MTA Chairman and CEO Tom Prendergast wasn’t crying wolf when he warned Wednesday of what’s in store if the agency’s 2015-2019 capital program isn’t fully funded. As things stand now, the system is at the tipping point. The subways cannot keep up with surging ridership that tops out at historic levels of 6 million riders some days. Trains are so crammed that overcrowding is both unbearable and loops back on itself in a lather-rinse-repeat fashion – crowding causes delays that generate more crowding that fosters further delays, and on and on. But without a full commitment to the MTA’s $32 billion capital program, circumstances will grow bleaker as the city’s population continues to surge.
Investment in direly needed system expansion projects would falter, the most notable casualty being the Second Avenue Subway. Nearly 100 years in the making – it first was conceived of in 1919 – the line is the only viable approach for relieving crowding on the Lexington Avenue line. The capital program would fund the second phase of construction, which would extend the line to 125th Street from 96th Street.
If the funding gap isn’t filled, other noteworthy projects that would directly improve the commuter experience – from more frequent, less crowded trains to faster commute times – could be on the chopping block. Most notably, the modernization of the signal system on lines along Queens Boulevard and the L carrying commuters across the East River could be deferred, while projects in underserved communities in the southeast Bronx such as Penn Station access for Metro-North riders could also be taken out of the mix. Long Islanders could face the nixing of double-tracking the Ronkonkoma line – LIRR’s most congested branch. With sustainable funding, these and myriad other projects could vastly improve service for long-suffering riders, plus create critical system redundancy and resiliency in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.
The MTA Capital Plan also features the continued rollout of Select Bus Service to far-flung reaches of the city in need of better transit access but where subways are infeasible to construct. Subway riders on the lettered lines would get countdown clocks, which are enormously popular where already deployed. During service delays, they help riders gauge whether to stick it out or seek alternative means of travel. Just as critically, the plan would continue state-of-good repair investments in the bedrock of the MTA network, including track, signals, and rail cars. If these fail, the system fails.
Unfortunately, only a little more than half the funding has been identified. Another $15 billion is needed. More fare-backed debt isn’t the solution. As the Straphangers Campaign recently reported, the agency’s cumulative debt of $34 billion is more than that of 30 countries. Nearly 20 cents of every dollar the MTA spends goes to debt payments. An October report by NYS Comptroller DiNapoli stated that for every $1 billion of debt the MTA were to take on, it’s a 1% increase in fares and tolls. In other words, if the $15 billion gap were to be covered with more debt – as has been the practice in the past – riders and drivers could face a 15% increase in tolls and fares on top of the twin 4% increases already scheduled for the next two years.
Imagine life without the subways, buses, or commuter rails. You can’t. Yet, the MTA is like Oliver Twist – always forced to ask more. It’s not a winning formula. A sustainable and secure source of funding is the only real solution.
The Move NY Fair Plan is such a solution.
At the center of the Move NY Fair Plan is a “toll swap,” whereby long suffering and overcharged drivers of the city’s outer bridges – the Verrazano, the Throgs Neck and the MTA’s five other bridges – receive substantial toll relief while drivers who make the roughly 1.1 million daily trips into and out of the city’s Central Business District (Manhattan south of 60th Street) are asked to pay their fair share, thus smoothing out traffic across the region.
The revenue generated from the toll swap would be used to maintain and modernize the region’s transportation system, including its buses, trains, roads and bridges, creating 30,000 recurring annual jobs in the process – jobs that can’t be outsourced to another state or country.
It’s time to have an open and honest discussion about the critical role our subways, commuter rails, buses, ferries, roads, and bridges play in the economic resiliency of the New York metropolitan region and to ensure that this vast transportation network has sustainable funding mechanisms well into the 21st century.
For more information on Move NY, visit iHeartMoveNY.org
Categories: MTA Capital Plan 2015-2019