Legislators push city control over subways and buses

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Assemblyman Robert Carroll (D—Park Slope).
File photo

A Park Slope legislator is pushing to bring control of the city’s subways and buses to the New York City government, arguing that the current structure of state-run transit is inefficient and overly bureaucratic. 

“We need to have local control,” said Assemblyman Bobby Carroll (D—Park Slope). “We need to have faith in our city counterparts that there will be appropriate management from the city.”

Carroll plans to introduce a bill into the Albany legislature that would wrestle control of the city’s transportation system away from the governor, and put the responsibility for its management into the hands of the mayor. 

Some transit buffs have long argued that city-control would make the system more nimble, with less layers of red tape and a clear structure of accountability. 

The push received new life after City Council Speaker Corey Johnson (D—Manhattan), who is a leader contender for the 2021 mayoral race, released a comprehensive 104-page report calling for the creation of the Big Apple Transit agency — or BAT — which would assume control of the subways, buses, tunnels, and bridges in the Five Boroughs. 

The desire for municipal control took further hold after the surprise resignation of transit head Andy Byford earlier this month, which was widely rumored to be caused in part by a rift with Albany leaders — specifically Andrew Cuomo

Funding has long been the largest obstacle to municipal control over city public transit, which exists in other cities like Chicago and Los Angeles, but Johnson’s plan and Carroll’s bill call for a creative array of new funding mechanisms — such as city-issued bonds, congestion pricing, and increasing city taxation powers. 

Gov. Cuomo panned the speaker’s proposal in March, claiming municipal control would deprive the city of up to $10 Billion in state funds — and casting doubt on whether the City Hall could make up the difference. 

Danny Pearlstein, a spokesman for the transit advocacy group Riders Alliance, agrees, saying the state is more fit to raise the money needed to run and improve the transit system. 

“The city is in no position to do something like that,” Pearlstein said. 

But Carroll remains undaunted, arguing they would be able to figure it out.

“We can work out other funding streams,” he said.

The other major obstacle to the city-control scheme is political, as Carroll’s fellow state legislators, and the governor himself,  would have to willingly relinquish control of the transit systems. 

Carroll also glossed over that issue, saying Assembly Members and Senators who represent districts outside the five boroughs don’t care either way about the future of city transportation.

“At the end of the day, someone from western New York, for the most part, does not care about how the buses and subways are run and is not looking for inventive ways to help support them,” he said.  

City Councilman Justin Brannan has thrown his support behind Carroll’s efforts, arguing that upstate lawmakers have no business overseeing the subways.

“With all due respect, lawmakers who represent Canadian border towns shouldn’t have more control over the D train than us,” the Councilman said on Twitter. “This commuter is ready for municipal control!”

For now, however, Carroll’s bill remains somewhat of a transit buff’s pipe dream — as the current mayor doesn’t even want control of the goliath public transit network — so New Yorkers will have to finger-wag at Cuomo whenever their morning commutes are delayed, said the Riders Alliance rep.

“The governor very directly runs the MTA, and he’s the one New Yorkers have to hold accountable,” said Pearlstein.

This article has been updated to reflect which cities have municipal control over their public transit systems.