Moynihan Station Developers Still Optimistic

The Moynihan Station project has been in its share of battles & who knows if this much needed project will ever become a reality. If you ask the developers in charge,  they will tell you that they are still optimistic about its chances even though the owners of Madison Square Garden announced they will not move their arena & forge on with their own renovation plans. Eliot Brown of The New York Observer has more to say:

In case there was any doubt, Steve Roth and Steve Ross really want Madison Square Garden to move.

This morning, some 13 weeks after Madison Square Garden announced it was renovating and staying in place (i.e. not moving), the developer duo professed, once again, their eagerness to see the Paterson administration pick up the ball and move forward with the large-scale Moynihan Station plan. The plan, in its most recent iteration, would involve the state using Port Authority money intended for regional transportation projects to buy the Garden and its air rights from the Dolan family, that is, if they’re willing to sell (the Dolans have expressed no interest and are moving forward with the renovation).

Mr. Ross is the chairman of the Related Companies and Mr. Roth is chairman of Vornado Realty Trust, the two designated developers in the project that would redo Pennsylvania Station.

Why not let the dream die? The air rights that would be unleashed from the Garden moving, as Mr. Roth reminded the crowd at the Portfolio real estate breakfast at the Four Seasons Pool Room, are of great value.

“Since Vornado owns all the property around it, and half the air rights above Madison Square Garden, obviously, it’s ‘come to mama,’” he said.

Some other tidbits from the breakfast:

  • Mr. Roth was candid as to why he wants the Garden to move to Farley: It’s the only other place they’ll consider besides their current site, he said. “We don’t care if they move to Iowa. … They can move as far west as they want.”
  • Apparently the plan to move the Garden to the rear of the Farley building was the brainchild of Mr. Ross, at least according to Mr. Roth.
  • Mr. Ross likes the Port Authority for reasons other than just its money. As he put it, “If the Port Authority does it, there isn’t any additional approvals, and you don’t have to go to the state or Shelly [Silver, the Assembly speaker] to get approvals to make it happen, so I believe that the governor will see it that way.”
  • Mr. Ross and Mr. Roth seemed to differ some in how strongly they feel about pushing the larger plan. Mr. Ross said he was optimistic that the whole thing would come together, (rating its chances 8 out of 10). Mr. Roth has previously trumped a scaled down “Plan B”, though talk of that was absent today (at the end of the discussion on Moynihan, Mr. Roth put the chances of everything coming together at 7.5 out of 10 … though he also added later that the reason the two were so optimistic was there was a tenant in the room, looking squarely at S.I. Newhouse, whose Condé Nast is on the hunt for a new office tower.

This project in my opinion is even more important than East Side Access. The current Penn Station is undersizd for the passenger load & quite frankly is not up to par with what a major transportation hub should look like. With ridership growing year by year, a bigger facility is needed & greedy people like the Dolans need to be put in their place.

xoxo Transit Blogger

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Cuomo Pleased, Russianoff Not

As you know, the MTA Board voted to revoke the free travel perks to current & past board members at their board meeting yesterday. Later on that day, State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo & Straphangers Campaign Staff Lawyer Gene Russianoff released statements. Here is Bharat Ayyar’s report courtesy of The New York Observer:

The M.T.A. board voted this morning to amend its policy of handing out free E-ZPasses and transit passes to current and former board members. Now, only current board members will get the perks and only for use on official M.T.A. business.

Andrew Cuomo, who came out strongly against the M.T.A.’s previous policy, was glad:

“I am pleased the MTA board today adopted a new policy recognizing that under the law board members are not entitled to compensation of any kind. In taking this step, the MTA board now recognizes that no one, including government agencies and officials, is above the law. Getting rid of lifetime E-ZPasses and other perks will ensure the independence of the MTA board and will save New York taxpayers money.”

I’m waiting to hear back whether Cuomo will still try to recoup the money.

The Straphangers Campaign’s Gene Russianoff, like Cuomo, also released a statement today. Unlike Cuomo, Russianoff continued to be critical of the policy, and pushed for greater oversight of public authorities like the M.T.A.

The full Straphangers release:

The financial news for the MTA and its millions of riders is terrible, with threats of fare hikes, service cuts and a downturn in the crucial rebuilding program. In the midst of this budget Armageddon, should we be talking about whether Board members should be getting free EZ-Passes and MetroCards for life? Isn’t it a distraction from the crucial problems confronting the system?

I do think that the policy on free passes raises at least two important issues.

First, the composition of the MTA board is unrepresentative of the riders who use your system — whether it’s by income, gender or race. No wonder your customers and their elected officials howled when they heard that MTA Board Members were exempted from feeling the impact of fare and toll hikes for life.

Your appointing officials — the Governor, Mayor and suburban County Executives — must commit to more diversity in their nominees to the Board. And they must find ways to make sure that all Board members regularly use transit.

Second, the MTA has a credibility problem as it asks the State, the City and possibly its riders and motorists to come to its financial rescue. The public’s skepticism has been fueled by real events, from the MTA’s spending $400 million in cost overruns for its building in lower Manhattan to the on-again, off-again service enhancements.

In all fairness, the MTA has taken steps to make itself more transparent, like releasing its preliminary budget six months in advance. But this is not enough.

Now you can take the view that negative stories are inevitable, so why bother. Or you can try to take action to improve how the public views the MTA

The state legislature has been considering beefing up a public authority oversight board, designed to open up the MTA’s policies and decisions to the public. I would urge the Board to embrace the benefits of an oversite board. Another step would be creating an easy way for the public to keep track of your contracts.

The choice is yours: You can either chalk up the EZ-Pass furor as an unfair turn of the screw. Or you can act to make the MTA more diverse and accountable.

I agree with Gene’s position. As I wrote yesterday, the MTA should consider hiring your average straphanger or solid transit advocate to the board. The board clearly could use real people who understand the grind of a daily commute & what could be done to help improve it.

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F Train Service Alert

The MTA has posted a service alert regarding train service. The service alert states:

Due to someone requiring medical assistance at the York Street Station, Coney Island-bound trains are running on the line between the West 4th Street-Washington Square Station and the Jay Street-Borough Hall Station. Please expect delays in service on the at this time.

xoxo  Transit Blogger

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Congestion Pricing Has Nine Lives

Just when I thought that the bullshit congestion pricing plan was buried, comes the news that it has nine lives! This is due to Gov. David Patterson who found Mayor Bloomberg’s congestion pricing plan to be “unique and well thought out.” He said this in an exclusive interview with CBS-2 New York. Here is Jay Dow’s report:

If you thought congestion pricing hit a red light, think again. The controversial plan is getting new life.

Congestion pricing seems to have more lives than an alley cat. After state legislators shot down the plan in April, it’s returned – put back in play by Gov. David Paterson, who in an exclusive interview with CBS 2 said, “I thought Mayor Bloomberg’s congestion pricing plan was unique and well thought out.”

Charging a fee to drivers who enter Manhattan’s central business district during peak travel times was, and still is a clear way to generate revenue according to Richard Ravitch, who chairs an independent MTA funding commission set up by Gov. Paterson.

“The idea of raising revenue through the use of automobiles in this city is something that would have to be considered as one of many options,” said Ravitch.

But it’s going to be a tough sell. For budget conscious drivers, congestion pricing remains a bad idea.

“I hate it. I can’t take it,” said Brian Doherty of Queens.

“Bad idea. I can’t afford it. It’s that simple,” added Jim Spencer of Stamford, Conn.

The first meeting of the Ravitch Commission is Wednesday, and sources tell CBS 2 HD because congestion pricing got such a bad rap. They may end up calling it something else.

My thoughts on this have not changed from what I posted in the past. I find it pathetic if they truly try to pass off this “saving grace” sham under a new name. Do they really think we are idiots & would not realize it is the same plan if nothing is changed? I am curious to see what the Ravitch Commission comes up with in terms of financial solutions for the MTA. Lets hope it is something that would legitimately help & not rob from Peter to pay Paul.

xoxo Transit Blogger

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Mayor Bloomberg Clashes With MTA Board

A battle of rich people is coming to your home via PPV real soon. Ok, I am not being serious about the battle coming to PPV but it is brewing. The battle is between Mayor Bloomberg & the MTA Board over who shoudl be appointed the next chairman of a key transit committee that helps set policy including such key tasks as whether fares get raised or not. New York Daily News transit reporter Pete Donohue had this report:

Mayor Bloomberg and the MTA are clashing over who should be the next chairman of a key transit committee that helps set policy – including whether or not to raise fares.

Bloomberg would like to see lawyer Mark Lebow, one of the mayor’s four representatives on the board, named head of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s transit committee, sources said. Lebow has been vice chairman of the panel, which focuses on subways and buses, for six years.

But MTA brass have told City Hall officials that the vacancy won’t go to a city rep because the MTA essentially is a state agency, sources said. MTA Chairman Dale Hemmerdinger, who makes the final call, was picked by former Gov. Eliot Spitzer, as was MTA CEO Elliot Sander.

There appears to be a growing rift between City Hall and the MTA. On Monday, Lebow and another mayoral appointee aggressively grilled transit management about train delays, cost overruns and other issues. Lebow openly questioned whether there was a talent drain at NYC Transit and lax supervision, which NYC Transit President Howard Roberts hotly rejected.

City representatives also were poised to vote against an amendment to the MTA’s capital plan if a vote was scheduled for this week.

Still, both sides Tuesday denied there was a power struggle taking place. The committee chairman has influence over what proposals are brought up for discussion and votes, and has a higher profile than others on the committee. Until recently, it was led by longtime board member Barry Feinstein, whose latest term expired.

“We believe the job of committee chairman should go to whomever is the most qualified person,” Bloomberg spokesman Stu Loeser said. “We don’t believe that people who happen to be representatives of the city should be preemptively blocked from getting there.”

One transit source said Doreen Frasca, another governor-nominated MTA board member, is on track to get the leadership position.

“No decision has been made,” MTA spokesman Jeremy Soffin insisted. “The chairman is going to choose the person he thinks is the best fit … regardless of affiliation or appointment.”

The full MTA board today is expected to adopt a policy change that ends free lifetime travel perks for board members and their spouses. Current members will still get free access to subways, buses, commuter trains, and bridges, but only if related to their official duties. Hemmerdinger also will direct former board members to turn in their parking permits issued via the MTA Police Department. That recall doesn’t need board approval, officials said.

Personally I don’t care for this battle as both parties are coming across as spoiled children. The main goal should be placing the most qualified individual in the position. While we have a better chance of seeing pigs fly, the MTA should consider your average straphanger or a solid transit advocate for the position. If not for this position, a place on the board even if it is in a non-voting capacity at the beginning.

xoxo  Transit Blogger

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