State Senate candidate John Liu announced his transportation plan in northeastern Queens last Friday.
Liu is running against incumbent state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) in the 11th Senate District, perhaps the most highly contested race in Queens this year. If elected, Liu said he would pursue a six-point transportation agenda.
The former councilman and city comptroller introduced proposals to help areas like Northeast Queens that lack subway service.
He proposed requiring the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to cut base fares, expand express and regular bus service, provide additional buses to Long Island Rail Road stations and look into free transfers between buses and the LIRR.
“Northeast Queens has been too long referred to as a transit desert,” Liu said. In neighborhoods without subways, he added, buses are a lifeline for commuters, seniors, and others, and bus service needs to be “effective, safe and reliable.”
Liu’s plan also calls for improved Access-A-Ride service and access; a gas tax holiday pilot program; increased transit funding; improved MTA transparency and accountability; and stronger penalties for attacks on transit workers and bus operators.
On Access-A-Ride, Liu wants the MTA to re-evaluate its scheduling procedures to improve service and expand the number of people who would qualify for service.
He also wants the MTA to provide home visits and special exemptions for disabled riders so those who need the service won’t have to take public transportation for qualifying medical exams.
Liu said changes in eligibility requirements for Access-a-Ride, a federally funded program, have left many people without service, including some who were previously eligible. One such rider, Linda Newman, had sought Liu’s help for Access-A-Ride issues.
Newman had been using Access-A-Ride for years due to multiple medical conditions before her eligibility was questioned.
“All of a sudden, they wanted me to use public transportation” to connect to Access-A-Ride,” Newman said. She tried to have full service restored, but instead, she was eventually completely denied any service at all.
While Liu wants government policy to encourage use of mass transit over cars, he is advocating a one-year gas tax holiday pilot program for Memorial Day, Fourth of July and Labor Day weekends to give relief to middle-class drivers.
“Many people are unavoidable victims of their cars,” he said.
To fund his ideas, Liu advocates reallocating some of the federal transportation funds now spent on highway construction.
On MTA accountability, Liu called for an annual independent, forensic audit that would be publicly announced and posted on its website.
“It’s not that long ago that they were caught keeping two sets of books,” he said. Liu wants MTA audits to include a searchable database detailing planned fare increases and capital expenditures, published comments and MTA responses to comments on the audit.
He also wants the MTA to resume its constituent complaint log, which he said was last published in 2011.