Full Details on Why I am Petitioning the White House on Public Transit

Well, typed all this up in a word processor for a White House petition only to find they don’t have enough room for it. So I add it here and will link to it on the petition site and also on my CNN iReport account, links at end.

The recent issue involving Governor Christie’s former staffer is just one of many issues tied to a larger problem at the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey (PANYNJ or PA), possibly involving other mass transit agencies. (I know there are some similar issues at the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) in New York.)

There needs to be a national discussion on the public transit agency issues. While some may question why the federal government should get involved in what looks to be state and city issues, I am not asking for any kind of federal crackdown. Rather, a national movement to look at the various problems and get them fixed for real as they clearly need to be in the best interests of the state and city areas. Further, there is a federal connection in that these public agencies get to toll federal interstates, manage assets on federal interstates (bridges, tunnels), manage assets such as airports that affects air traffic nationally, overpay their workers compared to similar workers in both private and public sectors questioning how valid that pay is and effect various locations throughout the nation thus effecting the national economy and livelihood.

Specifically about the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, there have been various stories over several years in a local news source, SILive.com, about the following issues:

1A – The toll raises that have put the PA toll rates on bridges and tunnels in direct competition to the MTA who had the highest toll in the nation at locations such as the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. For my local area of Staten Island, NY, these create an effect of making Staten Island feel like Prison Island since the only ways on and off the Island are the 4 bridges, 3 run by the PANYNJ (Goethals Bridge, Outerbridge Crossing, Bayonne Bridge) and 1 by the MTA (Verrazano-Narrows Bridge). The only other option off the Island is 1 ferry, the Staten Island Ferry, that does not allow cars on it and will be getting increased ridership through this new wheel project being built the Staten Island Ferry terminal. With the 4 bridges having the highest tolls in the nation, it creates the effect local residents are trapped and discourages things many other locations in the United States have such as travel, shopping, business and socializing with other areas.

1B – The same toll rates, among businesses hit, affected the New York Container Terminal (NYCT) in Staten Island. NYCT already contracts the land from the PA who, in turn, lease it from New York City. The toll rates are as if the PA is doubling down on what the NYCT has to pay them in addition to using the site. There is also the valid question of why the PA is a middleman in this arrangement (NYCT -> PA -> NYC) that would seem better served if the NYCT just dealt with the city government directly.

2 – Recently it was said by Governor Cuomo that LaGuardia and Kennedy airports would be modernized by the government. The question though is, once changed, what will happen to these airports? In the time they have had to run them, the PA has failed to handle them properly along with Newark airport, all three rank among the worst in the nation. This also asks why the PA was given control over other airports (Stewart International in NY, Teterboro and Atlantic City in NJ). Since the PA cannot handle major airports, perhaps they should not handle any airports at all.

3 – PA Police get a much higher pay than a lot of other police across the nation. Top PA police pay is in the mid-$80s per hour, about $175K a year. Compare that to NYPD, top pay is near $60 an hour, about $123K a year. I know a few states have higher than NYPD but have yet to hear of anyone beating the PA police. I am not discrediting them, I am sure they do a tough job and all, however I have to ask honestly comparing their job to other police departments if they do more than any other police across the country to deserve the higher pay.

4 – There was an audit of the PA around the time between Fall 2011 to Spring 2012. Part of this audit revealed various problems at the agency but the rest of it was never revealed publicly failing to clarify what was wrong. Since then issues have continued with people getting no answer at all regarding what went on and may still be going on. You do not reveal problems then close the curtain without letting people see the rest of the picture.

For years, various people affected by this agency have had to listen to a non-stop litany of problems with it that never seem to get fixed. The recent airport issue mentioned in item #2 is one of many steps that needs to be taken to ensure things get better but only one, there are many other steps needing to be looked at. Personally, I think some things the PA has control over should be removed and given to one or more new agencies with a more focused direction on a smaller scale. You could:

A – Put all bridges and tunnels under one agency focused on maintaining and operating them.

B – Turn the PATH train over to someone else, maybe NJ Transit who handles a lot of local NJ <-> NYC rail passenger traffic anyway.

C – Remove all airports from the PA and never let them handle another.

This would leave the PA with port operations and real estate, the second may also be questionable regarding their handling. Plus there should be strong consideration regarding salaries at agencies like the PA.

The MTA has roughly similar issues and possibly other public agencies involved in several areas. I would like to think we learned from past failures such as the Penn Central (PC). The PC was formed from 2 other railroads in a merger that should never have happened and went bankrupt in 2 years due to, in part, being involved in too many areas. They had success in real estate but tried using some profits there to cover the failing railroad and it still failed. The PC had to be taken over by the federal government along with other Northeast railroads because of how bad it was. I look at some things these public agencies do today and it is as if they learned nothing from past mistakes such as the PC. We need to stop this behavior now and actually fix what is broken.

The PANYNJ was authorized by the US Congress along with handling areas affecting the greater nation and therefore Congress should have at least some voice in it.

Thanks for reading if you got this far.

Link to White House petition.

Link to CNN iReport.

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One Response to Full Details on Why I am Petitioning the White House on Public Transit

  1. Raffi says:

    I agree that the PA should be focusing on ports almost exclusively. And I agree that they need to be broken up. The truck tolls killing the NYCT are proof that they aren’t even handling the ports fairly. The problem is that ports overall are a moneymaking operation and as bad as things may be now, a way needs to be determined to distribute said profits appropriately.

    What we have now is a kind of de facto congestion pricing that is irrational, because setting political borders aside, there is no rationality to the transportation agencies around New York City. With a working congestion pricing system (coordinated toll pricing structure) perhaps the bridges and tunnels could remain under PA jurisdiction while the PA is regulated in this way. The problem with this is that it would not necessarily bear a relationship to the bridge and tunnel maintenance costs, so for example the states could each be required to pitch in 50% of the difference if the tolls come short of the overall maintenance cost. The point here is to isolate the tolling from all other operations and put an end to tolls subsidizing port or airport operations, if that is indeed what’s happening.

    There is nothing inherently wrong with having one authority running regional airports but the NJ/NY competition seems to be compromising the PA’s neutrality, against the intent of its creation. It seems like the MTA or the City would be a more logical choice for LGA and JFK (Stewart should be removed from the MTA’s expanded portfolio, as should the Tappan Zee Bridge, and the state should buy out the latter). If they competed with EWR, so much the better, unless there’s some sort of air traffic interface issue I don’t understand.

    The PATH is probably a money-losing operation, which is fine, but means no one’s going to want to administer it. It should probably eventually be integrated with the New York subway system, but perhaps that can be put off for a long time if it’s inconvenient to do it now. As far as I know the trackage and electrification is compatible between those two systems and nothing nearby in New Jersey is. Again, the states can work out a shared-support percentage, this one could be based on how many people get on at what stops.

    Like

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