Thursday, August 6, 2009
Bloomberg Talks Transit During Queens Campaign Stop
By Conor Greene
Borough residents would have greater public transportation options under a plan unveiled this week by Mayor Bloomberg, marking his first major proposal of this year’s campaign.
The mayor stopped at the Glendale Diner on Tuesday to discuss the transit plan and other issues with supporters. The plan, formally announced on Monday, includes reopening shuttered LIRR stations in Glendale, Richmond Hill and Elmhurst, expanding the CityTicket program, exploring the use of light rail or street cars in western Queens and expanding ferry and commuter van service to link residents to mass transit.
“None of these things are things that people don’t know about or haven’t talked about before or haven’t done elsewhere, its pulling them all together and actually doing something,” said Mayor Bloomberg during the half-hour stop at the Myrtle Avenue diner, where he was joined by supporters including City Council candidate Thomas Ognibene and Community Board 5 Chairman Vincent Arcuri.
“Building a superior mass transit system is critical to middle class New Yorkers and the future of our city. As our city grows, it becomes more and more important to have a system in place that is efficient, accessible and cost-effective,” said Bloomberg, adding that borough residents “deserve better and cheaper service.”
Other elements of the plan include electronic message boards alerting riders of the next arriving bus or train, gateless tolls at MTA bridges and tunnels, free crosstown buses on some Manhattan bus routes and reinstituting F train express service. “The whole economy is dependant on getting people where they need to go,” said Bloomberg. “We have to find ways to get people from Queens… to the central business district.”
For Queens, one of the biggest aspects of Bloomberg’s plan includes once again offering LIRR train service at three of the 10 stations shuttered in 1998. According to published reports at the time, the decision to discontinue use of the Glendale, Richmond Hill and Elmhurst stations, along with seven others, came because low passenger volumes didn’t warrant spending between $260,000 to $2.25 million needed to renovate each station.
When asked how projects requiring infrastructure upgrades would be funded at a time when ticket prices are rising and service is being reduced, Bloomberg indicated that increased fares would likely off set the costs. Conceding that “there’s always costs with everything,” he argued that the necessary infrastructure improvements would be “relatively little” since the tracks already are in place and trains already run through the area. “We would probably get enough extra revenues… to pay for operating costs.”
Ognibene, who has the mayor’s backing in his challenge to Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village), said the plan “has some great ideas for the city, especially Queens.” He specially hailed the idea of reopening the Glendale LIRR station, calling it a “great, great idea” that should have little negative impact on the community.
In response to a question about possible backlash from residents near the tracks, Bloomberg argued that “nothing in this city goes without somebody having a problem with it.” He noted that commuters from the suburbs favor having less stations in Queens but said he doesn’t “think we can afford that ‘let’s favor one group over another’” attitude. “We all have to make sacrifices in tough times,” he added.
Arcuri expressed hope that renewed focus on LIRR service in Glendale might lead to safety improvements the community has been seeking for years at various rail crossings.
Following the unveiling of Bloomberg’s transit plan, city Comptroller Bill Thompson, the likely Democratic nominee to challenge the mayor in November, issued a statement ripping the MTA’s performance over the past eight years and accusing the mayor of stealing old ideas.
“Under Mike Bloomberg’s watch MTA fares have gone up 50 percent, New York straphangers pay the highest percentage of mass transit costs in the nation, and buses and subways continue to be both dirty and unreliable,” argued Thompson’s campaign. “This plan is full of empty promises and stolen ideas such as CityTicket which was proposed by Bill Thompson in 2006 and 2009. As mayor, Bill Thompson will not only offer concrete plans to address our city’s transit issues, unlike Mike Bloomberg, he’ll actually execute them.”
The Thompson campaign also argued that Bloomberg’s four appointees to the MTA board “have never stood up for riders” and recently signed off without objection on eliminating many station attendants, and approved extensive service cuts before the state stepped in and bailed out the struggling authority.
Conversely, in a press release touting his transit plan, Bloomberg’s campaign noted that the mayor has identified $247 million in savings by cutting MTA waste and bureaucracy.