Modernising New York City’s century-old subways — beset by track fires, power outages and signal malfunctions — could cost $40 billion and take a decade, but riders should see improvements by year’s end, the transit system’s president told CBS Corp.’s “60 Minutes.”
“It will not be quick,” Andy Byford, president of the New York City Transit Authority, said in a segment that will air on Sunday, according to a transcript provided by CBS. “It will not be cheap. And it certainly won’t be easy. So my message to New Yorkers is — there’s no gain without a bit of pain. This will be worth it.”
Byford, who started his career with the London Underground, came to the New York subway system after running Toronto’s mass transit agency. He told the news program: “Our job is crystal clear. We need to turn this around for New Yorkers. And I absolutely want New Yorkers to start feeling, by the end of this year, it’s definitely getting better.”
While the city owns the subway system, the state MTA runs it. Both New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio agree the authority, which has $38.6 billion in debt, requires more capital investment. They disagree on who should pay for it and how.
Ride From L
The pain will be felt acutely by riders of the L train, which carries passengers under the East River between Brooklyn and Manhattan. The MTA will close the tunnel for 15 months starting in April, opting for a full shutdown to do the needed modernization rather than piecemeal repairs that have become routine amid chronic operating deficits.
In June 2017, Cuomo declared a system-wide “disaster emergency” and called for a plan to deal with the causes of the delays, including signal malfunctions, power failures and broken tracks. Subway ridership in the city has fallen 2 percent from its 2015 peak despite increases in population, employment and tourism, New York’s Independent Budget Office said last week.
The agency presented an “action plan” in July 2017, calling for more than $830 million in quick fixes focused on the parts of the system responsible for most breakdowns and delays, new cars on trains to ease overcrowding, more police to reduce track fires caused by littering, and better maintenance of station elevators and escalators.
The emergency action plan “has gotten off to a slow start,” New York state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli said earlier this month. With three months remaining in the 18-month program, the MTA has committed less than 60 percent of $348.5 million in capital funds for improvements such as upgrades to its signal system. Hiring additional maintenance workers has also lagged, the report said.
DiNapoli said the agency faces its greatest challenges in decades. It plans fare and toll increases of 4 percent in 2019 and again in 2021, and another round of budget reductions. Still, the MTA projects operating budget gaps that total $262 million in 2020, $424 million in 2021 and $634 million in 2022. The MTA has asked the state to authorize new sources of funding, but those resources are not assured, the comptroller said.
Cuomo has committed to paying half the cost of the emergency fix and a long-term $33 billion plan, but de Blasio has balked. He says the city already was shouldering much of the system’s costs with a five-year, $2.5 billion commitment to the agency’s capital plan. The city also gives about $1 billion a year to the system’s operating budget, and its riders pay at the fare box, de Blasio has argued.
The governor has proposed a plan to charge motorists a fee to enter Manhattan, while de Blasio advocates increased taxes on residents earning more than $500,000 a year to pay for upgrades. De Blasio didn’t include money for the MTA’s $836 million “stabilization plan” in its budget. Cuomo committed to paying half.
In March, S&P Global Ratings lowered its rating of the busiest mass transit system in the U.S. to A+ from AA-. The cumulative impact of the 2015-2019 and prior capital programs has placed a heavy burden on the MTA’s operating budget. Debt service is projected to reach $3.3 billion by 2022, an increase of 26 percent in just four years. By 2022, debt service is projected to consume 18.6 percent of total revenue and 36.5 percent of fare and toll revenue, according to the comptroller’s office.