By Sabina Mollot
State Senator Brad Hoylman, who’s been an outspoken critic of the bus used by many of his constituents, the M23 a.k.a. the turtle, is now setting his sights on the MTA as a whole, saying he’s sick of seeing funds intended for mass transit get steered elsewhere.
Hoylman brought up the subject on Sunday, November 19 at a public meeting held by the Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association during a Q&A period.
The topic was first brought up by a woman who, during a Q&A period, said she didn’t like that a fleet of 200 diesel buses have been announced as a solution to the looming L-Pocalypse in 2019, rather than hybrid buses.
At this, Hoylman said he agreed and wanted to help “wean Albany off of Diesel,” despite the pollution-spewing option being cheaper.
While on the subject, a visibly irate Hoylman also referred to a recent Times exposé that revealed how over the years, cash intended for the MTA has ended up being spent on unnecessary or completely unrelated projects, thanks to City Hall and Albany.
“It turns out the MTA is the reverse — ATM,” said Hoylman, adding that he thought this was a good time to think about congestion pricing, charging tolls at bridges that have none while lowering tolls at some others. He also wanted to see MTA fares halved for low-income New Yorkers, adding that he’d be “willing to go up against the de Blasio administration” to do this. He also said a portion of tax on Uber and Lyft rides should be used to fund the MTA.
“We need to put more resources into the MTA, not milk it,” he said. As for the improvements to be made along the L train line on 14th Street during the 18-month shutdown, Hoylman added that he also wanted to see “legacy improvements,” such as wheelchair access along the length of the street.
Later, Hoylman elaborated on his comments to Town & Village, saying he was hopeful in particular about congestion pricing, a topic expected to be raised by Governor Cuomo after the start of the upcoming legislative session in Albany. Word is that Cuomo is expected to raise the subject, which has been studied by a task force, in the early part of 2018.
“In general I think there is a lot of agreement that we need some sort of congestion pricing, but we also need to make sure Manhattanites are protected,” said Hoylman. As far as any money that gets raised this way, Hoylman added, “I hope it will be committed to a lockbox in the MTA and not just dumped into a general fund.” The dedicated funds, he believes, will make all the difference, as to whether the project will have support in Albany, as will whether or not it ultimately gets results in affected districts.
On the issue of reduced fares for poor straphangers, Hoylman said he does believe this can happen, but only if the city also ponies up.
“There is a request that the city make a contribution to the MTA, which I support,” Hoylman said.
On the diesel buses expected to hit the streets in time for the L line Canarsie tube construction, Hoylman said there isn’t much that can be done there. Those buses have already been purchased, and at a price tag of over $366 million. However, the senator did pen a letter noting his displeasure to the MTA back on May 17.
“I must ask why our state is investing in outdated technology when all clear trends point to a diesel-free future,” he wrote to the agency’s executive director Veronique Hakim. He further argued that electric buses “produce zero tailpipe emissions,” while hybrids reach at least 20 percent greater fuel efficiency than standard diesel ones.
In response, on June 27, MTA acting President Daryl C. Irick sent a letter back touting the agency’s pilot program introducing 10 electric buses to launch in December. However, he added, getting 200 electric buses in time for the L shutdown wasn’t going to happen. “It is not possible to prudently execute the testing, design and procurement of an all-electric bus fleet to meet the service needs within the available timeframe,” Irick said.
In related news, Comptroller Scott Stringer has also called out the MTA and NYC Transit for declining bus ridership, citing the agencies’ failing to keep up with changes in job hubs and aging infrastructure. Stringer announced the dismal findings on Monday in a report his office conducted. Other conclusions: The MTA’s buses are the slowest in the nation among large cities and spend only half their time on the road actually in motion. Stringer also said that innovations like Select Bus Service and bus lanes aren’t as effective as they could be thanks to being implemented “slowly and half-heartedly.”