I feel as if I have been transported to transit heaven. Back in New York after too long away, my daily options include the 2, 3, 4, 5, B, D, F, G, N and Q trains, as well as a dozen buses. And not just buses, there are also SBS, or BRT (bus rapid transit) lines as they are known in the rest of the world.
Last week here started with a session about transit at the 2017 MAS Summit at the beautiful Morgan Library & Museum. If only today's captains of industry cared as much about the beleaguered MTA and the nation’s other transit systems as the last century’s robber barons did about critical civic enterprises. After a day at the Summit it was time for a drink so I headed over to the Riders Alliance gala. The Riders Alliance is the strategic transit advocacy organization that started the hashtag #CuomosMTA. Sure, Mayor Bill de Blasio should care more about the MTA and even ride it every once in awhile but the fact is he doesn't control the system or seem terribly inclined to get it fixed.
The love train and my crash course on the current state of New York City transit continued to roll on with meetings later in the week with longtime transit and active transportation advocate Charles Komanoff of Move NY, John Raskin of Riders Alliance, Tom Wright of The Regional Plan Association and Anthony Drummond of the Brooklyn Borough President’s Office.
For good measure there was also an excellent seminar on Better Transit Through Data at the Transit Center and Transportation Camp NYC. If you ever want to feel as if all is not lost -- in these dystopian Trumpian times -- for public transit financing, spend a Saturday at NYU MetroTech with several hundred transportation professionals working on solutions to North America's most vexing transit challenges. This year’s day-long event was the largest transportation camp ever held.
If the stars align and there are no derailments, I hope my afternoon session on the lessons of LA Metro's Measure M for New York’s MTA contributes to some of those who attended going back to their day jobs and helping implement the lessons and recommendations that Measure M offers. The importance of state of good repair and first last mile connections as well as the construction acceleration opportunities presented by P3s are a few of Measure M’s critical talking points.
New York of course is not a total transit Mecca. The delays, overcrowding and signal problems persist. The trash on the tracks sometimes catches fire, the stations in the warm weather are sweltering and countless stations remain inaccessible to hundreds of thousands of disabled, infirm, and elderly New Yorkers. Even the Mayor who seems to relish spending his time trashing the City’s Amazon bid and Starbucks, experiences the MTA’s shortcomings when he deigns to take the train, rather than an entourage of police in City-owned SUVs, to the Park Slope YMCA to work out.
But let’s focus on the MTA’s real problem which is Governor Andrew Cuomo in his protective bubble in Albany. It is Governor Cuomo who actually controls the MTA for some outdated reason that I have yet to fathom. An urban transit agency serving the City and region and the Governor up in Albany holds the purse strings? There's something wrong with this picture.
Cuomo who thinks he has a shot at the White House in 2020 would do well to fix the MTA before the economy of the region, and nation, suffer further. But then, who would vote for him anyhow when Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, a likeable, smart and proven transit advocate will also be angling for the prize.
Tomorrow, my transit studies continue at Crain’s 2017 NYC Summit: Fixing Mass Transit - What Needs to Happen to Get New York Moving Again. I am hoping the business-oriented audience at Crain’s comes away convinced of its need to step up and join the transportation planners and advocates I met at Transportation Camp in crafting solutions to the MTA's woes. The old saw, if you can make it [happen] here, you can make it anywhere, has to ring true before the L train shuts down or another crisis hits the MTA.
As the Governor has repeatedly demonstrated, he acts when he can't stand the heat. It's time to turn it up again with pressure applied by a broad-based coalition of New Yorkers that includes commuters, the faith community, labor, environmentalists, equity champions, older adults, disabled, students, transit advocates and the business elite who own the corridors of power.
It's your MTA, Governor Cuomo! Now show us that you care enough to fix it.
Yours in transit,