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NYC needs to create its own transit future—and ferries aren’t it



new york ferry

Don’t call it a comeback, but New York City is basking in a second golden age of boats. Or at least, that’s what Mayor Bill de Blasio would have New Yorkers believe.

On Wednesday, to much pomp and circumstance, De Blasio unveiled yet another NYC Ferry route, this one connecting the Lower East Side to Wall Street, Midtown and Long Island City. Amid a growing mobility crisis spreading its tentacles across the city, the mayor once again gathered the usual suspects for a riverside ribbon-cutting ceremony.

But for a city increasingly trapped by the politics of state control, a subway system sagging under the weight of a backlog of deferred maintenance, and roads choked by more and more cars, the mayor’s love of ferries and the steep taxpayer subsidy spent ensuring low fares for a select slice of New Yorkers is particularly ill-suited for the city’s pressing transportation needs. The city needs to reclaim its transit future, but ferries are a niche mode of low-capacity transportation and a distraction from far more pressing problems.

The mayor’s latest love affair with ferries may seem like an anomaly in a city whose history is dominated by the growth of the subway system and the scars of Robert Moses’s highways, but once up a time, before bridges and tunnels spanned the East River, New York’s waterways provided the only passage between the island of Manhattan and the island of Long. At its peak in the early 1900s, right before the subways opened and the city could spread outward and upward, nearly 150 boats provided ferry travel between the city’s disparate boroughs.

The ferries worked well when Manhattan and Brooklyn were separate cities with people living and working around the waterfront, but as the population surged and overcrowding in tenements became a public health crisis, the city had to build inward and upward. Elevated trains snaked through Brooklyn and Manhattan, and the Blizzard of 1888, when trains ground to a halt and boats became stuck in the snow, drove home the need for a subway. Ferries fell out of fashion as the subway—true rapid transit—became the way to get around. Ferries, after all, can’t connect Forest Hills to Fifth Avenue.

De Blasio’s push for an East River ferry system came about because he seemed to recognize that the city needed to chart its own transportation future. Despite a disinformation campaign by Governor Andrew Cuomo, the MTA is through and through a state agency, and the city has little control over the future of its own subways or buses. The mayor isn’t wrong to look for alternate transit options the city can build and control—but a heavily subsidized ferry network does not solve the city’s problems, and may exacerbate the economic strains stretching across New York’s neighborhoods.

To make the ferries more appealing, the mayor decided to keep the fare at $2.75, a symbolic gesture to tie it to the amount of a Metrocard swipe. To do that, the city is subsidizing ferries by approximately $6.60 per ride. The city has also spent approximately $500 million on ferry infrastructure, all without providing rigorous analyses of ridership demographics and origin-destination patterns. It’s not a coincidence that the city’s Economic Development Corporation rather than the Department of Transportation is in charge of ferries, or that the EDC has kept details about ferry ridership under wraps.

With a cost to NYC taxpayers of $6.60 per passenger, the ferries are on par with the subsidy for some of the MTA’s most expensive express buses, a luxury transit option that the MTA has tried to whittle down over the years.

The picture gets worse when ridership comes into focus: A Village Voice investigation found that ferry riders tend to be tourists or wealthier New Yorkers with good jobs who want to avoid the subway, and my own analysis of census data provides an additional glimpse at the economics of the ferry’s so-called catch basin. When I looked at census tracts that have at least one address with half a mile of the ferry terminals in Queens, Brooklyn and Soundview in the Bronx, I found a median household income around $18,000 higher than the city average, and removing Astoria, the only dock truly amidst low-income housing, that median climbs above $20,000 higher than average.

On top of that, the reach of the ferries is particularly narrow. The NYC Ferry’s own website proclaims that only around 500,000 people live near the ferries, and thus 94 percent of New York City residents do not have easy access to the boats. Meanwhile, the boats fit between 150-300 passengers and run, at best, two to three times per hour. The busiest routes provide travel for fewer passengers per hour than one half-empty Q train does at any time of the day.

And although ridership has outpaced projections, the total numbers are modest. The EDC claimed that nearly 3 million passengers rode the ferry in its first year, and the agency expects 9 million riders by 2023. For comparison, that 2017 figure is nearly equivalent to the annual ridership on the city’s 55th busiest bus route, or approximately two thirds of one days’ subway ridership—or around 3.5 months of Citi Bike, a transit system operating without any city subsidy.

The ferries are a pleasant way to travel for a select group of New Yorkers, and the rest of us are paying for it. Meanwhile the bus system, which at its peak served over 2 million riders per day, is largely ignored by the city. Advocates also had to twist the mayor’s arm to provide $200 million for subsidized MetroCards, but he is front and center for the press push to subsidize ferry rides. This is not sound transit planning, and it does not bridge the city’s equality or mobility gaps.

What can the city better spend with its $30–$40 million per year in fare subsidies or its $500 million in capital funding that went toward the ferry? If New York City wants to take over its transit future from the state, it needs to consider a holistic approach to high-capacity transit, and it must spend fare subsidy dollars more efficiently. A true network of surface transit akin to light rail networks could connect New Yorkers to growing job centers and bridge the transit desert gap far more effectively than a network of ferries can. The city, which controls its surface transit, could create a light rail network immediately; after all, Kansas City built a new light rail line in two years. Plus, construction and operation would be outside of the purview of the MTA so the city-state battle would fall by the wayside.

Ultimately, ferries are a part of a larger puzzle, but only a small one—and the mayor keeps treating them as though they are the centerpiece. He doesn’t seem to have a holistic vision for city control of transit or the dream of creating a true network of city-controlled transit that gets all New Yorkers—not just those near the waterfront—from where they live to where they work. Boats just aren’t the answer to turn this tale of two cities into one.


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MTA News

Three separate homicides across city this weekend under investigation





The weekend was especially busy for homicide detectives across the city as three people were killed since Thursday night in separate murders, police said.

Police were also seeking a possible wounded person from a shooting on a Brooklyn train Saturday night.

The violence began Thursday, Nov. 14 at about 9:05 p.m. when police from the 34th Precinct responded to a 911 call of shots fire in the vicinity of Sherman Avenue and Thayer Street in the Bronx.

Upon arriving at the scene, law enforcement sources said, officers were told about a 20-year-old man who had arrived at New York Presbyterian Hospital, via private means, with gunshot wounds to the legs.

The victim, identified as Luis Dela Cruz, of 36 Arden Avenue, was subsequently pronounced deceased at the hospital. There are no arrests and the investigation remains ongoing.

On Friday, Nov. 15, at about 9:15 p.m., 17-year-old Talasia Cuffie of Vernon Boulevard in Long island City, Queens, was found stabbed in the chest multiple times along 166th Street in South Jamaica. Paramedics rushed her to Jamaica Hospital. where she was pronounced dead.

Sources said Cuffie was stabbed only hours after attending a memorial for her friend, Aamir Griffin, 14, who was shot to death on by a stray bullet 21 days earlier.

Hours later, at about 3:44 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 16, police in Brooklyn responded to a 911 call of male shot in front of the Lafayette Garden Houses, a NYCHA development. Officers found a 34-year-old man shot multiple times in the chest. EMS rushed him to Brooklyn Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

The victim has not yet been identified, and no arrests have been made.

Shooting aboard train

Meanwhile, cops are also investigating a reported shooting on board the Franklin Avenue Shuttle in Brooklyn Saturday evening.

Police say a group became embroiled in a dispute either aboard or on the platform of the Franklin Avenue shuttle as it sat in the station at Prospect Park and Flatbush Avenue Saturday night at about 8:40 p.m. Police were checking hospitals in the borough for possible person shot, but could not confirm that anyone was hit.

A transit worker inside a maintenance room at the station said he heard a large group of teens running from the station, but he didn’t hear the shots. Police were holding the motorman after the shooting for questioning.

The suspect was described as male black, 5’9″ with a dark hoodie.

The shuttle was shut down for the duration of the investigation as evidence collection units collected spent shells and a bullet that may have been lodged in a wall of the train.

Source https:

By  Todd Maisel

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MTA News

Advocates: MTA Board Must Get Moving On Congestion Pricing Details




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In less than one year, the state-mandated Traffic Mobility Review Board can issue its nuts-and-bolts recommendations for how congestion pricing is supposed to work, what it will cost, and who will get much-desired exemptions from the toll.

Of course, there’s a few things that need to happen first — primarily Mayor de Blasio and the MTA Board have to actually appoint members to this obscure board, get it an office so it can start the work of setting those tolls and exemptions, and start holding meetings (which are supposed to be public, but might not be!).

On Friday, a coalition of 20 good government and transit advocacy groups including Reinvent Albany, the Permanent Citizens Advisory Council, the Citizens Budget Commission and the Straphangers Campaign fired the first warning shot, with a letter reminding the politicians who passed the tolling scheme earlier this year that the hard work of actually designing and then implementing congestion pricing still needs to be done before it supposed to (magically!) begin in January, 2021.

The Traffic Mobility Review Board is supposed to comprise one chairperson and five members: one appointed by Mayor de Blasio and the rest appointed by the MTA Board/Gov. Cuomo, though two members must be from the Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North service areas.

Asked if the MTA Board had held any discussions about the board and who will be appointed to it, de Blasio’s MTA Board appointee Veronica Vanterpool told Streetsblog it had not. Noting that she felt it could wait until after December’s decision on the 2020 MTA budget, Vanterpool still urged the Board to prioritize the TMRB going forward.

“All eyes are on NYC for this rollout, so we shouldn’t squander time,” Vanterpool said. “January, 2021 is around the corner.”

A spokesperson for Cuomo referred Streetsblog to the MTA, and a spokesperson for de Blasio did not respond to a request for comment on potential board appointees.

Nov. 15 was an auspicious date for the good-governance groups to send the letter, because Nov. 15, 2020 is the date when the TMRB can release its recommendations, per the congestion pricing agreement that the state legislature passed this year (observers have pointed out releasing the recommendations on Nov. 15 allowed legislators to avoid any potential consequences in the 2020 election, which is a week earlier).

If those recommendations are approved by the Triborough Bridges & Tunnel Authority, the MTA can start collecting the congestion toll fee as soon as Jan. 1, 2021, although there’s no requirement that the tolling begin that soon (clearly, there is a huge potential for delay). Although the TMRB has not yet been appointed, the MTA has at least selected a vendor to design and operate the tolling infrastructure once the fee is instituted.

With no TMRB holding meetings, there’s no way to know what congestion pricing will look like or even what the price might be. For now, thanks to state lawmakers carving out exemptions, we know that emergency vehicles, vehicles transporting disabled people and drivers passing through the congestion toll zone on the FDR Drive or West Side Highway will be exempt from the fee. In addition, CBD residents making less than $60,000 per year will get a tax credit equal to what they spend on the tolls each year, and an exception is being worked out for drivers who have to move their cars in and out of the CBD border because of alternate-side parking.

Other than that though, the public is only left to speculate. At Tuesday’s state legislative hearing on the MTA’s historic $51.5-billion 2020-2024 capital plan, MTA Chairman and CEO Pat Foye promised that before the tolls and exemptions are set, there would be pointless kvetching sessions robust public hearings with the TMRB so that MTA Board members could be properly informed.

In September, the Regional Plan Association issued a series of suggestions as to how the congestion toll could be set. The plan that seemed to do the most good, in terms of raising money and reducing congestion during peak hours, was a fee of $9.18 to enter the CBD during the morning rush and the same fee exit it during the evening peak. That charge would raise $1.06 billion and increase traffic speeds in the Manhattan core by 15.6 percent.

The TMRB’s decisions will have enormous consequences for the success of the congestion pricing program, and for the MTA’s historic capital plan. The MTA is banking on raising $1 billion per year with the congestion fee, which they can then turn into $15 billion in bonds for the agency’s capital spending. In addition to setting the tolls and exemptions, the TMRB is also supposed to review the 2020-2024 capital plan at some point, which makes actually appointing its members somewhat urgent since next year is…let’s see here…2020.



By Dave Colon

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MTA News

Contract talks break down between TWU, MTA





NEW YORK (WABC) — Talks between Transport Workers Union Local 100 and the MTA have broken down after both sides have been meeting for the last three days, officials say.

The transit union president claims that the MTA contract demands have “only made the already tense situation worse.”

The union released a statement Thursday evening about MTA Chairman Pat Foye.

“These two days of bargaining have actually set us back,” union president Tony Utano said. “Foye presented us with a new set of demands today that are substantially worse than the insulting package he threw across the table three months ago. Foye not only appears unwilling to negotiate in good faith, he is intentionally spoiling for a confrontation.”

No new talks are scheduled.

The main issues are wages, pension and health benefits, but it all comes amid rising tensions at the MTA and accusations of widespread overtime abuse.

On October 30, members of Transport Workers Union Local 100 rallied outside MTA headquarters, from bus drivers and subway operators to station cleaners and track inspectors. All of them, working without a contract for nearly six months.

MTA officials claimed they have been bargaining in good faith. But unionized workers from the Long Island Rail Road and Metro North are also working without contracts.

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