Questions for the Candidates

Reclaim asked all of New York City’s presumptive mayoral candidates three questions about transit. Here’s what we heard back as of press time. The responses are unedited.

What role does a well-funded public transit system play in New York City’s economic growth?

Tom Allon: A well-funded transit system and well thought out alternative transit system is crucial to the city’s economic growth. We need to provide affordable and efficient mass transit for workers so that we can continue to attract immigrants and others from within the U.S. to come here to become New York taxpayers. We also need to push new ideas like more bike lanes, light rail and rapid transit bus routes, as well as more taxi medallions, to provide for the diverse needs of a growing population.

Public Advocate Bill de Blasio: Public transit is an economic pillar . It’s what connects workers with employers and customers with businesses. And it’s one of the reasons New York is so resilient even in hard economic times. The transit system drives down the costs of transportation for everyone, helping New Yorkers of all income levels have access to jobs and opportunity in every part of the city.

Borough President Scott Stringer: Simply put, the public transit network enables the City to be the world’s financial center, a magnet for tech startups, a global leader in culture and art, and a place that people of all backgrounds can call home. During the “bad old days” of the 1970s, subways broke down once every 7,000 miles. Today, after the City, State, and MTA committed to investing over $100 billion for capital improvements to the system, subways break down once every 170,000 miles. It’s no surprise that the rebirth of the subway system—both its reliability and its safety— went hand in hand with the economic boom of the City .

What would you do as mayor to address transit deserts, which are locations where riders are faced with hour-plus commutes, multiple transfers or multi-fare rides?

Tom Allon: We need to help those areas with rapid transit bus, bike share programs and cabs-on-call to help those in transit deserts. We also need to come up with cost discounts for those with multi-fare rides so that they can live in the city and afford to work here rather than move to the suburbs for easier commutes and lower taxes.

Public Advocate Bill de Blasio: We’ll need to rely heavily on improving bus service—which already reaches many of these areas—to reduce the long travel times so many New Yorkers face. The introduction of real-time bus tracking or offboard fare collection presents promising tools here. We need to recognize that the increase in economic activity that comes with giving more New Yorkers access to the transit system can help make these expansions viable and cost-effective in the long-term.

Borough President Scott Stringer: The fact is that there is no single solution to the problem of transit deserts. Some possible solutions include transforming the dilapidated North Shore Rail Line to BRT or light rail, expanding bus rapid transit to Nostrand Avenue and other crowded corridors and examining the potential for expanded ferry service. No matter what the proposed solutions, one thing is certain: these deserts disproportionately affect working class New Yorkers, and working class New Yorkers need a true advocate in the Mayor’s office. That starts with a Mayor who prioritizes public transit.

When transit fares go up on 1/1/13, it will be the fifth fare hike since 2008. Do you think transit riders are paying their fair share, and is it time for elected officials to seriously consider new sources of revenue for public transit?

Tom Allon: We are not getting our fair share. The costs of subway and bus rides has far outpaced inflation and has made our city less livable. The MTA has assets that it can use to raise other revenues—from land leasing to advertising opportunities to naming rights of subway stations and bus stops. We need to think creatively how to raise revenues while at the same time trying to figure out a way to lower fares.

Public Advocate Bill de Blasio: I’m concerned that built-in, guaranteed fare increases put too much pressure on working families. Raising the cost of transit is akin to raising the cost of working. Going back to the fare box over and over creates a bad mentality for those making the budgets—it becomes about what they can get out of the transit system, instead of how to ensure the service we need is adequately funded.

Borough President Scott Stringer: Continued fare hikes will only put more pressure on a middle class that is increasingly being squeezed out of New York. Today, the State and City provide only 13 percent of the MTA’s operating budget. We can and must do better. Only by examining all options will we be able to create a fair, sustainable revenue stream for transit. But if we’re going to talk about new revenue, we also need to talk about the cost of MTA Capital Projects compared to projects in other cities. MTA projects end up costing five, six, even seven times as much as similar projects in London, Paris, Berlin, and Tokyo. So, yes, let’s work for new dedicated revenue streams for the MTA, but let’s also make every dollar count.