Monday, July 31, 2017

Is BDB's Transportation Policy Code for Enriching Real Estate Industry?

In what world does it make sense that the city of NY would spend $2.5 BILLION in taxpayer money on a limited trolley system which: 
a) is considered low on a list of under-served areas;
b) happens to run along the very same waterfront route in Brooklyn and Queens where many of the mayor's developer friends own property and/or have developments proposed? 

Or, where another city transportation 'priority' to expand ferry services has a price tag at minimum of $325M, not including operating and infrastructure upgrade costs. A passenger will be charged the same as a ride on a city bus or subway (currently $2.75,) though the actual cost is estimated somewhere around $6.50. One Slate journalist wrote, "Once the city makes its $55M capital investment in docks, boats, (etc.)...the most successful route will require an operating subsidy per passenger almost twice the cost of a local bus and about six times that of a subway."

But, what's especially worrisome about the ferry expansion is the small projected ridership compared with those on the buses and subways, for whom the service is singularly designed to cater, and why. 

In describing the ferry scheme, the Slate piece includes, "All public transit is subsidized, of course. But what makes this a particularly inappropriate use of city transportation dollars is the clientele. Aside from the aforementioned Rockaways stop and a politically expedient stop at Soundview in the Bronx, the ferries will serve expensive or gentrified areas." He continues [Editor's emphasis], "The best reason to spend $30M a year running boats, however, isn't to get people from place to place, but to encourage new construction."

Mind you, the contract wasn't even awarded to a local company.

And, it should be mentioned with both the trolley and ferries, free transfers to MTA buses and subway would be unavailable. As a native who grew up in the 1970s and 80's, I remember all-to-well what it was like not being able to afford two transit fares, bus-to-subway or vice versa---or having to allot more travel time hours so that I could take buses and transfer among two for free. I believe they call that lost productivity.

So, in what or whose world? Why, in faux-progressive Mayor Bill de Blasio's world, that's where. That's a world where transportation policy decisions are actually subterfuge for enriching the giant real estate industry that really runs NYC. (And this world view isn't exclusive to the mayor, or even to one elected official......)

Yet, the same mayor--the man with aspirations (or delusions, your choice)--to be a national leader in the left wing 'resistance' movement calls the #FairFares campaign to provide subsidies for poor NYers who are being priced out of mass transit after six hikes in roughly a decade a "noble" gesture but one the city can ill afford. And, because the price structure encourages paying for a bulk package with discounts, a single ride is more expensive to the very people who can least afford it.

These subsidies are estimated to cost around $200M. According to the Riders Alliance, almost one million residents could be eligible. By the way, the same system already offers subsidies to seniors, the disabled and school children. And though not a classic subsidy, middle-class residents qualify for pre-tax benefits on the total cost of their Metrocards.

The Straphangers Campaign testified before the City Council earlier this year about #FairFares: "More than one third of all low-income, working-age New Yorkers have reported that the rising transit fares have prevented them from either seeking or accepting employment further from where they live..... Transit inaccessibility further perpetuates the cycle of poverty by limiting educational and employment opportunities... and rising costs make it exceedingly difficult for these individuals to live in NYC or even attempt to complete a college degree."

Now, I realize my opinion on this next point differs with many transit advocates, but I have difficulty accepting that public funds may be potentially necessary to expand a "public/private" bike-riding service or that this should take precedence over #FairFares. 

It's very easy to blame Governor Cuomo for the dismal state of our mass transit system---and that blame would not be misdirected. However, many people don't realize how culpable NYC also is in this situation---the decline and deterioration en mass of the transit system's infrastructure after decades of combined underfunding.

The NYC Independent Budget Office (IBO) issued a report in 2008 about the money the city pays to NYC Transit, the subsidiary running the subways and most bus lines: "
The city makes an annual grant to NYC Transit under section 18(b) of the state's transportation law.  The city's annual grant matches a state appropriation, and has remained at about $159M since the mid-1990's." Doug Turetsky, communications director at IBO confirmed in an email funding for "18(b) hasn't changed since Giuliani." 

Furthermore, according to a Daily News editorial, the city's share for half-priced fares for seniors and people with disabilities have remained flat since 1978, now covering less than 10% of costs. 

IBO issued another report in 2015 estimating what the city would be paying annually if aid had kept up with the rate of inflation: "If the city had decided to keep its contribution at the 1982-1986 level in real (inflation-adjusted) terms, the contribution would have reached $363M in 2014, and provide more than $1.8B for the proposed 2015-2019 capital plan."

This very week, Newsday ran an editorial in which it chastised the city for not contributing its 'fare share,' something mayoral candidate Sal Albanese has been arguing for years. 

Editor's Note: I realize I haven't been very active with the EAP blog in months now. This was in part due to the fact I was busy working on an article which meant a great deal to me. However, what was supposed to be about three weeks of work turned into three months. More significantly, the article transformed into something very different. (Worse still, though, was a request to provide information I knew didn't exist, at least in their terms---though I did spend an extra two days interviewing every industry analyst I could, just in case.) After about 90% of the article was edited--a point to which I really didn't believe we'd ever get--it was killed. It broke my heart, and left me extremely gun-shy to write. 

As always, I've continued working on WBAI's daily public affairs program, The Morning Show, now as senior producer. Below are several segments dealing with, what else? Development, gentrification and/or land use in our rapidly changing city.


Did the de Blasio administration knowingly violate zoning laws in order to allow the construction of four mega-towers along the Chinatown/LES waterfront?


Community gardens are at-risk more now than ever since the days of the Giuliani administration, when the city was practically giving gardens away to developers. What's the common denominator between these two time periods and is it mere coincidence? Hint: Which high-ranking BDB official currently responsible for essentially all land-use policy was once a deputy commissioner at Rudy's HPD--the lead agency tasked with identifying city-owned lots for development (vacant or otherwise, it doesn't seem to matter in their criteria)?


A pro-active group of advocates in Queens is taking on gentrification and the BDB pro-development policies;


"Who Owns the Sun?" a critical discussion by NYers for a Human Scale City and a really apt question for all of us today.