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MTA, Metro North at a crossroads

A train leaves the Syosset LIRR train station

A train leaves the Syosset LIRR train station on July 26, 2011. Credit: Chris Ware

Daily Point

Tug of war

Usually, the committee that handles both the Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North coalesces around similar viewpoints and issues. Most of the time, there’s far more agreement than disagreement.

But the committee’s discussion of the MTA’s proposed capital plan became testy toward the end of Monday’s meeting, when representatives who support Metro-North, or represent communities on Metro-North’s lines, lamented how the funding was allocated. The 2020-24 capital plan provides the LIRR with $1 billion more than for Metro-North.

“A billion-dollar discrepancy is a tipping point. It’s too big a miss. It’s too big a discrepancy,” said committee co-chair Susan Metzger, the MTA board’s Orange County representative, who casts a joint vote with the representatives from Dutchess, Rockland and Putnam counties.

Echoing that lament was Veronica Vanterpool, a Mayor Bill de Blasio appointee, and Neal Zuckerman, the Putnam County representative.

In response, Kevin Law, the Long Island Association’s chief executive and an MTA board member, noted that one of the LIRR’s key projects — the East Side Access effort to connect the railroad to Grand Central Terminal — would help the entire system, including Metro-North. That  project also will pave the way for Metro-North’s future extension into Penn Station. There’s $798 million allocated for East Side Access in the next capital plan — about three-fourths of the discrepancy between the two railroads. 

“We can’t be pitting Long Island Rail Road versus Metro-North,” Law said. “We are one system.” 

To which Metzger said, “We need to have a much longer discussion.” 

Expect more fireworks on Wednesday, when the full MTA board is expected to vote on the capital plan.

- Randi F. Marshall @RandiMarshall

Talking Point

Congestion pricing: All about the details

Even as Metro-North and the LIRR fight over the same pot of money, they’re both helped by one of the biggest sources of funding for the MTA’s $51.5 billion capital plan. That is, the tolling of Manhattan’s central business district, known as congestion pricing. 

But even as the MTA is counting on congestion pricing, there are still a lot of questions about how that revenue scheme should work. In a new report, the Regional Plan Association focuses on details such as who should be exempt, and whether pricing should vary depending on the time of day.

The RPA recommends: Tolling should be instituted both ways, so customers are charged when entering and exiting the zone, rather than one lump sum just when going into the business district. The association said that if drivers were charged in both directions, it would help to stop “toll shopping”; be more equitable because drivers are charged whether they’re heading into and out of the zone; and allow for additional differentiation, as the classification of peak times would be different for incoming traffic versus outgoing traffic.

The RPA also recommends shifting the congestion fee based on time of day, so drivers are charged more during peak times, and by the size of vehicle, which especially could stop clogged streets by encouraging off-peak deliveries. One scenario could involve a toll that ranges from $3.06 to $9.18 each way depending on the time of day, with no toll during weekend overnight hours.

But the RPA didn’t provide recommendations on what is perhaps the most controversial decision still to be made: When do drivers get credit when traveling into the congestion zone? 

That becomes an issue for drivers, for instance, who pay a tool to get through the Queens-Midtown Tunnel and then into the central business district. Should their tunnel toll be credited against the congestion-pricing fee? And what about drivers outside the zone? Should those traveling over the RFK Bridge, for instance, have to pay the bridge toll, and then the full congestion zone toll? Then there are those in other boroughs, crossing bridges like the Verrazzano, to consider.

In any of those scenarios, the association says, credits would in turn reduce revenue, which in turn would mean higher congestion tolls to make up for the loss.

Lucky for the RPA, it’s not responsible for answering the tough questions. That job is in the hands of the Traffic Mobility Review Board — and its recommendations aren’t due until the end of 2020.

- Randi F. Marshall @RandiMarshall

Pencil Point

Fouled

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Quick Points

  • Long Island opt-out organizers say declining numbers of students opting out of state tests are due to new parents not being aware of the cause. Or, perhaps, it’s new parents not being down with the cause.
  • President Donald Trump did the right thing in announcing a planned ban on flavored e-cigarettes. Now he’s being shown data that the numbers of adult vapers in key battleground states like Florida, Michigan and Pennsylvania are way bigger than Trump’s 2016 victory margin in those states. Sounds like the beginning of another background checks-style switcheroo.
  • When New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio dropped out of the Democratic presidential race, he said: “I feel like I contributed all I can to the primary campaign.” Given that he contributed virtually nothing, that about sums it up.
  • President Donald Trump said he’d “love” to release a transcript of his phone call with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky in which Trump allegedly asked Zelensky to investigate potential presidential foe Joe Biden. We’d love it, too.
  • Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says releasing a transcript of a president’s phone call with a world leader is appropriate only “in the most extreme circumstances.” So, Mr. Secretary, does a potential impeachable offense qualify?
  • While President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden attack each other and exchange campaign barbs ...... sssshhhh ...... Sen. Elizabeth Warren just moved ahead of Biden in Iowa polling.
  • Addressing UN General Assembly attendees two years ago, President Donald Trump threatened to destroy North Korea, provoking alarm. Last year, he told them he had accomplished more than almost any other American president, provoking laughter. Having ranged from annihilation to self-aggrandizement, what norm-breaking is on tap this year — humility?

- Michael Dobie @mwdobie

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