New York City mayoral candidate Speaker Christine Quinn is calling for the city to take over control of Metro-North's parent agency, the MTA, as a way to give straphangers and bus riders a greater voice in how the cash-strapped agency spends its money.
"Of the 1.8 billion people who ride the MTA system each year, more than 90 percent use New York City's subways and buses," the City Council speaker said during a conference on the city's mass transit future at LaGuardia Community College in Queens on Thursday.
"And the vast majority of the dollars that fund that system come from the five boroughs -- through fares, tolls and taxes. But right now, New Yorkers have little say in how that system is run," she added.
Quinn's proposal has been floated before during the on-again, off-again tug of war between city and county lawmakers seeking a greater share of a $12 billion Metropolitan Transportation Authority budget that covers the needs of city subway and bus riders as well as commuters from the Hudson Valley and Long Island.
Any such change would require the consent of the governor, who appoints the MTA chairman and nominates its 16 board members. Four are recommended by the New York City mayor, and county executives from Long Island, Rockland, Westchester, Orange and Putnam counties get one recommendation each.
Metro-North President Howard Permut declined to comment on Quinn's proposal, an MTA spokeswoman said.
Veteran transit advocates applauded Quinn's efforts to highlight the concerns of straphangers, but they say political realities suggest Quinn would have a difficult time drumming up support among state lawmakers.
"She made a good case for it, but it's easier said than done," said Gene Russianoff, the legal director of the New York Public Interest Research Group's Straphangers Campaign. "It's unlikely that Albany is going to change anytime soon."
Quinn also used her speech to voice support for Metro-North's plans to have its trains travel through the Bronx and down Manhattan's West Side on their way to Penn Station in midtown -- a plan that has the support of the MTA's acting chairman, Fernando Ferrer.
She backed the commuter rail's plans to add station stops on the West Side as well as four in the Bronx -- in Co-op City, Parkchester, Morris Park and Hunts Point.
The additions would knock half an hour or more off commuting times for tens of thousands of Bronx residents and would encourage economic activity, Quinn said.
"If we start work soon, we could see expanded Metro-North access before the end of the decade, and the average commute time for riders cut in half," Quinn said. "We'll take cars off the road, and potentially reduce neighborhoods' reliance on more expensive express buses -- saving subsidy dollars and relieving congestion. And we'll be able to turn these new stations into hubs for new retail and service jobs."
Metro-North is hoping to provide access to Penn Station by the fall of 2019, a deadline timed to the expected opening up of Grand Central Terminal to Long Island Rail Road commuters for the first time.
The MTA hopes to add the project to its five-year capital construction plan next year. It's expected to cost "hundreds of millions of dollars," the MTA estimated. The agency is in the midst of a study to determine the passenger needs for each of the four railroads.
Under the plan, Metro-North's New Haven Line would split off after New Rochelle, with some trains heading to Penn Station and others going to Grand Central.
Quinn said Metro-North access to the West Side makes sense for a city whose workers mostly live outside Manhattan.
"Our city has changed over time," Quinn said. "But our transit system hasn't kept pace. It's a system that still operates as though the majority of New Yorkers live and work in Manhattan. And it assumes that wherever you live, you're always trying to get in or out of the central business district. We still have one of the best transit systems in the world, but it simply doesn't serve every neighborhood or every New Yorker."