Archive for the ‘The Island Now’ category

Is The LIRR Only For The Rich? – By George J. Marlin

August 11, 2021

The following appeared on Monday, August 9, 2021 on The Island Now’s website: 

Memo: To Nassau County Elected Officials

A recent New York Times Sunday editorial, “Is This Railroad for the Rich?” insinuated that the LIRR is maintained and operated to cater to wealthy commuters from gated communities like Garden City. And I’m curious what all of you make of it. But first, a little background.

My guess is the editorial was a reaction to criticism of The Times editorial writer Mara Gay’s comments about her “ghastly” Memorial Day experience on the island.

“I was on Long Island [Memorial Day] weekend and visiting a really dear friend, and I was really disturbed,” she said. “I saw, you know, dozens and dozens of pick-up trucks with expletives against Joe Biden on the backs of them, Trump flags, and in some cases dozens of American flags, which, you know, is also just disturbing because essentially the message was clear. It was: This is my country; this is not your country. I own this.”

The message is essentially clear? I think not. To infer that displaying a U.S. flag, particularly on a national holiday is racist, is by its very nature an absurd comment.

I have displayed a flag on a 14-foot pole since my family moved into our home 20 years ago. Our flag, waiving on our front lawn, has nothing to do with Trump or deep-seated racism. It is an expression of pride in being Americans.

And since Mara Gay’s remarks went viral on the internet, I have noticed that more of my neighbors, of all races and creeds, have been hoisting flags.

The Times editorial of June 27, 2021, took Mara Gay’s comments one step further. It accused the state and the MTA of “squandering its investment in the expansion of the commuter rail” to cater to owners of single-family homes in exclusive neighborhoods like Garden City.

The editorial’s implication is clear: single-family zoning laws are a relic of Long Island’s racist past and should be abolished to permit the construction of multi-family housing, particularly around railroad stations.

Several observations: First, the LIRR does not cater solely to the rich. In fact, the vast majority of commuters are working-class folks, such as first responders, civil servants, construction workers, clerical workers, etc.

This has been particularly true throughout the pandemic. Many white-collar employees, to this day, have been working from their homes, not commuting.

Second, ownership of single-family homes, particularly on Long Island, was encouraged and codified, not by racists, but by New Deal Progressives who authored the GI Bill of Rights that included FHA/VA home loans with no down payments.

In the name of “regional planning,” Federal Housing Administration social engineers designed requirements on lot size, house width and distance from adjacent homes that forced banks to lend on suburban single-family homes instead of older city 16-foot row houses.

I doubt if Mara Gay and her confreres on The Times editorial board are familiar with this history, hence their calls, in the name of social justice, for the state of New York to override local zoning laws to force the building of apartment buildings.

The Times argues, “The city’s suburbs, especially in underdeveloped Nassau County, need to build more too.” It goes on to insist that Albany override local zoning laws and “make it legal to build multi-family housing on land near transit stations currently occupied by single-family housing.”

“Democracy,” The Times concludes, “is no defense for the behavior of these local governments. There are no citizens of Garden City; its residents are New Yorkers.”

Nassau Elected Officials:

Do you agree with The Times’ claim that people who pay local taxes are not citizens of their municipalities and should have no say in governing policies?

Do you agree that our democratically elected local government officials are unfit to make decisions regarding zoning laws?

Do you agree that the MTA is squandering money to improve and expand the LIRR?

Do you agree that the LIRR is a mode of transportation exclusively for the “rich”?

Do you agree with The Times’ demand that the state override local zoning laws and impose the construction of apartment buildings?

Do you agree that single-family homes should be demolished to provide space for multi-family housing?

As a Nassau County taxpayer and a citizen of the Town of Hempstead, I would like to learn your views on the issues raised by The Times before casting my vote this fall.

I look forward to hearing your responses.

Will the MTA return to normalcy? – By George J. Marlin

June 16, 2021

The following appeared on Monday, June 14, 2021 on The Island Now’s website: 

The past year was a tough one for the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA).

Gov. Cuomo’s COVID-19 shutdown caused mass transit ridership and fares to drop to historic lows.

And while the state’s economy is rebounding in 2021, the MTA’s return to normalcy is proceeding at a much slower pace.

Many private-sector employees have grown accustomed to working at home and are not in a rush to be dashing commuters. Others concerned about their safety are loathe to ride the crime-ridden subway system.

This reluctance helps explain why ridership numbers are still pretty dismal.

At the end of May, the Long Island Railroad had recovered 37 percent of its passengers; Metro North, 32 percent; subways, 41 percent; and buses, 52 percent.

Only the MTA’s bridges and tunnels are back to pre-pandemic traffic. The explanation: people avoiding mass transit are taking to the roads. (In our own backyard, the Northern State Parkway and the Long Island Expressway are a testimony to this phenomenon — they are constantly clogged.)

To manage the severe drop in revenue and to balance its books in 2020, the MTA borrowed $2.9 billion from the Federal Reserve, diverted capital project dollars to the operating budget and obtained $14.5 billion in one-shot revenue in COVID relief from Washington.

If the regular income streams fail to return to pre-pandemic levels and if the MTA does not receive additional federal, state, and city aid, or cut expenses, it could get ugly. The MTA’s $54.8 billion 2020-2024 capital program, which includes 517 projects, could be jeopardized.

The office of the state comptroller agrees.

A recent report released by Tom DiNapoli made this observation: “In a scenario with low ridership and no new capital assistance, the MTA may also be forced to reprioritize its capital program, thus pushing much-needed repairs and modernizations further into the future.

A reduction in the program would risk undoing progress in making the MTA safe, accessible, and reliable.”

In these troubling times, New York City mayoral wannabees have been proposing remedies they believe will save or improve our region’s mass transportation system. Sadly, some of them are just plain dopey.

Take for instance candidate Andrew Yang’s plan calling for the city to take control of subways and buses.

That idea is not new. Back in 1984, gubernatorial candidate Mario Cuomo issued a similar proposal. He argued his generation should decentralize the previous generation’s consolidation of mass transit.

However, shortly after Cuomo became the state’s chief executive, the head of the MTA, Richard Ravitch, lectured him on the absurdity of his idea, and it was never mentioned publicly again.

Why is it a dumb idea? Because the MTA was created by Gov. Nelson Rockefeller in the late 1960s to save the financially ailing and decrepit subway and suburban rail lines from ruination.

The key to the restructuring was the incorporation of the very profitable Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority (TBTA) under the MTA umbrella.

Toll revenue surpluses from TBTA’s facilities have been used to help defray the subway system’s never-ending annual operating deficits.

The MTA has also issued tens of billions of bonded debt to finance capital improvement plans that benefit mass transportation throughout the New York Metropolitan areas.

Such financing a city-controlled subway system could not do on its own. The financial markets that underwrite bonded debt would not have confidence in the City to manage the system let alone to come up with the dollars to pay off the debt.

Establishing a NYC Transit Authority independent of the MTA is impractical, and would only lead to a fiscal and operational meltdown.

It is difficult to believe that Andrew Yang is so ill-informed to make public such a ludicrous proposal.

The MTA is in serious trouble. And the recent leadership shake-up at the Authority will probably not help matters.

Therefore, if New York’s political class does not wake up and begin realistically addressing the MTA’s severe revenue loss and exploding debt burden, commuters will be left holding the bag. They will have to endure huge fare and toll increases, as well as service and repair cutbacks.