TRANSPORTATION ADVOCATES AND ELECTED OFFICIALS TO MTA AND GOVERNOR CUOMO: WE NEED BETTER SERVICE—NOT MORE POLICE

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[Transportation News\MTA Policing]
State Senator Alessandra Biaggi: "Instead of spending $249 million on a new police force, the MTA should increase bus and train service or make much-needed repairs to our ailing public transportation system. At a time when the MTA is already operating in the red, spending millions to hire more police officers is nonsensical and will just contribute to the over-policing of low-income New Yorkers and communities of color."
Photo: Danny Pearlstein\Riders Alliance

A broad citywide coalition of progressive grassroots organizations, public transit riders, and elected officials convened outside MTA headquarters Tuesday evening to call on Governor Andrew M. Cuomo to change course and remove the 500 new MTA police officers from his transit agency's budget vote Wednesday morning.

Rallygoers sought to protect the transit funds that enable the MTA to run the subways, buses, and Access-a-Ride services that eight million New Yorkers depend on each day.

Since proposing the addition of 500 new MTA police officers to the NYPD's 2,700 officer-strong Transit Bureau earlier this year, Governor Cuomo and aides have shifted from one justification to another. Initially announced as a crackdown on fare evasion, state officials have raised homelessness, felonies, misdemeanors and terrorism as possible rationales for spending $249 million more on police in four years. The MTA projects a budget deficit of $433 million over the same period.

THE SUBWAY IS SAFE

Meanwhile, the transit system is safe. When the governor claimed there had been a "dramatic increase in crime" last October, NYPD Commissioner James O'Neill sharply rebuked him, calling it a "total mischaracterization." O'Neill doubled down a few days later, announcing that "serious crime is down 3%," and clarified: "Increased ­arrests don’t indicate increased crime but are a sign of successful police activity that is taking perpetrators out of the system." For his part, NYC Transit President Andy Byford pointed out last week: "The stats clearly show that the subway is safe. It’s remarkably safe."

Moreover, 500 new MTA police officers would amount to a 15% increase in overall transit policing. Spread out across multiple tours and deployed in groups of several officers, it is unlikely that the influx could patrol more than a few dozen locations at any given time. As such, 500 new officers are unlikely to move the needle on fare evasion, homelessness, or random assaults. But 500 additional officers with little crime to solve could well become embroiled in more negative encounters with civilians, including teenagers and low-income food vendors, the fear of more than 70 organizations who opposed the influx in a letter last month.

THE CHOICE IS CUOMO'S

A recent Riders Alliance analysis found that for the same $249 million, the governor could direct the MTA to increase midday and weekend subway service by 15%. Fifteen percent more midday and weekend trains would save millions of riders valuable time every day. Trains that now come every six to ten minutes would instead arrive every five to eight minutes. More frequent service would improve rider safety by cutting long waits in stations and crowding on trains. Alternatively, some of the savings could also be spent to improve bus and Access-A-Ride service as well.

The governor's attempt to divert funds from transit service is not his first. Earlier in his administration, he raided hundreds of millions of dollars from transit-dedicated accounts for other state purposes. Last year's unanimously-enacted transit lockbox law meant to put a stop to such maneuvers does not directly reach the new police hire because they are technically part of the MTA's budget. However, the current push to add officers does fit a pattern of diversion of state policing resources into the city, including state troopers and the Department of Environmental Conservation officers.

"I can't speak for everyone, but for me at least, the subway has gotten significantly better over the past year," said Riders Alliance Member Mitchell White. "I used to get to work late at least once a week, but that number is now closer to once a month. This is a huge accomplishment and one that we should be celebrating. But if the Governor gets his way and forces the MTA to hire 500 new cops, nothing about my commute will be worth celebrating. Cops cost money the MTA doesn't have, which means they'll have to make cuts wherever they can. More cops means waiting longer for a train that's too crowded to get on. More cops means more delays because of signal problems. More cops means spending less time with friends and family and more time stuck in a tunnel. More cops means leaving my apartment early and still getting to work late. Governor Cuomo: we don't need more cops; we need more service. Invest in service, invest in riders and fix the subway."

New Yorkers don’t need more cops in their subway stations," said Mohamed Attia, Executive Director, Street Vendor Project. "They need more trains and buses, better services, and more affordable fares! Street Vendor Project urges the Governor and the MTA board to cancel their plan to hire new cops, instead, they should invest this fund to improve the transit system and create safe spaces for vending, so New Yorkers can have access to more affordable food and goods."

"CPC serves over 60,000 low-income, immigrant, and Asian American New Yorkers each year," said Amy Torres, Director of Policy & Advocacy at the Chinese-American Planning Council. "Our community members face enormous barriers to pursuing the same hopes and dreams as other New Yorkers. Our communities struggle with limited English proficiency, health disparities, housing insecurity, undocumented immigration status, and much more. Unfortunately, the State has cut services, funding, and resources that empower our families and communities. Increased policing in the MTA criminalizes low-income individuals and endangers our communities. Under the current 1996 'crimmigration' laws, even minor infractions like fare evasion can lead to deportation. CPC urges the Governor’s Office to instead put resources toward expanding services on buses and subways and invest in our communities.”

“While crime in New York City remains at or near historically low levels, our critically important transit system limps along in critical condition thanks to chronic underfunding," said Eric McClure, Executive Director, StreetsPAC. "The last thing that straphangers need is to have the MTA invest in more cops instead of the system upgrades that will improve the speed and reliability of daily commutes. Please, Governor Cuomo – put these funds to work fixing the subway.” 

“The proposal from Governor Cuomo and the MTA to hire 500 additional police officers is wrongheaded and blatantly criminalizes poverty,” said Anthony Posada, Supervising Attorney of the Community Justice Unit at The Legal Aid Society. This money should be reinvested to ensure that the most neediest New Yorkers have unbridled access to our transit system. We implore the MTA board to vote no.”

The Elevator Action Group/Rise and Resist said: "New Yorkers need the MTA and Gov. Cuomo to invest in elevator maintenance, not more police officers. The operating budget that pays for more police in subway stations is the same budget that is used to maintain elevators. The few elevators that do exist must be maintained in a system that is less than 25% accessible. The MTA insists that accessibility is a priority. They need to show their riders they mean it."

"We need better service – not more police in our subways," said State Senator Alessandra Biaggi (D-Bronx). "Instead of spending $249 million on a new police force, the MTA should increase bus and train service or make much needed repairs to our ailing public transportation system. At a time when the MTA is already operating in the red, spending millions to hire more police officers is nonsensical and will just contribute to the over-policing of low-income New Yorkers and communities of color. I urge the MTA to reject Governor Cuomo’s proposal to hire more officers and instead commit to increasing service."

"The Governor and MTA's decision to move more cops into New York City subways to crack down on fare evasion is a direct action to criminalize poverty," said Assemblymember Harvey Epstein. "The money being invested toward more police presence should be used to update our archaic transit system. It is appalling to me that the State would rather criminalize people than invest in a public good like mass transit. I hope the MTA and the Governor reconsider their use of funds and reallocate that money toward keeping fare prices low so people no longer have to jump turnstiles to get to work, or school, or appointments." 

Assistant State Assembly Speaker Félix W. Ortiz said: “The MTA has a responsibility to its riders to invest all available funds back into the transit system, providing more frequent and reliable service for everyone. Working people and communities underserved by good public transit need a system that works for them. All New Yorkers deserve a transit system that prioritizes the people that use it.”

"When transit crime is going down and ridership is going up, it is unconscionable to waste New Yorkers tax money on additional cops when what straphangers really need is more reliable, frequent service," said Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon. “We owe it to the New Yorkers who use subways and buses every day to improve performance and provide reliable, accessible transit, and to stop criminalizing poverty. I stand with the Riders Alliance and my colleagues to call on Governor Cuomo to invest in subway and bus service and not focus our limited resources on over-policing."

Our subways are crumbling, our bus system is atrociously unreliable, and many of our communities are still transit starved. Yet rather than tackle these foundational issues with more funding, the MTA wants to spend millions on police and ads disciplining New Yorkers to pay their fares instead," said NYC Council Member Carlos Menchaca. "Memo to the MTA: the poor are not the problem here. It’s the system that needs a reality check. I join transit advocates and my fellow City, State, and Federal colleagues in calling on Governor Cuomo and the MTA to focus on the problems they can fix, not make other ones worse through this budget proposal.”

Update by Riders Alliance's Policy & Communications Director Danny Pearlstein said: "Today, Governor Cuomo saddled the MTA with a new police force it can’t afford and doesn’t need. He made that decision in the face of all the evidence, arguments, and diverse voices in opposition. These new hires will be the governor’s cops. "Now the governor must deliver more and better transit service. He needs to act with the same force he applied to the police hire. New Yorkers are sick and tired of long waits for subways and buses. New Yorkers need more service."

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