Tuesday, May 7, 2013

"Why would they take the glass encasing off of a bus stop?"

I've written before about the Republican mayoral candidates' responses to a debate question about bus frequency, and their notions of accountability for transit. The Democratic candidates got their own bus question, too, which you can see at 1:50 on the video:

I want to know why the MTA, who's always crying for money, is putting all these steel benches by the bus stops, and taking out the glass encasing from the bus stop. If they have no money and they're constantly doing fare hikes, why would they take the glass encasing off of a bus stop where people can get wet, and invest money in new benches? It seems just a misuse of the money, and I want to know what mayor is going to take care of that.

Both the Republican and Democratic candidates seemed really amused by questions about transit. I'm not sure what they thought was so funny. It's possible that they might have been equally amused by a question about parking, but I wonder if there isn't something patronizing there. Maybe it's because the questions are so narrowly focused on parochial issues - and that in turn is probably because our elites have given up on meaningful subway expansion.

The candidates each followed a basic pattern: praise (perhaps patronizingly) the questioner, maybe make a joke, and then pivot to a topic that they had prepared for: control of the transit system. Ben Kabak has addressed this issue in response to proposals by Joe Lhota and Chris Quinn, but you know what's really funny? This is one part of transit that is in fact controlled by the City government.

Bus companies in the city, including the MTA and intercity buses under the State's crazy new rules, get to post a destination sign and a schedule if they want, and that's about it. The bus stops themselves are controlled by the City Department of Transportation, directly under the Mayor.

The bus shelters are "street furniture," covered under a contract with Cemusa along with newsstands, bike shelters and those automatic toilets that are always a few years in the future. Cemusa pays for all the "furniture" and gets to keep the money from selling ads on it. (Incidentally, this Cemusa contract is why the City couldn't use ad revenue to fund bike share the way Paris did.)

The benches are part of the DOT's CityBench program, separate from the Cemusa contract, to install a thousand benches around the city. It was proposed in Planyc 2.0, as a service to pedestrians and to give people more chances to socialize.

Chris Quinn promised to "go and find out why the MTA has seemingly moved away from the concept of keeping people dry." I can't find her report anywhere, but maybe she's still researching it. My guess is that the bus shelter was taken out because it didn't fit the "siting requirements," but there was still room for a bench. The removal of the shelter and the installation of the bench may have been coordinated, or they may not; the DOT is still a pretty opaque bureaucracy, and it's hard to tell how organized it is.

I don't expect mayoral candidates to know everything about city government, but I think it's kind of sad that you have three long-term members of the City Council and one former member of the Board of Estimate, including two people who have been elected to citywide office, and none of them had any clue that the office they're running for does have control over bus stops. (How do I know? I read Streetsblog.)

And that in turn makes me wonder: if any of them did have control over the entire public bus system, would they know what to do with it?

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