September 14, 2018: Tax The Rich, Fix The Subway, Lose The Primary

Good news for everyone who is getting a tote: the totes have been shipped! Thanks again to everyone who donated.

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After all that, it took only half an hour after polls closed for Governor Cuomo to be declared the victor. As I’m writing this, Cuomo has about two-thirds of the votes over primary challenger Cynthia Nixon. In the end, it wasn’t even close.

I’m not a political analyst—nor do I wish to be—but I feel thrust into the role at least a little bit, because there has perhaps never been a political race in this country where mass transit was such a big campaign issue (if you can think of counterexamples, please correct me). Nixon’s most prominent policy proposal was that she would fix the subway. As the campaign went on, her message became “I will tax the rich and I will fix the subway.” And it didn’t work. It’s not like Nixon won the votes of subway riders and lost everyone else. As it turned out, Nixon didn’t come close to winning a single borough or any county that pays into the MTA.

Going into the race, I thought there was an opening for her to exploit. Maybe this was my bias showing. I cover the subway for a living and was therefore hypersensitive to the frustrations many New Yorkers have with their daily commutes. In retrospect, it’s possible I overestimated either the degree of the frustration or the extent to which it would manifest into votes.

But I think there was another element to her failure. Her campaign simply wasn’t very good on this issue. I, for one, never found her Fix The Subway pitch convincing. Nobody who is actually aware of the myriad issues that plague the MTA or its history of deep, structural bureaucratic rot could possibly declare with such certainty they would fix it, much less in four years. But even then, I could have passed it off as bluster except she never demonstrated an active understanding of the issue. She didn’t seriously engage with the MTA’s horrendous costs and spending issues. She rarely, if ever, uttered the number $17 billion, which is the MTA’s budget next year. Her solutions boiled down to throwing rich people’s money down the hole and cribbing Andy Byford’s ideas. For a challenger to a big-moneyed incumbent, the lack of steady ground on her tent-pole issue registered as disconcerting.

Of course, these concerns about her Fix The Subway platform were still negotiable because she was running against the guy who, you know, broke the subway. To this end, Ben Kabak of Second Ave. Sagas offered some strong words earlier in the week:

Make no mistake about it: Governor Cuomo is in charge of the MTA and the New York City subways, and he has been a bad steward of the crown-jewel American subway system. If he earns himself the nomination on Thursday or a victory in November, I don’t expect anything to change, and neither should you.

True. But the difference between their Fix The Subway platforms was much smaller than their combative rhetoric would suggest. Cuomo hired the guy who came out with the Fast Forward Plan and has supported it. Cuomo says he supports congestion pricing and will seek to get it passed this cycle. Nixon’s additional “fixes” were more taxes with no explanation on how that additional money would make the MTA better or the ramifications of doubling the state budget. She spent so much time (rightly!) railing on Cuomo for failing subway riders, but then offered the same basic fixes. That’s not a winning platform.

This isn’t to excuse Cuomo’s neglect of the MTA, but to lament his challenger was not up to the task. Inexplicably, Nixon didn’t engage with the part of the MTA narrative where Cuomo was most vulnerable: the inflated budget and mega-project costs, which enrich some of Cuomo’s largest donors and union partners and was therefore the one issue Cuomo wouldn’t touch. It fit squarely within the narrative she was painting of her opponent. But it was rarely raised. In fact, she did the exact opposite by vowing to inflate that budget even further. Again: for what end?

The only things Nixon brought to the Fix The Subway table was that she rode the subway and wasn’t the one that broke it. I understand the very important symbolic nature of her campaign standing up for subway riders, but there ought to be substance behind that. And I must not have been the only one, because the vast majority of downstate voters didn’t find her message convincing enough to fill in the bubble next to her name.

As it happens, the Gubernatorial candidate with the best MTA platform by a long mile is still in the race. He ran uncontested. But, somehow, I don’t think many subway riders will be voting Republican this November. After all, as important as the subway is, it is not the only thing. Other issues matter, too.

News You Probably Can't Use, But About Which You Can Certainly Brood

  • A new subway station opened! I call Cortlandt St new because honestly how many of the people who live in New York now lived here 17 years ago? Anyways, I’ll be very interested to see ridership numbers when they release them next year.

  • Remember last week when I highlighted the signal problems on the B/D line at West 4th as an example of a recurring issue in a short time span? Well, it turned out that was the contractor’s fault. Workers for TC-Electric, which won the $174 million contract to modernize the W4th St switch/signal system, left a wire open which was screwing with the signal system. The work required to fix the problem got billed to the department which oversees capital projects, not day-to-day operations.

  • The MTA Sustainability Advisory Working Group, brought into existence by the latest state budget, which Cuomo did not actually put into existence until Politico asked him why it didn’t exist, will actually meet for the first time next week, Politico reports (subscription required). It has until the end of the year to suggest how to fix the MTA. The best case scenario is this group serves as competent aggregators of the various other working groups and reports that have been issued on the subject. The worst case scenario is they tell Cuomo what he wants to hear.

  • It feels like this article came out a month ago, but: Politico reports Cuomo’s advisors have tried to convince him to take the subway, but he refuses, perhaps because, ‘the image of a “passive straphanger’ doesn't align with the governor’s can-do persona.” I’m pretty sure it was Neitzche who said: if you don’t have something to honk, are you even alive?

  • The MTA is adding a fifth bus route during the L shutdown and the first serving East New York. This is primarily to address accessibility issues. For most commuters from the East New York area, they will be able to take the L and make a free transfer to the 3 at Livonia Ave/Junius St. But those are not accessible stations. So, the MTA is upgrading Rockaway Parkway to ADA compliance and adding a bus route from Rockaway Parkway to Crown Heights-Utica Ave on the 3/4, which is accessible. The problem: the bus will only run during peak hours on weekdays with 20 minute headways, a limited schedule to say the least.

  • Both the New York Times and The Post are reporting MTA Board member and Cuomo “henchman” Larry Schwartz is the man behind the campaign mailer sent to Jewish neighborhoods accusing Nixon of being anti-Semitic (she is not) and supporting the BDS movement (she does not). Longtime subscribers may recall this is the same Larry Schwartz who verbally berated a public speaker for daring to suggest the MTA Board enacts good governance practices to prevent conflicts of interest.

  • 89 percent of the people arrested this year for turnstile jumping are black and Hispanic, according to The Marshall Project/Gothamist. 89 percent!

  • If the Mayor signs a city council bill into law, then DOT will have to create an Ombudsman to field your gripes about the L shutdown. Prayers for whoever gets that job.

  • Six cars can now platform at LIRR stops in Kew Gardens and Forest Hills, instead of the previous four cars.

  • If you would like to get upset—or, more upset than usual—read this dispatch from a WNYC reporter’s experience using the Seoul subway.

  • It’s important to remember that the Hudson River tunnels NJ Transit and Amtrak trains run through probably won’t collapse. They will slowly degrade over time, causing more and more delays and safety issues.

In Which I Make An Educated Guess About When Things Will Get Better

This week's estimate: June 2022

Change log (the links are where I explain the change):

May 25, 2018: June 2022

March 30, 2018: 2030

March 16, 2018: 2024

February 2, 2018: 2021

January 20, 2018: 2020

Your Upcoming Service Advisories, Provided by Lance from Subway Weekender

Note: the service advisories reflect the most disruptive changes. Be sure to check the maps or the MTA website for a full list of service changes.

Weekend:

  • 1 – Outbound service is express-only between Dyckman St and 242 Street

  • 2 – Wakefield-bound service is express-only between 3 Av-149 St and E 180 Street

  • 3 – No service between 96 Street and Harlem-148 St

  • 4 6 – Downtown service is express-only between 125 Street and Grand Central

  • 5 – No service between E 180 Street and 149 St-Grand Concourse

  • 7 – Manhattan-bound service is express-only in Queens

  • C – No service between 145 Street and 168 Street

  • D – All service runs via A and F lines between 59 St-Columbus Circle and Kings Hwy

  • E F – All service is local-only in Queens

  • F – multiple diversions

    • All service runs via Q and D lines in Manhattan and Brooklyn

    • No service between Kings Hwy and Coney Island

  • G – No service between Nassau Av and Court Square

  • J – No service between Crescent St and Jamaica Center

  • N – No service between Queensboro Plaza and Ditmars Blvd

 Late Nights:

  • 1 2 – Downtown service is express-only between Times Sq-42 St and Chambers St

  • 7 – No service between Queensboro Plaza and 34 St-Hudson Yards (Tue. morning only)

  • A – Uptown service runs via F line between Jay St and W 4 Street

  • D – Manhattan-bound service runs via N line between Coney Island and 36 St/4 Av

  • E – No service between W 4 Street and 2 Avenue

  • F – All service is local-only in Queens

  • L – No service between Broadway Junction and 8 Avenue

  • N Q – Uptown service is express-only between Canal St and 34 St-Herald Sq

Meanwhile, in the Rest of the World

  • The LA Metro is deploying portable body scanners to screen passengers for weapons and explosives. They say the screening is “voluntary,” but if you don’t consent to screening, you can’t ride the subway.

  • The Guangzhou–Shenzhen-Hong Kong high-speed rail line is almost ready.

  • Yonah Freemark@yfreemark

    In a reversal of previous policy, French government will invest in new high-speed rail lines: Most important links will run from Bordeaux-Toulouse, Marseille-Nice, and Paris-Le Havre. https://t.co/KYKvnWmq5c

    September 12, 2018

  • I don’t even know how to describe whatever it is this proposal is for out of Colchester, UK. The local paper calls it “a tram-style monorail” on an elevated enclosed track with a pedestrian and bike path underneath.

David Roth’s Esteemed Subway Rider of the Week

“Kind of a weak one in terms of actual people. Somehow every time I got on the train it was full of sweaty and exhausted-looking concrete workers and I was myself also very sweaty and exhausted-looking. BUT. There was a beefy brown French Bulldog on the train today that absolutely disrupted shit on the train in the best possible way. Just sniffing teens and old ladies who had been having a conversation in Chinese and then started petting it. Dude lay down basically on my shoes and then looked up and smiled at me. A truly powerful animal, and I think a worthy candidate despite not being a person.”

Double Dog in a Bag

MTA Rules of Conduct Section 1050.9 Subsection (h) Paragraph 2: no person may bring any animal on or into any conveyance or facility unless enclosed in a container and carried in a manner which would not annoy other passengers.

Have a dog in a bag photo? Reading this on the subway and see a dog in a bag? Take a picture and send it to aaron.wittes.gordon@gmail.com.

Photo credit: Bee Cambell

This has been another edition of Signal Problems, a weekly newsletter helping you figure out what is going on with the subway, made every week by Aaron Gordon, freelance transportation reporter. Read on the web or view the archives at signalproblems.nyc.

If you’re enjoying this newsletter, please share it with others. It’s the best way you can say thanks.

As always, send any feedback, subway questions, or Dog in a Bag photos to aaron.wittes.gordon@gmail.com. I’d love to hear from you. As someone on a stalled Q train once told me, we’re all in this together.