A couple of months ago, the tranquillity of a summer evening at Shea Stadium was jolted when fans were asked to pay attention to the scoreboard for a message from our Mayor: “Hit a home run for clean air; take mass transit or car pool,” read the script.
What Mayor Bloomberg didn’t tip us off to was the planned post–Election Day tax hike attendant to that message: You will pay more to get to work.
The fare increase (a tax hike by another name) is playing out as the board of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, appointed by Governor George Pataki and Mr. Bloomberg, holds hearings on a proposal to raise subway, bus and commuter rail fares. Board members are about to soak the workers of New York City with a regressive tax at a higher rate for city residents than for residents of Long Island and Westchester, who ride the M.T.A.’s commuter lines.
As Messrs. Pataki and Bloomberg do this, the city and state governments are in court suing seven states for polluting New York’s air. The trustees of the city and state pension funds are writing to financial firms asking how they are prepared to help reduce greenhouse gases and tailpipe emissions through their investment policies. The immediate result of the fare hike will be an increase in air pollution as more people decide to get back into their cars. The borough most affected? Manhattan, where one million cars and trucks dump their poison into your lungs every workday. Does the word “asthma” (especially among young black children) resonate any longer in our celebrity-addled city?
Mr. Pataki’s tax hike is an abandonment of his pro-environment campaign rhetoric and will eviscerate the most dramatic mass-transit/clean-air success of the modern era: the MetroCard discounts and free bus-to-subway transfer. Mr. Pataki once supported a bill to reduce the express-bus fare from $4 to $3-and ridership soared 30 percent.
The M.T.A. man who opposed that express-bus fare reduction was Marc Shaw, who is now Mr. Bloomberg’s point man on transit. The pending fare hike is a foul ball when you consider that the Mayor hasn’t even stepped up to the plate in a major pollution battle, cowering in the face of opposition to putting tolls on the four East River crossings (which would bring in an estimate $700 million a year in revenues). His one feeble attempt at creating a bus lane, on Church Street, is an abysmal failure.
In addition, Mr. Bloomberg is in no position to fight with the M.T.A.-he wants the agency to take a dive on selling air rights over his football playpen, which will also exacerbate pollution.
Ponder what else the two transit experts have in store: billions to whisk Long Islanders into Grand Central (as Mr. Bloomberg refuses to fight for us in restoring the $500-million-a-year commuter tax), a rail link from downtown to Kennedy airport, a Second Avenue subway, plus a new PATH station to replace the restored station downtown and an extension of the I.R.T. No. 7 line, the Mayor’s train to the Olympics.
State Comptroller Alan Hevesi gave us the only reason we need to oppose every one of these boondoggles: the mobbed-up rehab of M.T.A. headquarters at 2 Broadway wound up costing $450 million-three times the estimate.
The corruption and waste don’t stop there. In the case against go-back-to-jail Guy Velella, his bag man bragged about how he paid a $150,000 bribe to an M.T.A. boss “at the top” for a firm to paint the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. (The company went belly up.) The agency is spending $100 million for a signal system on the above-ground, two-track, 17-mile Staten Island Railway. M.T.A. bosses also spent millions for a new barbed-wire security fence for the same railway (though there was nothing wrong with the old one) to “keep people off the tracks,” even though there are open stairwells at every station.
The tab at the Whitehall ferry terminal, under the leadership of our businessman Mayor, is $123 million, or $30 million over budget. One subcontractor is on his way to jail. Some $240 million has been spent planning the Second Avenue subway, and Mr. Pataki wants $400 million to build a platform the length of five subway cars and to install three new exits at the South Ferry terminus of the Nos. 1 and 9 lines.
The M.T.A. has become an organized-crime bastion, a modern-day Tweed ring. But at least William Marcy Tweed left a stunning courthouse, which is still standing 140 years later.
Thanks to Mr. Pataki and Mr. Bloomberg, we’ll have a tax hike, dirtier air and congested roads as well as a nice rail link to downtown, where there may or may not be jobs 10 years from now, and a train to a stadium that may or may not be built as millions of us yearn to breathe free.