Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Farely Outrageous

We've been arguing all along that it doesn't make much sense to impose a congestion tax if the money's being earmarked for the coffers of the MTA. This was a theme that was underscored by Councilwoman Melinda Katz in her recent testimony before one of the Congestion Commission hearings: "THE MTA, IN CONTRADICTION TO ALL OF THEIR PUBLIC EXPRESSIONS ABOUT THE USE OF CONGESTION TAX REVENUES, IS PLANNING ON USING THESE DOLLARS FOR OPERATING EXPENSES. IT IS IMPERATIVE THAT WE HAVE A FULL ACCOUNTING OF HOW CONGESTION TAXES ARE MEANT TO BE SPENT, AND THE METHOD FOR UTILIZING THESE FUNDS SHOULD BE MEMORIALIZED IN A PUBLIC DOCUMENT."

Until there is some degree of confidence in the MTA's ability to be both transparent and efficient, how can we ask commuters to fork over more bucks to the agency-whether its for a congestion tax or a fare hike. This was one of the themes that was on display in Brooklyn last night at an MTA fare hike hearing.

As the NY Times points out on its City Room blog, the hearing was characterized by a deep level of citizen mistrust: "Many spoke of a deep distrust of the authority. And they said they believed yesterday’s hearing was a formality and that the increase was a foregone conclusion." Given this prevalent attitude, one that was shared by the elected officials who testified, why create another pool of money for this unaccountable agency?

One of the key reasons for skepticism here, is the feeling that-much like with all the lottery money that doesn't go to education as promised-the MTA will not come forward with the transit improvements to make the congestion relief work on a practical level. This skepticism was on display the other day at the Bronx hearing of the Commission, where Riverdale officials bemoaned the lack of transit options for their community: "Officials representing upscale Riverdale, where many residents use their cars, all objected, arguing the neighborhood is already underserved by public transit, with few improvements offered."

So, as we have said many times before, the congestion plan needs to be subjected to a forensic accounting. Too much has been promised for the use of proceeds, and many of the promises are themselves contradictory. Which leaves us with the fare hike fight. Here, even Speaker Quinn, a proponent of congestion taxing, understands the folly of throwing good money after bad when it comes to the MTA-especially since, as the NY Daily News points out: "The MTA admittedly will end this year with a sizable surplus and doesn't need increases to balance next year's budget."

But if you won't give the agency more transit rider loot, why hit the car commuters? The MTA is badly in need of a hostile corporate takeover; when will our elected officials stop hectoring and posturing, and just act?