On Wednesday, May 15, Roosevelt House hosted a very special evening on the future of transit governance in New York and the region, featuring an extraordinary panel: Hon. Corey Johnson, New York City Council Speaker; Carol Kellermann, former president, Citizens Budget Commission and former NYC Deputy Commissioner of Finance; and Veronica Vanterpool, MTA board member and former director, Tri-State Transportation Campaign. The Roosevelt House 2019 Theodore W. Kheel Fellow, Charles Komanoff, served as moderator.
Mr. Komanoff introduced the evening by recounting the recent developments on congestion pricing in the New York metropolitan area:
“In August 2017, Andrew Cuomo telephoned the NY Times’ Albany bureau chief and said: Print this: ‘Congestion pricing is an idea whose time has come.’
Twenty months later, the legislature passed a budget bill authorizing the MTA to design and implement a congestion pricing system for New York City — a watershed moment in keeping with a dream of Ted Kheel, the patron saint of this forum — to bring the automobile and mass transit into balance by using congestion fees on the one to finance the other.”
Komanoff continued with an introduction of the distinguished panel joining him before continuing on to the topic of Wednesday evening’s program:
“Each of our panelists had a hand in making that happen. Although tonight’s forum is not about congestion pricing, their contributions to its passage are a good way to introduce them.
Carol Kellermann has spent decades in non-profit and government service helping New York City and State thrive. For years Carol and the Citizens Budget Commission pounded home two vital messages about mass transit: that it is essential to New York’s fiscal health . . . and that debt financing is unsustainable. Enough people listened that when the cry to “fix our transit” grew deafening, the governor understood that he had to create new revenue sources . . . and did so.
Veronica Vanterpool played a big part in building that cry as head of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign — one of the super-stars in New York’s extraordinary constellation of transit advocacy groups. Veronica moved on from Tri-State but continues to represent transit riders — and I mean represent — as one of the mayor’s four voting appointees to the MTA board.
Does Corey Johnson’s behind-the-scenes work for congestion pricing merit the word mensch or dayenu? Maybe both. It would have sufficed that the speaker got the City Council to pass Fair Fares, joining the anti-poverty movement with the transit movement and putting paid to the argument that congestion pricing was regressive. It would have sufficed that last September the speaker and his staff figured out a way to harness the mayor’s and the governor’s legal powers to extend the city’s speed camera program; that not only saved lives, it helped clear a path for the mayor to endorse congestion pricing.
There are other dayenu’s, but let’s move to our program. ‘Blow up the MTA. Blow it up,’ Gov. Cuomo said in January, during a meeting with the Daily News editorial board. Who knows what the governor meant? But we know what we want in our transit and transportation: dependability, affordability, transparency, accountability. No more out-of-control costs, unending construction, rampant overtime, revolving-door consultants, money down the drain. How do we get there?”
Read Carol Kellermann’s opinion piece “‘Blow up the MTA’? Not Yet” in Gotham Gazette.
Watch the video below to see the full panel discussion:
The panel discussion is a signature event of the Theodore Kheel Fellowship in Transportation Policy at the Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute at Hunter College. The late Mr. Kheel was a major advocate for public transit and saw transportation as a civil rights issue.
This evening was made possible through the generosity of The Nurture Nature Foundation.