City Council Speaker Corey Johnson (D-Chelsea, Hell’s Kitchen) delivered his first State of the City Address today, taking the opportunity to share his ideas for reforming New York’s transit system.
The event took place at LaGuardia Community College in Queens from 12 to 2 p.m., and was broadcast in Spanish, Mandarin, Cantonese and French Creole. Much of Johnson’s speech revolved around the City’s transit crisis and what he intends to do to address it – specifically, a proposal for municipal control of mass transit.
Johnson began by summarizing just how dire the City’s mass transit crisis is. He brought up, among other things, the glacial speed of New York’s bus system and the steady decline in subway and bus ridership from 2015 to 2018 (5 percent and 15 percent, respectively).
“This is a ticking time bomb,” said Johnson. “If we can’t move people around, New York City can’t function. Today New Yorkers are abandoning the system and getting into Ubers and Lyfts; tomorrow, it’s U-Hauls. And the businesses will follow. Why would they stay? We have to do something. Our future is at stake.”
Johnson went on to explain that his “hands are tied” because the MTA, which holds dominion over the transit system, is an entity that the City has virtually no control over. On top of that, he said, the process by which the MTA’s budget is approved is so convoluted that it’s nigh-impossible to know who to hold accountable for the system’s failings.
“The confusion was built in, so the public wouldn’t know who to blame,” said Johnson. “You know who they want you to blame? The women and men who work for the MTA. The women and men who run our subways and buses, clean our stations, and keep us safe. Let’s be serious; they are not the reason your commute is awful. Do you know the real reason our commute is awful? Because the MTA exists in a vacuum of accountability.”
The solution, he said, is to establish municipal control of the system.
“It all starts with control,” said Johnson. “Right now, we don’t control our fares; we don’t control the capital plan; we don’t control the money; we don’t control what gets built; we don’t even control our bus routes. Municipal control means we decide how our system is run, we decide how we raise our money, and we decide how we spend it. Municipal control means saying goodbye to the MTA.”
Johnson proposed that the MTA be replaced by a new agency, called Big Apple Transit, which would only appoint New Yorkers who regularly use the transit system to serve on its board.
“And they won’t just be experts on making trains run on time and balancing budgets,” said Johnson. “That’s important, but they’ll also be people who understand the different needs of riders. In addition to a strong board, we’d have City Council oversight and independent auditing. We would put those checks in place because that’s what riders deserve.”
Today also saw the release of a 104-page report from Johnson’s offices, entitled “Let’s Go: A Case for Municipal Control and a Comprehensive Transit Vision for the Five Boroughs”. The report details the importance of turning control of mass transit over to the City and provides a plan for making the proposal a reality.
The report can be accessed here.