To the Editor:
State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s recent audit report, “MTA Subway Station Repair List Is Growing,” told us nothing anyone in the transit industry did not already know. Not only DiNapoli and other previous State Comptrollers, NYC Comptrollers, NYC Office of Management and Budget, NYC Independent Budget Office, the Regional Planning Association and others issue reports going back decades on NYC Transit station shortfalls, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and NYC Transit have internally tracked the state of good repair for stations and individual station components for years.
In 2016, the Citizens Budget Commission issued a report which said, it would take until 2067 for all 468 NYC Transit subway stations reach a state of good repair. (That doesn’t count 3 new Second Avenue Subway stations opened on Jan. 1, 2017).
Governor Cuomo in 2016 said, “New, modern subway stations across the system are an essential part of our efforts to rebuild and reimagine the MTA for the 21st century.” He talks the talk, but doesn’t walk the walk when it comes to providing the additional billions necessary to reach these goals.
The MTA’s own20-year Needs Assessment Report is in the process of being updated. It will tell you the same information provided by this audit.
At the end of the day, it is a question of sufficient funding not only for maintenance but also upgrades to various components to bring each station up to a full and complete state of good repair.
You also have the added challenge of making many more stations ADA compliant by adding elevators.
One challenge facing the MTA as it develops the next $40 billion 2020—2024 Five Year Capital Plan is to come up with funding. It is dependent upon a number of taxes and fees including the Real Estate Transfer Tax and Congestion Pricing Tolling, which combined equal $25 billion, plus $7 billion in anticipated Federal Transit Administration funding. This totals $32 billion.
This leaves a shortfall of $8 billion. Neither the MTA nor any elected official has yet to identify the source of funding to close this $8 billion gap. Congestion pricing does not kick in until January 2021, or the second year of a five year capital program.
The final details of who will pay what have yet to be worked out. In the meantime, many elected officials are lobbying for exemptions for those who provide essential services such as police, fire or teachers, low-income, outer-borough residents, seniors, small commercial-based delivery businesses or other special niches. Some of these exemptions will be adopted to placate different elected officials’ constituents.
As a result, the MTA may not be able to count on all $15 billion in congestion-pricing funding. A downturn in the economy could also result in less revenue from the Real Estate Transfer Tax and other tax sources. The $8 billion shortfall could easily grow by billions more.
The real battle is between reaching a state of good repair versus system expansion. I would argue that it would be better to place the $6-billion Second Avenue Subway Phase 2 project on hold. Use those funds to accelerate bringing more subway stations up to a state of good repair and into compliance with ADA by adding elevators.
Editor’s note: Mr. Penner is a transportation historian, advocate and writer who previously worked 31 years for the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Transit Administration Region 2 N.Y. Office.
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