Sep
20

Rickety accounting mars nostalgia train rides, says Comptroller

By

Subway buffs enjoy a ride on a Nostalgia Train. The Comptroller hates these. (Courtesy of flickr user bifteck)

With Second Ave. Sagas firmly entrenched — or is that floating underwater? — during old subway car day, let’s venture over to the economics of maintaining the rolling stock of yore. Old train rides, according to the New York State Comptroller, aren’t economically-efficient. Oh, the horrors.

The tireless Sewell Chan at The Times’ Cityroom blog reported last week on a New York State audit’s findings that the NYCT nostalgia train rides are a losing proposition for the MTA (Audit in PDF form here). But it’s not nearly as cut-and-dry as it sounds. Take it away, Sewell:

A new audit by the office of State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli has found that the M.T.A. did not adequately keep track of the money raised from the Nostalgia Train trips. Furthermore, the audit found that New York City Transit, the largest arm of the M.T.A., had to pay to restore and maintain the vintage train cars, but did not, in turn, benefit from the money raised from the train excursions. In other words, subway riders and taxpayers have been subsidizing the history-evoking train rides…

The Nostalgia Train program earned revenue of $23,035 in 2004 and $12,110 in 2005, according to the audit, but the cost of the crews to run those trains was $31,566 in 2004 and $20,576 in 2005 — so the program operated at a net loss.

Now, I know the MTA is rather strapped for cash right now. But as one comment on Cityroom aptly noted, how much do you think the audit costs?

As much as I prode the MTA over its financial mishaps (student Metrocards anyone?), I will staunchly defend these nostalgia-laden train rides. And for its part, the MTA does an apt job defending itself. Chan notes:

The M.T.A. responded to the audit with several points. It argued that the maintenance and repair costs associated with the Nostalgia Train excursions are “immaterial” when compared with the overall cost of maintaining the entire subway car fleet. It also noted that the Transit Museum is run for historical and educational purposes and is not expected to turn a profit.

In reality, we’re talking about a deficit of $8,000. Considering that the MTA’s financial problems could run into the hundres of millions, arguing over less than $10,000 of money put toward an educational and historical purpose seems petty. The Comptroller’s office should stick to big picture items such as the looming fare hike.

To be fair, the MTA should work on its accounting practices. What it implements at the micro level with the Transit Museum could serve as a model for the finances of the Authority and NYCT on the whole. But let’s not unnecessarily rain on the parades of those who enjoy these train rides. As Tom on Cityroom said, “Of the billions that the MTA spends, this was the biggest budgetary scandal you could find? Twenty grand is a rounding error in an agency this size. If it was used to renovate the director’s bathroom that would be a different story, but these trips clearly have value as a service to the many people interested in the city’s history.”



2 Responses to “Rickety accounting mars nostalgia train rides, says Comptroller”

  1. peter says:

    WHAT!?! You mean to say there are people riding the Subway and they don’t pay what it actually costs to transport them?!?

    How many are there?
    How often does it happen?

    – 4.5 Million?!
    – Every hour of every day?!

    Where’s the The State Comptroller, to tear the lid off the whole sordid story?!?

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. […] unknown wrote an interesting post today onHere’s a quick excerptTo be fair, the MTA should work on its accounting practices. What it implements at the micro level with the Transit Museum could serve as a model for the finances of the Authority and NYCT on the whole. But let’s not unnecessarily rain … […]

Leave a Reply

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>