Cuomo Must Act Regarding Port Authority Transparency

Two key bills that would vastly improve public disclosure and accountability at the beleaguered Port Authority of New York and New Jersey are currently awaiting Governor Cuomo’s signature. Unfortunately, in a recently-released Citizens Union candidate questionnaire, the Governor fails to answer a direct question asking if he supports the bills. Instead, his response appears to [...]

Pressure Mounts on New Jersey Legislature to Move Port Authority Public Disclosure Bills

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One man stands in the way of advancing the issue of transparency at the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey: Assembly Transportation and Independent Authority Chairman John Wisniewski. And today, the New York Times editorial page joined advocate groups in calling upon the New Jersey legislature to act.

While Chairman Wisniewski’s Committee is set to hold a hearing on 11 bills regarding transparency and accountability at the bi-state agency this coming Monday, including the important Port Authority public disclosure bills, the effort falls disappointingly short. Chairman Wisniewski has listed these bills for “discussion only,” meaning that there will be no vote on the bills regardless of the discussion, and therefore they cannot be released from committee.

Monday’s “discussion only” agenda comes on the heels of this past Wednesday’s PANYNJ Board of Commissioners meeting, during which the commissioners unanimously passed a resolution calling for a proposal which would require PANYNJ, which currently has its own policy regarding public disclosure, to abide by the public-disclosure laws of both New York (FOIL) and New Jersey (OPRA). Chairman John Degnan stated that he anticipates the new policy to be in place by January 2015 absent any progress by the legislatures of both states.

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A Full Plate for the PATH Riders Council

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The PATH Riders Council‘s first meeting, held in July, was a basic introductory meeting that didn’t touch on any substantive issues. The next meeting is scheduled for tomorrow, and the Council, chaired by (former Tri-State staff member) Ya-Ting Liu, will undoubtedly start getting down to business.

The most pressing issue facing the Council is the need for the Port Authority to meet the current and future challenges of population growth in the PATH ridership area. After explosive growth over the past decade in Hoboken and Jersey City, any PATH rider already knows that rush hour trains are too crowded, and any delay only compounds the problem. This problem, if unaddressed, will only get worse in a future that will see:

Capacity is a glaring near and long-term need for PATH, and the Council should focus its efforts on ensuring that the Port Authority understands that need.

The Riders Council must also address inadequate service levels, especially on the weekends. In recent history, transit ridership has grown dramatically at non-traditional commuting times resulting in a demand for service 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

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For Port Authority Transparency, the Ball Is in New Jersey’s Court

port-authority-logoNothing has so clearly highlighted the need for government transparency as the George Washington Bridge lane closure scandal and the subsequent political fallout. Though New Jersey Assemblyman John Wisniewski, co-chair of the special committee to investigate the PANYNJ, continues to probe for answers, the issue of accountability and transparency seems fated to remain well after the “Bridgegate” scandal is resolved.

That is, unless legislation is passed to mandate that the bi-state agency is subject to both the New York’s Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) and New Jersey’s Open Public Records Act (OPRA).

The New York State Legislature has already taken this step, and a bill subjecting the Port Authority to New York’s FOIL law is awaiting Governor Andrew Cuomo’s signature.

But similar efforts in New Jersey have been slow to get out of the starting gate. While a Senate bill to ensure the Port Authority was accountable to New Jersey’s OPRA law passed the full Senate this past June, its Assembly counterpart has yet to move in the Assembly Transportation and Independent Authorities Committee.

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Port Authority Bus Terminal “Commuter Chat” Event Tomorrow

Last Friday, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey “announced” via social media that it would be holding a “Commuter Chat” session for feedback about the Port Authority Bus Terminal on August 12.  Tomorrow’s session is part of the recently-announced “Quality of Commute” Improvement Program for the failing bus terminal, which according to the [...]

Premature, or Too Little Too Late? Port Authority Reallocates $90 Million for “Obsolete” Bus Terminal

Port Authority Bus Terminal | Photo: Allix Rogers/Flickr (via WNYC)

Port Authority Bus Terminal | Photo: Allix Rogers/flickr via WNYC

Trans-Hudson bus commuters received some promising news about the outdated Port Authority Bus Terminal (PABT) Wednesday: the Port Authority’s Board of Commissioners unanimously approved a resolution officially reallocating $90 million from its current 10-year Capital Program to a (nonspecific) plan for improvements under the working title “Quality of Commute.” A detailed plan on how the Port Authority will spend that money is slated to be presented at the September 17 Board meeting.

Port Authority Board of Commissioners Vice Chair Scott Rechler called the PABT “obsolete in every way you can imagine” and expressed concern that none of the commissioners had made the PABT a top priority while the most recent 10- year capital program was being developed.

“I was a little dismayed that we spent two years going through this capital plan and getting input from all the commissioners who were taking feedback from the community and it didn’t reach that level, and I’m not exactly sure why,” Rechler said at Wednesday’s meeting.

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A New Port Authority Bus Terminal May Be Closer Than We Thought

Riders waiting to board buses at the Port Authority Bus Terminal. | Photo: The Record

Riders waiting to board buses at the Port Authority Bus Terminal. | Photo: The Record

Back in February, Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PANYNJ) officials said it was “premature” to put any spending for the Port Authority Bus Terminal (PABT) in the capital program, and that nothing would be done regarding building a new bus garage until a $5.5 million study was complete.

But it seems like the Authority is revisiting this stance given new financial optimism and pressure from advocates and elected officials.

A few weeks ago, PANYNJ Commissioners Ken Lipper and Jeffrey Lynford of New York and David Steiner of New Jersey indicated that due to “several recent positive financial developments for the agency,” a new terminal “could and should be added” to the 10-year, $27.6 billion capital plan adopted in February. This news comes in response to New Jersey State Senator Loretta Weinberg’s testimony last month during the monthly meeting of the Port Authority Board of Directors.

The growing number of public complaints from New Jersey Transit commuters who use the PABT caught the attention of Assemblymembers Gordon Johnson and Senator Loretta Weinberg, who held a hearing on June 11 in Teaneck specifically to discuss concerns regarding the PABT. “We wanted to make sure in a most public way that NJ Transit and PANYNJ are well aware of the problems,” Weinberg said. “We’ve been hearing from our constituents,” who Weinberg says often must stand for more than an hour at a gate waiting to board a bus.

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Sunshine at Port Authority: Time to Let the Public In

PA-panel-letterOn Tuesday, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie announced the formation of a bi-state “Special Panel on the Future of the Port Authority” with the mission of studying the “governance, legal and operational issues” that could lead to reform of the beleaguered agency. The panel will include two commissioners from each state, as well as the legal counsel of both Governors. (The announcement included no information about whether any good government groups will be included.) The panel is to report back in 60 days, well after Albany’s legislative session has ended.

While structural reform is undoubtedly needed at the Port Authority, and an initial comprehensive analysis of the options is a good place to start, there are two key concerns about the panel’s formation:

First, to what degree will this process be uninhibited by the interests of both Governors? Panel independence is key to any reform success. If Governor Cuomo’s recent comments about the Moreland Commission –“It’s my commission. I can’t ‘interfere’ with it, because it’s mine. It is controlled by me.” — are an indication of the level of independence that a special panel on the Port Authority panel would see, reform could be hard to come by.

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Safer Streets Bills Dominate the New York State Legislature’s Transportation Agenda

Two items legislators in Albany may consider this session: Local control over speed limits and new measures to ensure complete streets are being implemented. | Photos: FHWA and Reconnect Rochester

Among the transportation-related bills legislators in Albany may consider this session are local control over speed limits, speed cameras on Long Island and measures to guide complete streets implementation. | Photos: FHWA and Reconnect Rochester

UPDATE: The New York State Assembly and Senate have passed speed camera legislation; it’s awaiting Governor Cuomo’s signature.

New York’s State legislators returned to work in Albany yesterday with a host of “shovel ready” transportation bills awaiting their attention — bills with matching language in both the Senate and Assembly that need just a shot of political will to cross the finish line.

Speed Cameras for Nassau, Suffolk and NYC

Suffolk CountyNassau County, and New York City have all approved the required home rule messages asking Albany to pass bills (A9206/S6918) that authorize the installation of new speed cameras. Yesterday, their first day back from break, the NYS Assembly passed the bill. Now, all eyes are on the Senate. Last year’s efforts to authorize 20 cameras in New York City were often contentious, but this year’s legislative effort has been smoother, thanks in part to support from Governor Cuomo and the executives in all three jurisdictions.

Concerns remain, however, and a bill’s passage is never certain until it’s signed into law. One concern is that camera enforcement is about revenue, not safety. But the fines included in this legislation are low — $50 (whereas Governor Cuomo has announced speeding fines up to $975) — and only apply to drivers going 10 mph or more above the speed limit.  Plus, speed camera revenue has been shown to drop off precipitously once drivers understand they may get caught. Camera programs across the country have shown impressive gains in safety. After speed cameras were implemented in Washington D.C., for example, traffic deaths fell by 72 percent from 2003 to 2012. If New York City were to achieve a similar reduction, 200 lives would be spared each year.

Local Control for Speed Limits

New York is a home rule state, but unfortunately, local officials don’t have control of speed limits. No level of government—village, town or city—can enact a municipal speed limit lower than 30 mph. Villages and cities can enact 25 mph limits on specific roads, but towns under 50,000 in population have to petition the New York State Department of Transportation in order to do so. If a municipality wants to set speed limits lower, they must pass a law in Albany, a time-consuming prospect that is rarely successful.

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Groups Call for Bus Capital Improvements in PANYNJ’s 2014-2023 Capital Plan

TSTC Executive Director Veronica Vanterpool spoke today outside the Port Authority Bus Terminal at a rally for increased bus infrastructure funding in the PANYNJ capital plan. | Photo: Madeline Marvar

In advance of today’s Port Authority Board Meeting, advocates from community, business, transit, real estate and environmental groups gathered in front of Manhattan’s Port Authority Bus Terminal to call [...]