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New York Post

 

Get Rail, Mike

August 06, 2009

By Nicole Gelinas

SHOW US THE TRANSIT MONEY

MAYOR Bloomberg’s campaign volunteers are hit ting subway platforms to tell voters about his “plan to reform mass transit.”

In unveiling the plan Monday, candidate Mike said of the state-run Metropolitan Transportation Authority that it “has not done enough,” and pledged to use the mayoralty’s “bully pulpit” to spur change.

But one key element is missing: the will to find the billions of dollars to pay for this investment in transit.

That the mayor said anything is good. No elected official has wanted to be accountable for transit for decades -- even though transit is second only to policing in shaping quality of life. Now, Bloomberg is asking voters to hold him responsible.

The mayor has even told the press not to allow him to use one handy excuse: that he doesn’t control the MTA. Monday, he compared his new efforts to what he’s done with education, which he didn’t control either when he took office.

The improvements that Bloomberg has proposed are mostly sound, including reinvesting in F-train express tracks (which have lain dormant for decades) to give hundreds of thousands of outer-Brooklyn commuters a faster, less crowded commute.

He also called for faster bus service, to be achieved with police enforcement of bus lanes as well as better technology.

“Smart cards,” which riders would wave or tap instead of swipe, would speed bus boarding, while GPS technology would allow the MTA to track buses, control traffic lights and provide waiting customers with a real-time schedule. (The mayor’s proposal for free crosstown buses is a good idea only as a stop-gap before technology allows customers to pay quickly.)

Bloomberg further proposed that the MTA make use of similar technology on the subway so riders can learn when their train is coming.

The MTA is already doing some of this stuff. But Bloomberg’s interest would add political urgency -- particularly if he folds all of his ideas into an easy-to-understand vision.

He could work toward a goal of “30 Minutes by 2030” -- with the projects he outlined as the first steps in a 20-year plan to get commuters from well-populated outerborough neighborhoods to Midtown in half an hour. But it will all remain mere talk unless Bloomberg backs it up with cash.

Mass-transit investment is expensive. The mayor’s desire to offer waiting customers count-down clocks is part of a multibillion-dollar project to upgrade subway communications from Depression-era technology.

Sufficient money won’t come from the feds or state. Tackling bureaucracy is a fine idea -- but not enough. To speed the projects he’s suggested and gain leverage over the MTA’s management, the mayor should dedicate $1.1 billion in city money each year -- just 10 percent of what city taxpayers spend on education -- to the MTA’s $5 billion annual capital budget.

Bloomberg could help fund projects that he thinks are most important for New Yorkers. And he could keep a close eye on what the MTA does with the money, hopefully cutting cost and schedule overruns and contract mischief.

Because the city is already so tax-saturated, finding that money requires cutting spending elsewhere -- especially in the $13.6 billion that it will spend on pension and health-care benefits for public-sector workers this year.

To get big benefits reforms, Bloomberg needs use his “bully pulpit” and more to push the state -- and success here would set a good example for the MTA, which has similar problems. Indeed, the mayor could push the state to cut MTA spending on union labor, so that new money goes toward service improvements for average New Yorkers, rather than benefits of a few privileged union members.

In his proposal, the mayor offered support for changing some union work rules to give the MTA more flexibility in scheduling workers. He should push state pols to address the contract’s too-young retirement age (55) and mostly taxpayer-paid health coverage, too.

An open letter to the state officials drawing up the next Transport Workers Union contract could explain how important it is for transit customers and taxpayers to get more from the union, including work-rules freedom to cut labor costs without endangering safety.

The mayor has given himself a tough task -- but if he embraces it and succeeds, he’d leave New Yorkers with a valuable legacy.

Original Source: http://www.nypost.com/seven/08062009/postopinion/opedcolumnists/get_rail__mike_183195.htm

 

 
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