
As far as the MTA, they have their own problems. I'm sure they are giving up plenty of opportunities to collect additional revenue. I signed the WFP petition just to say that the MTA is giving up a lot of potential revenue sources that they need to show that they are tapping them before they start raising the fare. Some of them were route extensions that would literally cost them close to nothing, and boost ridership. The MTA should start listening to the people they are serving for ideas on how to better serve them. Some of the routes that were eliminated were extremely inefficient and if they had eliminated them sooner, they would have that much more money now and maybe another, more important service would stay.
All I'm saying is that the MTA should be constantly trying to make itself more efficient, not just a once-per-budget crisis effort, but an annual effort. Once they have reached that point of constant monitoring of efficiency, then it is more reasonable to ask for a fare hike.

capt subway said...

I worked for NYCT for almost 37 years and watched the bureaucracy grow exponentially, right on up to two years ago under the tenure of Harold Roberts' at NYCT, when the handwriting should already have been visible on the wall. Forgive my lack of PCness but it's a case of too many chiefs and not enough Indians.
Add to that the hundreds of millions dumped into utterly useless boondoggles like Fulton Transit Mall and new South Ferry terminal on the #1 line.
And there's no reason the fare should be sacred and immune to inflation. If the price of bread and milk goes up then why not the fare?

capt subway said...

Oh, and did I forget? The WFP is full of you-know-what, always was and always will be.

EngineerScotty said...

Not being familiar with New York politics, is the WFP one of those outfits that likes to take budget-strapped agencies to task for lousy service, and suggest as punishment even smaller budgets than before?

CityLights said...

capt subway,

The Fulton Transit Mall and new South Ferry terminal are not boondoggles in and of themselves; they are boondoggles because state policies make them so. We are paying 7 times as much per mile for the Second Avenue subway as a new line costs in Paris or Tokyo. Is it a boondoggle? Of course. Do we still need the new line? Absolutely, but we have to figure out a way to stop the state legislature and the unions from turning every project into a boondoggle.

Eric McClure said...

Given the close ties between the WFP and the former ACORN (Bertha Lewis was until recently the party's co-chair), and the close ties between the the former ACORN and MTA-bilker Forest City Ratner, the WFP doesn't have a lot of credibility in pointing a finger at the MTA.

Where was the WFP's outrage when the MTA sold Forest City the Vanderbilt Yard for a fraction of its value -- and then renegotiated its already-sweetheart deal when money got tight?

capt subway said...

I have to disagree with CityLights comment re: new South Ferry terminal and Fulton Transit Mall. In both instances huge amounts of money were and are being spent, and tens of thousands of subway riders inconvenienced for years on end for projects that have accomplished absolutely nothing. The old SF loop was perfectly fine and could readily handle the few passengers on the the #1 trains. To run the #1 service is now actually costlier since, to run the #1 with the new terminal now requires two more trains and two more crews. That money could have been far better spent rebuilding Flatbush/Nostrand terminal or Nostrand Jct.
As far as Fulton Transit Mall is concerned:well Bway-Nassau will still be the same confusing transfer station to the uninitiated, only slightly prettier - maybe. Is that worth the huge expenditure and resulting years of inconvenience?

CityLights said...

capt subway,

I guess you never took either the old or the new South Ferry train - the new station is a vast improvement over the old. There are no more screeching noises, weird extender plates, and all the cars can now open their doors. To say that there is only a minor improvement is insane. And I don't know what "few passengers" you are talking about; tens of thousands of 1 train riders take the ferry daily. (Actually you say "tens of thousands" yourself, but then they mysteriously disappear once the project is completed).

But that's not even the most important thing; you missed my major point - these projects are as expensive as they are, and take as long as they do, and are poorly designed because the entire structure of state government promotes waste, fraud, and bad decisions. The MTA often has little choice but to follow the demands of union labor and the idiotic laws regarding the bid process and contractor selection. Lack of oversight or a profit motive cause problems at the management levels as well, but these are also the problems of government.

capt subway said...

I worked for NYCT for almost 37 years. For a number of those years I was a motorman, including on the #1 line. So I'm intimately familiar with the layouts here and everywhere else in all three divisions, both old and the new.

In my years as senior manager of the IRT schedule group I personally supervised frequent traffic checks of all the lines. On the #1, even in the middle of the rush hour, you could easily fit all the passengers on any given train into the first two cars (where they generally were already because that's where the exit stairs are), i.e. there were less than 200 passengers arriving at SF on average per train.

The tens of thousands inconvenienced are those riders on the combined 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 & 6 lines who, due to night and weekend general orders for work at Fulton & SF had their service curtailed, re-routed or otherwise seriously disrupted or even replaced with shuttle buses. I personally managed many aspects of this general order work so I was an eye witness to the chaos.

As I said this money could have been far better spent reconfiguring Nostrand Jct and/or Flatbush/Nostrand terminal, two horribly designed layouts (Flatbush was "temporary" when opened in 1920 as the line was planned to go further) which continue to have wide ranging negative impact on service on lines 2, 3, 4 & 5, amongst the heaviest in the system.

Let me add that this was the opinion of many of us in NYCT middle management but we were told to shut up and stop making waves. We all worked at 2 Bway (at Bowling Green), NYCT headquarters, and we daily watched with disgust as these two useless projects took shape.

capt subway said...

PS: and yes CityLights, you certainly got this right: "these projects are as expensive as they are, and take as long as they do, and are poorly designed because the entire structure of state government promotes waste, fraud, and bad decisions."

And so,as a result, you get two utterly useless holes in the ground: new SF and Fulton Transit Mall

Helen Bushnell said...

Just so you know, that petition site won't let me register.

CityLights said...


I don't know how much credit to give you for this, but I just got one of those MTA emails from WFP, and they are directly targeting Espada:

"Dear Boris,

Like paying higher fares for worse subway and bus service? You should thank State Senator Pedro Espada.

Last year, New York transportation experts got together and came up with a plan to solve the MTA's budget problems without raising fares or cutting service. Our state government almost passed the plan -- but Espada was one of three senators who killed it.1

Since that solution died, the MTA has had to get more money from riders, instead -- and they've just proposed yet another fare hike.

Espada's attack on public transit is just one of the reasons the Working Families Party is opposing his re-election this year. And there are only 5 weeks left until the vote that will decide whether Espada stays or goes."

Now we're talking!

CityLights said...

Oh, and the endnote cites a Streetsblog article!

Cap'n Transit said...

Thanks for the tip, Boris! It'd be nice if their candidate, Gustavo Rivera, came out in favor of bridge tolls or congestion pricing. Or if the WFP mentioned that Espada's opposition to the Ravitch plan was ostensibly about bridge tolls.