Does Staten Island Get Enough Transit Funding?
ROSTAS 1: It’s noon on a sunny day at St. George ferry terminal on Staten Island – not a bad day for a boat ride… but not like the people here have much of a choice.
A busker sings an… appropriate song… to a crowd of commuters waiting to get off the island.
BUSKER: Just sitting on the dock of the bay, watching the time roll away.
ROSTAS 2: Nydia Pazol (NEE DEE A PAYZOL) says she commutes 2 hours each way from the West Shore of Staten Island to her job as a building caretaker in the Bronx. Today’s commute isn’t off to a good start – her bus was late.
PAZOL 1: It’s crazy!
R: How long does it normally take?
P: 35 to 40 minutes.
R: And how long did it take today?
P: An hour and ten minutes.
ROSTAS 3: Meaning she missed the ferry and had to wait a half hour for the next one. On Staten Island, ferries only come once every 30 minutes after rush hour.
PAZOL 2: I would have been on the 4 train already! Right now, I’m already late – I’m already an hour late.
ROSTAS 4: Mayor de Blasio recently promised $1.7 billion dollars in funding for a light rail project between Brooklyn and Queens.
Meanwhile, a Staten Island non-profit has been trying for over a decade to get city support for a similar project. It says a light rail line on the west shore would improve transit on Staten Island and speed up connections to the rest of the city.
But board members of the Staten Island Economic Development Corporation – or SIEDC – say they can’t get $5 million dollars they say they need to move forward with the proposal.
They say Staten Island isn’t getting the same transit investment as other boroughs.
GRILLO 1: We’ve been fighting for over a decade and we couldn’t even get a transit agency to entertain the idea of doing a study.
ROSTAS 5: Steve Grillo is with the SIEDC. He says he was furious with transit officials when he heard about the Brooklyn/Queens project, since they had told his organization such a transit line wasn’t feasible.
GRILLO 2: It’s as if they just snapped their fingers, and all of a sudden, the light rail project’s a viability. It’s not fair, it’s not right. And I think that there’s just not an interest in the half a million residents of Staten Island.
ROSTAS 6: That’s half a million residents versus 2.6 million in Brooklyn and 2.3 million in Queens.
So Staten Island makes up only 6 percent of New York City’s population – but its population is growing at a faster rate than the rest of the city.
The borough’s population increased by almost 6 percent in the last census, compared to just over 2 percent growth across the city. Grillo says authorities aren’t taking the borough’s needs seriously.
GRILLO 3: There are 7000 new jobs expected to come to the West Shore over the next 5 to 10 years. If we’re going to actually have the economic development and recreation opportunities that the city and state have promised us, we need to have mass transit to go along with it.
ROSTAS 7: In the meantime, a recent study says the current transit system is leaving Staten Islanders behind.
Sarah Kaufman is a transportation data expert at NYU. She ranked all of the city’s neighborhoods by how many jobs residents could reach in an hour of transit-time from their homes.
The result? Not so good for Staten Island.
The highest-scoring neighborhood in the borough – on the Northeast part of the Island – ranked ONLY 141st in the city. That’s out of 177 neighborhoods. Kaufman says long commutes can have real consequences.
KAUFMAN 2: It’s extraordinarily difficult to commute from Staten Island to Manhattan, and because of that, it severely limits the economic opportunities of the people on SI.
ROSTAS 8: But Kaufman says comparing the Rail Line Staten Island wants to build to the just funded light rail project in Brooklyn and Queens isn’t an apples and oranges comparison. Real estate developers with investments in Brooklyn and Queens are funding that project.
KAUFMAN 3: The West Shore Rail Line, as far as i know, doesn’t have that kind of private interest behind it.
ROSTAS 9: And she says the $1.7 billion dollars the City is contributing will come from increased property taxes in those private developments.
The MTA is funding a study to improve bus services on Staten Island – and promised a bus rapid transit line for the north shore. For now Kaufman says that’s the borough’s best bet for transit improvements.
The MTA and the Mayor’s Office didn’t respond to requests for comment. But the Mayor announced this week he’ll be holding a Town Hall in Staten Island in April. The announcement indicated the borough’s transit issues will be on the agenda.
Daniel Rostas, Columbia Radio News