Prospective Mayors Spar on Transportation Policy

Bill Thompson and Anthony Weiner chatting at the forum.

Bill Thompson and Anthony Weiner chatting at the forum.

At a Democratic mayoral forum this morning focusing on New York City’s transportation policies, the candidates often agreed on many of the issues–stated support for bike lanes, for example–but starkly disagreed when it came to several topics, including school bus contracts.

Setting up the dispute, former Comptroller Bill Thompson, the leading candidate for the teachers’ union endorsement set to be announced later this afternoon, defended pricey school bus driver contracts and provisions that protect current employees.

“It wasn’t the cost of labor that drove the cost up. It was bad routing and the cost of maintenance. That’s what drove the cost up of those contracts. I saw [Employee Protection Provisions] as a way to maintain an experienced, safe workforce and I still believe that,” Mr. Thompson said.

But former Congressman Anthony Weiner, who is often spotted chatting with Mr. Thompson at forums, took a widely different stance, alleging that high drivers’ salaries were leading to exorbitant overall costs for the city to transport students.

“The routes are inefficient. We tried to fix them last time. We left people standing in the snow and completely messed it up. I also think it’s a false choice to say, ‘You have to pay a billion dollars a year to transport students safely,” Mr. Weiner argued. “I hope that the conversation moves off of this notion [of], ‘Are you for the union? Are you not? For EPP or not?’”

The candidates also talked more broadly about the potential expansion of public transportation and the feasibility of extending the subway system.

Comptroller John Liu advocated for better bus service between Manhattan and Staten Island and supported the notion of expanding the subway system, but said it likely wasn’t a practical option.

“I don’t believe we’ll have enough money out there to expand the subway system in the boroughs outside of Manhattan,” Mr. Liu said.

This prompted Mr. Thompson to propose a two-pronged approach to generate revenue, including the restoration of a commuter tax and a registration fee increase for cars that would boost prices based on weight. Former Councilman Sal Albanese quickly shot down Mr. Thompson’s tax proposal, however.

“The commuter tax idea is pie in the sky. Never going to happen,” Mr. Albanese insisted.

(In a subsequent mayoral forum for the Republican candidates, Republican businessman John Catsimatidis suggested an alternative means of public transportation, saying he wanted to create a monorail, which he referred to as “an above-way.”)

In one of the other prominent disputes today, Mr. Weiner further took aim at the city boards and authorities that oversee the MTA and other public utilities.

“Bill Thompson served on the Battery Park authority. What the heck is that?” the former congressman mused.

After the forum he made it expressly clear that, if elected, he would dismantle some of these authorities in order to expedite governmental action.