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New York Post

 

The Q(uinn) Train

April 15, 2013

By Nicole Gelinas

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn gave a transit speech Thursday — and the "transit community" attacked her. But her ideas are no worse than what other mayoral candidates, including former MTA head Joe Lhota, have said. The problem was what was missing: how to pay.

To "grow new jobs . . . we need to build a transportation system that serves the needs of the 21st-century city," Quinn said. Her goal: "By the year 2023, not a single New Yorker should have to spend more than an hour commuting in either direction."

She pointed out something people don’t think about: The transit system is based around people who work in Manhattan and live there or in the "outer" boroughs. But now people commute between boroughs.

A home-health worker commuting from Queens to The Bronx can face a two-hour ride with multiple transfers. No one living in Brooklyn wants to take a Staten Island job.

Quinn wants to build a fast outer-borough bus system, like what Mayor Bloomberg has done on Second Avenue and The Bronx’s Fordham Road.

Yes, her ideas had flaws. But she’s asking voters to hold the next mayor accountable — so if she wins, she’d have to fix the flaws.

You’d think that would get kudos — it wasn’t long ago that mayors ignored transit except to complain about fare hikes. But the bloggers called Quinn "ignorant" for proposing "a bunch of nothing."

Why? Quinn’s sin was her other idea — that the next mayor should wrest control of subways and buses from the state-run MTA, like Bloomberg won the school system.

OK, this is unlikely. Gov. Cuomo and the rest of Albany aren’t looking to give up an $11-billion-a-year power base.

Since New York built the first part of its transit system in 1904, the only times it has changed hands was when it was so bankrupt that it was unsafe. The rescuer always offered cash for control. The MTA isn’t that broke (yet), and Quinn’s offering no cash.

Plus, were the MTA to again be part of the city budget, it would lose to more politically pressing concerns, like day-care slots and teacher raises. That happened until the 1950s — and is why the state took over.

And while Quinn wants to control MTA spending, she didn’t say anything about costs — including whether she thinks transit workers should get retroactive raises under their long-expired contract.

But her proposal is no crazier than one Lhota set out recently — namely, for the city to take the parts of the MTA that turn a profit (bridges and tunnels), and have Albany make up the shortfall.

That’s less politically realistic — and you’ve got to question giving the City Council any say over a shiny cash pot (although much toll revenue is now dedicated to paying off bonds, anyway).

And Quinn’s idea sure is better than Public Advocate Bill de Blasio’s: He screams we need more federal funding. Waiting for Washington would take us back to the Mayor John Lindsay days — that is, headed for bankrupcy.

Where Quinn’s idea (and Lhota’s) might make sense would be in having the city control the MTA’s long-term investments for the city.

The feds are cutting back and the MTA has hocked itself to the hilt. So Gotham will have to kick in more cash if it wants to build anything else new, like more of the Second Avenue Subway. (Eventually, the city may have to pay just to keep tracks in good condition.)

But it wouldn’t make sense for the city to pay for capital investment without controlling what it builds.

City control would also end the destructive fiction that money from the feds or state is "free."

It’s bizarre that New Yorkers are paying (directly, or via Albany and Washington) for the $8.8 billion project to bring LIRR trains from Penn Station to Grand Central. The city could get the F train express tracks running for a fraction of that, and improve more people’s commutes.

But former Sen. Al D’Amato wanted the LIRR boondoggle, so we pay for it.

Still, if Quinn wants to control MTA capital spending, she should say where she’d get the cash — $3 billion a year, not including new subways. Instead, she talked "creative financing." Before, she’s pushed a suburban-commuter tax — another Cuomo no-go.

What would be creative? How about cutting $1 billion from the city’s $17 billion-a-year tab for worker benefits by making its employees pay health-insurance premiums like everyone else does.

Not enough, but a start.

Original Source: http://www.nypost.com/p/news/opinion/opedcolumnists/the_uinn_train_aeoujrFV4Oz3NXnK6rhYmM

 

 
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