If the legislative meltdown in the State Senate in Albany teaches us anything, it is that New Yorkers ignore the offices below Governor and Mayor at their peril.
For many of the City's residents, paying attention to the upcoming New York City Council races is like drinking civic castor oil But the Council has a lot of say in many decisions that affect our lives.
So, as we move into Council primary season, here's a list of some of the kinds of steps Council Members can take to improve transportation in the City, Although the City Council has limited authority over MTA New York City Transit, it can work to improve subway and bus service. The Council has more direct control over the Taxi and Limousine Commission, the City Department of Transportation and the Police Department.
If you go to a local candidates forum or run into a candidate outside a subway station, ask them whether they'd take some of these steps:
• Advocate for "Bus Rapid Transit/Select Bus Service"" routes to make service faster and more reliable. New York has the slowest buses in America. BRT speeds bus service with priority signals for buses, off-board fare collection, and dedicated lanes. The first BRT/SBS route - the Bx12 - shows that it can greatly improve services and that concerns about loss of parking and roadway can be addressed. The Council has supported a home rule message for a state law to approve a pilot of camera enforcement for five "BRT/SBS" bus routes.
• Press for more City and State funding for transit. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority's borrowing to fix-up the system has made the agency the fifth largest borrower in the U.S. behind only California, New York State, Massachusetts and New York City. Right now, the City pays for only 4% of the MTA's five-year $21 billion capital program and 4% of New York City Transit's $5.8 billion operating budget for 2008. The City Comptroller has documented unfair State funding of transit. http://www.comptroller.nyc.gov/bureaus/opm/reports/Feb-07_state-of-good-repair-report.pdf
• Continue the crack down on abuse of city parking permits. In 2008, the New York Times reported there were more than 140,000 City-issued parking permits; these vehicles contribute mightily to our poor air quality and congested streets. To his credit, Mayor Bloomberg has cut 20% of the permits. But enforcement remains lax. Electronic devices to verify legitimate permits could be spurred by Council legislation. Bills could also mandate more information from the City on issuance of parking permits and from the NYPD on related enforcement.
• Work with New York City Transit's "line general managers." Under this program, each of the city's 23 subway routes have line general managers with more authority and accountability in running their lines. Find yours at www.mta.info.
• Make the MTA more accountable. Since 2003, the MTA has made its finances more open, such as issuing a preliminary budget in July. One idea: a state-created Independent Public Authorities Office. Or computer tracking to make billions of dollars in contracts more transparent.
• The Council's Transportation Committee should continue to hold useful hearings on a wide variety of transportation issues. In the past, these have ranged from subway security to a taxi passengers bill of rights to bicycle access to buildings. During the spring budget cycles, the Council holds hearings on the operating and capital budgets of these transit and traffic agencies.
• Advocate expanding the MTA's City Ticket program. City Ticket offers discounts on commuter rail trips within New York City; right now program is offered on weekends only.
• Support hire parking rates in Manhattan Central Business district and use the funds to improvements for pedestrians and bike riders, such as widening sidewalks.
• Increase bicycle use by mandating all City buildings provide bike access for bikes; and by street closings on weekends.
• Keep an open mind on controversial ways to raise transportation funding, such as congestion pricing or tolls on the East River Bridges.
Follow Gene Russianoff on Twitter: www.twitter.com/Grussian