In a State of the City speech devoted entirely to improve New York’s transportation system, Council Speaker Corey Johnson on Tuesday proposed that the city take control of the subway and bus system now ruled by a Metropolitan Transportation Authority dominated by the state.
The proposal impressed many for its thoroughness, but apparently not Gov. Cuomo. “Why hasn’t a mayor taken it over? There are about 10 billion reasons. That’s the $10 billion the state gives to the MTA, primarily New York City Transit Authority between operating and capital,” he told WAMC radio on Wednesday. “If New York City took it over, they take it over. They don’t get the $10 billion in state funding.”
The governor then said that if the city wished to take over the system, all it had to do was cancel the lease allowing the MTA to run the subways—a document to which the governor has pointed often in the past two years as he sought to deflect responsibility for the woes of the transit system.
Calling in to the Max & Murphy Show on WBAI later Wednesday, Johnson sought to deflect the governor’s dismissal:
“I’m going to take the high road because, to be able to achieve something like this, you have to be able to work with the governor, with the state legislature and a lot of stakeholders. I would say I put out a serious proposal, a serious plan with many different options, whether it’s dedicating a portion of the sales tax that we already pay, whether it’s looking at the payroll mobility tax or unincorporated business taxes or creating additional revenue streams and do it in a way that wouldn’t detrimentally affect the commuter railroads. … I want to have substantive conversation about that with him and with the state legislature, and not have it just be dismissed out of hand,” Johnson said.
“The city does technically own the subway stations, but the real question is not about ownership or about canceling a lease with one year’s notice. It’s about control,” Johnson continued. “It’s about reform and it’s about (as I said yesterday, and this isn’t personal about Governor Cuomo) any governor of New York State at any point is going to put interest of state above the interests of the city because they have to look out for the entire state. But the mayor has to put the city of New York first.
The speaker’s proposal also called for the city to create a master plan of its transportation system every five years. Advocates and planners have said the city needs a full comprehensive plan, tying together land-use, transit and other government investments.
Johnson indicated that wholesale changes to the city’s Uniform Land-Use Review Procedure, or ULURP, are not on the table. But he added: “Right now, our planning is done both at a transportation level and a land-use level in a piecemeal way where neighborhoods feel they’re are being asked to do what other ones aren’t. It creates a level of NIMBYism and resentment that you could potentially lesson if people everyone felt that everyone was going to be asked to do their part.”
On the air, the speaker also addressed what he thinks the future of the automobile looks like in New York: “We’re not saying there shouldn’t be any cars in New York City. We’re saying cars should no longer rule the road and be king and be the paramount thing that we look at.”
Listen to the full conversation with Johnson below, or hear the entire show, which includes a discussion with Hudson Valley Sen. David Carlucci about the new wave of suburban skepticism about congestion pricing.
New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson
Max & Murphy: Full Show of March 6, 2019