Governors of Transit-Dependent States Don’t Seem to Get It

According to Census journey-to-work data, 27 percent of New York State commuters, and 11 percent of New Jersey commuters, use public transportation to get to work each day. That makes New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie the chief executives of the nation’s two most transit-dependent states.

But you’d hardly know it based on the way they’ve governed.

Until recently, Governor Cuomo has been unwilling to help close the gap in the MTA’s 2015-2019 capital program. It wasn’t until the MTA revealed some cost-cutting measures that the governor pledged to help close the gap — on the condition that the New York City increase its annual MTA contribution from $100 million to $125 million $300 million $325 million.

It’s welcome news that Governor Cuomo will fill the MTA’s funding gap, but exactly how he’ll do so is yet to be determined. For a moment it seemed like the recent debate about Uber-related congestion might advance the MoveNY plan, but the governor and MTA Chairman Tom Prendergast have expressed doubts about the plan’s political feasibility.

Earlier this week the governor announced a major investment to rebuild LaGuardia Airport, which served roughly 27 million passengers in 2014. Cuomo described LaGuardia as “‘un-New York,’ because it’s considered “slow, dated, [and] almost universally derided.”

But couldn’t he say the same about the Port Authority Bus Terminal, which handled more than twice as many passengers as LaGuardia last year? Or New York City’s subways, which handle 27 million passengers every work week? Second Avenue Sagas‘ Ben Kabak writes:

As with many Cuomo projects, it’s hard not to feel that this one came from his personal experiences flying between the city and Albany. In terms of bang for your buck, an overhaul of the Port Authority Bus Terminal or a real plan to rebuild Penn Station and start moving on trans-Hudson tunnels would affect far more daily travelers than a rebuild of LaGuardia airport, and the dollars would be comparable. But Cuomo doesn’t talk about these proposals because he doesn’t take buses or trains.

While the situation in New York has been less than ideal, it doesn’t compare with what’s happening across the Hudson. New Jersey Transit riders have seen five fare increases since 2000 (two under Christie’s watch), but the governor won’t budge on raising the gas tax — which hasn’t seen an increase since 1988. Governor Christie’s indifference to transit riders (and transportation issues in general) has been covered ad nauseam here at MTR and elsewhere, so no need to beat a dead horse.

Connecticut, on the other hand, has been quietly staging a transportation revolution, despite the fact that less than 5 percent of Nutmeggers commute via public transportation. In the last year, Governor Dan Malloy cut the ribbon on the new CTfastrak bus rapid transit system (and pledged an east-of-Hartford CTfastrak extension), unveiled a 30-year transportation vision that would, among other things, modernize the New Haven Line and expand bus service, signed a budget which directs a portion of the sales tax to the state’s Special Transportation Fund, proposed the creation of a Transit Corridor Development Authority aimed at helping municipalities develop land around transit stations, led the charge to run more frequent trains on the Metro-North New Haven Line, and won reelection on a platform some say included a “purposeful strategy to push people out of their cars, and onto mass transit.”

Governor Malloy’s transportation track record is far from perfect: he approved spending $300 million to widen 2.7 miles of Interstate 84 in Waterbury, $10 million to design and engineer a widening of I-84 in Danbury, and called for widening I-95, too. Still, it’s hard to overlook the progress Connecticut has made during Malloy’s tenure, especially when you compare it to what’s going on in New York and New Jersey lately.

8 Comments on "Governors of Transit-Dependent States Don’t Seem to Get It"

  1. It’s been very depressing over the past decade in New Jersey for those of us who use public transit. It’s absurd to me that the governor, who’s from an area where so many people take trains to jobs in New York, doesn’t do anything about the problem. In fact, I believe he makes it worse, by not supporting more money for transit and by not working to address the impending Hudson tunnel disaster. People are voting for public transit with their wallets, but Christie ignores them. We very badly need to make it to 2017 when we can vote for someone who understands the population patterns that are obvious in the 21st century.

  2. Clark Morris | July 30, 2015 at 8:19 pm |

    Some depressing thoughts.

    1. The vast majority of people in both states DO NOT take transit to work.

    2. New Jersey putting money into transportation to New York state is spending money to give New York State the income tax revenues and other benefits with little in return.

  3. “Still, it’s hard to overlook the progress Connecticut has made during Malloy’s tenure”

    The author needs to sit on the I-95 North 30+ mile parking lot on a Thursday or Friday afternoon, or I-95 South during the morning rush hour…he may re-assess that statement.

    I contacted then-candidate Malloy as he was looking for transit related ideas. I suggested a large, open plot of land sitting next to one of the train station parking lots that could be used to expand parking. Come to find out, the state owns the land. 5 years later, it’s still sitting empty. It’s not that hard – sell a bond, hire a contractor, pave over the lot, and use the money from parking fees to pay back the bond. That’s government not at work for you.

  4. Perhaps they don’t want to borrow like Malloy does.

  5. Gary Kazin | July 31, 2015 at 11:41 am |

    Christie has been very busy over the past five years – mounting a campaign for President. He’s been so busy he hasn’t worked at being Governor of NJ.

  6. Norm Gotsadnick | July 31, 2015 at 3:43 pm |

    following from Paul Mulshine at Star Ledger. Trashing Christie is fine, just be factual, please.

    ADD – LYING OR JUST UNINFORMED?: Much of the news coverage of this issue has been so biased against Christie that I can’t quite figure out whether the reporters really are this bad or they are consciously trying to misrepresent Christie’s actions.

    Take this article on the Politico site:

    “New Jersey Governor Chris Christie unilaterally killed the last funded plan to replace the tunnels, citing fears his state would have to bear the burden of cost overruns. He directed much of the funding for the new tunnel project to road work within his own state.”

    Christie did nothing of the sort. As you can deduce from the column above, the ARC tunnels could not “replace” Amtrak tunnels for the obvious reason that Amtrak could not have used the tunnels Christie canceled.

    This should be obvious to any reporter who bothered to read an Amtrak schedule. Unless you see “Macy’s Basement” on it, you have to realize Amtrak could not use a dead-end station with no link to the Northeast Corridor.

    I have yet to see a single news account that notes Amtrak could not have used the tunnels canceled by Christie. But I’ve seen several saying those tunnels would “replace” the current ones.

    Anyone who did the tiniest bit of research would realize that these tunnels are not and will not ever be replaced under any possible plan. The plan was to build two new tunnels to supplement the current two. Then there would be four tunnels. Nothing would be “replaced.”

    It is absolutely irresponsible to mention the tunnels in the failed ARC project without also mentioning that they could not have been used by the owner of the two aging tunnels, Amtrak.

    This Wall Street Journal article, for example, goes into great detail about the political trouble the ARC cancellation is causing for Christie without mentioning that the ARC tunnels would not have gone to Penn Station and therefore could not have been used by Amtrak. And check this New York Times article in which the cancellation is brought up again with no mention that the tunnels in question would not have solved Amtrak’s problems.

    I’m no fan of Christie, but this is a hatchet job by a lot of people who should know better.

  7. Ted Leibowitz | August 3, 2015 at 11:51 am |

    To Clark Morris depressing thought number 2, New York does provide jobs for New Jersey residents. The income which in turn is spent in New Jersey providing for jobs, and real estate and other taxes for New Jersey.

    And for the record, if unnoticed, New Yorkers are traveling to New Jersey for jobs, providing taxes fro New Jersey. While not as many as the opposite, New Jersey is, by choice, more of a resident rather than commercial State. No right or wrong in this case.

  8. far more than 27% of people in NYC use public transportation to get to work. Combined walking, biking, and public transportation in the ACS of the census was over over near 65% from memory.

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