Tuesday, April 28, 2009

A Bridge Too Far

The latest news from the MTA is not good; and as the deficits keep mounting, it becomes clearer by the day that the tolling of the bridges would be a mere palliative. In fact, the entire bailout exercise is simply, "A Bridge Too Far;" because it mirrors that classic film's failed objective in taking control over Nazi controlled bridges as part of an Allied planned counter offensive in WWII:

"The film tells the story of Operation Market-Garden, and its ultimate failure, the Allied attempt to break through German lines and seize several bridges, with the main objective the bridge over the Lower Rhine (Neder Rijn) River, in the occupied Netherlands during World War II. The name for the film comes from a comment made by British Lieutenant-General Frederick A.M. Browning, deputy commander of the First Allied Airborne Army, who told Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery, the operation's architect, before the operation, "I think we may be going a bridge too far."[2]

But we digress. The relevant point here is that the MTA is in such bad shape that the toll proposal is that bridge too far-an unworkable, and unrealistic objective, in spite of the fact that the goal of saving mass transit remains a worthy one indeed. City Room's post on this is illustrative: "Plummeting revenues from ridership, tolls and taxes mean that even after it raises fares by up to 30 percent and slashes service, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority faces a $621 million deficit this year, officials reported on Monday, as they presented a revised budget forecast. According to the new forecast, next year’s deficit will be more than $1 billion."

And this from the NY Post, on the authority's bungling of a post 9/11 security contract: "MTA bumbling has imperiled a massive post-Sept. 11 security project that's months behind schedule and can't be completed, a blockbuster federal lawsuit charges. Lockheed Martin Corp., one of the nation's leading defense contractors, is asking a federal judge to release it from a deal inked in 2005 to install high-tech surveillance equipment to protect subway riders from potential terror attacks."

But all this only underscores the point that we've made already. Devising any MTA bailout plan separate and apart from the state's overall budget is irresponsible. Mass transit is a vital service; and it should be subsumed in the budget negotiations so that new taxes and fees can be earmarked for the expressed purpose of insuring the most efficient and reliable-as well as cost effective-is provided for commuters. Legislators should be forced to choose between an over bloated state government-and even the sacred cow of education-and transit needs.

Instead, we have this fiction of a public authority, whose funding is considered in a parallel political universe. Enough already! Just as an independent BOE was dismantled because it avoided real political oversight, so should the MTA be dismantled-and real political accountability brought back into the panoply of policy choices.

All of the clamor and controversy over tolls, is diversionary; eliding as it does the core issue of political cowardice that lies behind the entire public authority mythos. Let's tear down those walls and rebuild with strong leadership and genuine accountability. At the end of the day the governor should be the person in charge; and all of these efforts to "save" the MTA are only, "A Bridge Too Far."