The Times Fails to Comprehend the Nature of the MTA Funding Gap

Kentucky and rural Ohio are not going to save the New York City transit system.

New York politicos couldn’t have asked for a better deflection of their own responsibility to keep our transit system running than this piece served up yesterday by Times opinion writer Eleanor Randolph:

New Yorkers struggle daily on the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s subways, trains and buses. They now collect horror stories about long delays and missed engagements. The M.T.A., the nation’s largest transportation network, is also struggling, in the agency’s case with a five year capital plan that is more than $15 billion short. The state needs to contribute more. The city needs to contribute more. And both Mr. de Blasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo need to come up with a better way to fund the system that serves the most populous 5,000 square mile area in the region.

Still, the big money will have to come from Congress.

Hear that, John Boehner? The New York City subways need you!

You can only reach the conclusion that an act of Congress will provide “the big money” to close the $15 billion shortfall in the MTA’s upcoming five-year capital program if you fundamentally fail to understand the nature of the problem.

The version of the MTA capital budget with $32 billion in spending and a $15 billion hole already assumes that the feds will contribute $6 billion in grants and loans. Merely holding on to that $6 billion is a shaky proposition right now.

For transit systems in cities like New York, the scope of the fight in the GOP-controlled Congress is not over securing more funds — it’s to preserve the funds that transit already receives. That’s the best realistic outcome of yesterday’s “stand up for transportation” rallies.

The John Boehner/Mitch McConnell Congress is not going to swoop in and save the New York City transit system. Raising revenue and controlling costs really just come down to the people who actually run the MTA: Governor Cuomo and the state legislature.

Cuomo is the one person who can make the Move New York toll reform plan politically viable and the one politician who can take meaningful action to root out construction waste like this. Asking Congress to do it instead won’t get New York anywhere.

Cuomo at a subway photo-op with MTA Chair Tom Prendergast. Photo: Marc A. Hermann/MTA New York City Transit via Flickr CC license 2.0
  • JudenChino

    re: Move NY — in one of the pieces on BDB’s subway adventure, he was asked about it and he said he just hasn’t had time to look at the plan yet. I forget which article but it’s worth pointing out.

    The bad guy re: MTA is Cuomo. Ok, he needs to be called out. Problem is, he LIKES being called out. He likes being attacked from the Left. He doesn’t care if the MTA turns to shit because he can blame the City and the MTA itself and look clean and call himself fiscally responsible as he runs for president.

  • BBnet3000

    De Blasio isn’t familiar enough with Move NY to answer a press question about it, or is saying so because he is unwilling to take a position on it?

    I’m really starting to doubt this guy. I knew he was going to stop our progress on cycling in its tracks despite his 6% lie as a candidate, but I seriously always thought he was on board with transit.

  • Larry Littlefield

    What he said.

  • JudenChino

    Wasn’t familiar enough. . . said he hasn’t had an opportunity to look at the plan yet.

    You have to realize, he doesn’t have the $$$ of Bloomberg. He’s scared to death of losing local pols support as opposed to the other way around. Just look at the NYPD Unions spitting at him as well as the Bus Drivers union going rogue over . . . the slightest bit of accountability.

    We’re just an annoyance to him; whereas these other vested interests could really sink, what he believes, is his governing agenda.

    I think, we also downplay, the degree to which the NBBL lawsuit truly was a success. It wasn’t intended to actually stop the PPW Greenway, it really was a shot across the bow to implant a chilling effect upon DoT’s ability to push through substantive livable street projects. The fact that we still have progress going on Qnz Blvd is a freaking miracle.

  • Eric McClure

    Bigfoot sightings are more common in the New York City subway system than appearances by Governor Muscle Car.

  • Mayor Compact Car

    Great piece Ben. Yes, holding onto that $6B from the feds is not a sure thing. Also, what’s with all of the griping about NYC contribution to cap plan? What NYC share does Eleanor want? The MTA plan is theoretically $32B. At most the city would kick in under 2% of the total. ($125mx5yrs/32B) Somebody explain how NYC gets more influence over MTA plan by contributing under 2%? Maybe they do, I don’t know.

  • D’BlahZero

    Not sure I agree with your assessment of NBBL. You’re saying Park Slope NIMBYs were rallied as part of the long game to limit bike infrastructure city-wide?

  • Larry Littlefield

    “It wasn’t intended to actually stop the PPW Greenway, it really was a shot across the bow to implant a chilling effect upon DoT’s ability to push through substantive livable street projects.”

    Perhaps that was the lawyer’s goal, but NBBL certainly wanted — and still wanted — the PPW bike lanes ripped out. They are keeping that lawsuit alive and hoping this Mayor, or the next one, will rip it out and blame the judge in a sealed settlement. Or perhaps the Mayor after.

    Who knows? Perhaps BdB cut a deal that he wouldn’t rip out the bike lane on his watch but Corporation Counsel wouldn’t try to get the thing over with either.

  • Komanoff

    BF nails it yet again. Who woulda thunk that Crain’s, Newsday, The News and the Post (the Post!) would all run powerful, eloquent endorsements of the Move NY plan yet the Grey Lady would sit on the sideline?

  • Mabool

    I said this six years ago on The Atlantic blog. I said then that annual federal borrowing must be cut. Federal borrowing was then $1.5T per year. Federal borrowing is now $0.5T per year. The age of federal largesse is over. Rockefeller Republicanism is over. There will be no federal money for the MTA. The fix is in.

  • Bolwerk

    Hmm, the Post surprised me a bit, but in hindsight it probably shouldn’t have. The only major papers left that aren’t designed for reading on public transit are the NYT and Wall Street Journal. The rest probably know who their readers are.


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