At this week’s MTA Transit committee meeting, we learned that the Subway Action Plan succeeded in stabilizing a subway system that was in state of freefall, with on-time performance improving by over 6 percent since Governor Cuomo declared a State of Emergency last summer. Unfortunately, the MTA’s subway performance is still at record lows, leading to a continued decline in ridership. The MTA needs significantly more investment to modernize the subway system for the 21st century.
The best way to raise funds to modernize our subway system and reduce congestion on our gridlocked city streets is through a comprehensive congestion pricing plan for New York City. The plan could raise upwards of 1.5 billion annually by placing a fee around a cordon in the busiest parts of Manhattan. Such a plan is the fairest and most effective way to raise money to help fix our ailing transit system, and it comes with the added bonus of reducing traffic congestion and improving air quality.
Congestion pricing requires passage of state legislation, but there are many steps that can and must be taken now, before the Legislature reconvenes:
- The MTA and NYC DOT should start planning for and soliciting feedback on specific bus improvements that need to happen in advance of a congestion pricing program, especially new service in the outer boroughs where subway service and connections to Manhattan are lacking. That conversation with communities and local elected officials should start now.
- The MTA and NYC DOT should begin the necessary environmental review and planning study process for a congestion pricing program, and begin to evaluate alternatives. This will take a few years to complete, so needs to begin before there is consensus on the specifics of a plan.
- Governor Cuomo, State Legislators, MTA Chairman Joe Lhota, and Mayor de Blasio should announce their appointees to the “Metropolitan Transportation Advisory Group” established in the state budget in April. The legislation calls for ten members to be appointed included those from the Governor, State Legislature, Mayor, MTA, City and State DOTs to evaluate such things as MTA project selection, funding, tolling and fare policy. The final report from this group is due in December.
- The MTA should work diligently and immediately to reform its capital project delivery process. This means internal reforms so that revenue raised goes farther to address dire construction and maintenance needs. These reforms include implementing cost controls, improving transparency and accountability, streamlining the procurement process, putting one person in charge of projects, and instituting a better design process that results in more realistic budgets. The MTA should provide routine updates on the status of these changes so the public and elected leaders see that real reform is happening. These reforms represent billions of dollars in what would essentially be “found money” that could be spent to fix and modernize more of our broken transit network and to do so faster.