Aug
26

On the need for better transit funding policies

By · Published in 2010

In a few weeks, the MTA will host a series of public hearings on a proposal to raise fares by approximately 7.5 percent, and then a few weeks after that, New Yorkers will go to the polls at Election Day to send a bunch of unqualified and largely inept legislators back to Albany. As the vote and the fare hike draw ever closer, one topic not on the lips of politicians this year is a funding solution to the MTA’s woes. While congestion pricing or bridge tolls remain untapped, the only solutions Albany can offer involve service cuts, fare hikes or more borrowing, quite destructive in the long-term. The MTA’s funding crisis so no signs of abating.

Today in the Albany Times Union, John Petro of the Drum Major Institute takes Albany to task for neglecting its duties to public transit in and around the New York City area. “State lawmakers,” he says, “must craft a long-term plan for taming the debt they let grow out of control and for maximizing new sources of transit funding without overburdening average taxpayers or the riding public.” The only problem with this seemingly simple mandate is that state lawmakers have buried their heads in the sand and have taken dedicated funds away from the MTA at the time of greatest need.

In his piece, Petro urges the media to push hard on Andrew Cuomo’s non-stance on the MTA. In his campaign literature so far, Cuomo has barely paid heed to the MTA’s problems and has instead hinted that he might rollback the payroll tax, a source of $1.4 billion in annual revenue for public transit. Petro also urges New York’s representatives in Washington to secure more funding for operations assistance. As he says, “Our public transit system is an irreplaceable asset and an invaluable part of the nation’s infrastructure that should be protected. Leaders in state government better start treating it that way.” I hope someone is listening.



14 Responses to “On the need for better transit funding policies”

  1. Brian says:

    Seems like people haven’t learned the lesson of the 1970’s. If Albany and the MTA keep up at their current pace, the past is doomed to repeat itself.

    • SEAN says:

      I need to ask a question all be it a sarcastic one, isn’t cutting public transit the goal? I hope not!

      • Bolwerk says:

        That there are some powerful and connected interests that would not want to see subsidies to automobiles be cut back in favor of funding transit probably goes without saying.

    • Sharon says:

      And the unions have not either. The 1970’s Major layoffs and reductions in pensions that could have been avoided through fair contracting. Many city workers suffered through far below average wages until the mid to late 1990’s. Teachers had starting salaries of $28k until about 2002ish. 1/3 of all teaching jobs were filled with subs.

      And the union leaders laugh all the way to the bank while everyone else suffers.

  2. Sharon says:

    “That there are some powerful and connected interests that would not want to see subsidies to automobiles be cut back in favor of funding transit probably goes without saying.”

    Drivers in this area are already paying far more the their fair share. An extra money just goes to pad the payroll both union and non union. The problem is the union labor contract. Every time the mta gets more money and runs an operating surplus the money is shuffled into raises to the already overpaid workers instead of capital improvements and debt repayment. Read the arbitrators ruling . Got to http://www.twulocal100.org/ click on the about tab and then contracts. Read the arbitrators award and then click on the salary list by title. $25 an hour cleaners, $27+ an hour trainee’s. And that’s before a benefits package that tacks on $10-$20k in costs. Take a look at all the duplicate titles that pads the payroll, If you are making $25 hour (secure job) + benefits, if you are a cleaner you should not be restricted to a narrow area to clean as it is now. Keep in mind this is a job that other city agencies pay $17 an hour for and private contractors pay $12 an hour MAX with no benefits. We pay cleaners to sweep bus while there are driver’s idle doing nothing in the depot who could help out
    More dedicated taxes and tolls just will be sucked down the sink hole. No improvement. A top to bottom reorganization or all title needs to be done. If we have to deal with a 2 months strike then so be it. It is the only way. Fair wages are OK, the wages we are paying are not close to fair for riders

    • Bolwerk says:

      I ain’t exactly a defender of the TWU, but I also didn’t say anything about extracting money from drivers to pay for transit – actually I think that’s kind of stupid.* I simply think some of the direct and indirect subsidies to drivers in terms of maintenance, pollution, health, capital improvement, enforcement, and human life would be better invested in funding non-terrorist supporting transit infrastructure. For the time being, that means expecting drivers to pay for more of the externalities of driving.

      I don’t know what most of your complaints about union pay and work rules have to do with what I said, but I think transit and automobile systems should broadly exist and be financed pretty independently of each other.

      * Of course, the reverse is stupid too. Extracting money from transit users to pay for roads is destructive, and, while no one wants to admit it, it’s the far more common scenario. It’s just done indirectly through pork barrel appropriations and subsidies for low-density development, than through direct tolls on users that are redistributed.

  3. Sharon says:

    How much does it cost to run 8 and 10 car 3/4 empty train around all night. The cost of the A/C alone costs in the thousands a dollars a months per half set each month let alone maintenance and drive power electricity and the cost of the conductor. The BMT and IRT ran shorter trains all the time on certain routes. It can be done quite easily.

    Supervision of employees is another issue. It is not an isolated case of the supervisor who makes the schedule who clocked 2 hrs OT per day for years. The maintenance Dept at some depots is atrocious. Read Subchat where some depots just do such a piss pore job that every bus that goes their becomes a bomb. Grayhound runs Tour buses for DECADES and nyct can’t keep the same model working for more than 12 years. Mind you these buses ride 2 + hours round trip each day to SI to satisfy the union contract that only a small % of drivers can swing shift in the city tacking on tons of miles on $400+k buses

    Running smaller buses late nights may be another area. Driving around 60ft 3 mpg buses around virtually empty is a waste

    • Alon Levy says:

      Sharon, the cost of the driver is far higher than the cost of gas. For example, if the average speed of the night bus is 10 mph, and if gas costs $3/gal, then the cost of gas on a 3 mpg bus is $10 per operating hour. If you get a van instead of a regular bus you might be able to shave two thirds of that cost. It would cut costs a little bit, but at the end of the day there’s still a $30/hour driver to pay.

    • Bolwerk says:

      Running emptier trains at night probably costs roughly the same as it costs to run them full during the day – maybe a bit less in terms of energy consumption. It’s the cost per passenger that’s higher at night. This probably justifies losing the conductor, but I don’t think there would be much savings achieved with shorter trains – simply more frequency with shorter trains, and (under current regulations) the same labor cost.

      And no, shorter cars probably can’t be done that easily, except where it makes sense for the vast majority of the day (G Train?). Figure that daily non-peak usage ends around midnight (12am), giving way to lighter late night service. To separate the cars requires marshaling them into a yard to be separated. Doing that with literally many dozens and perhaps hundreds of trainsets would be expensive and time-consuming. At 5am,* higher daily usage starts rearing its head again. So all those trains need to be marshaled back into the yard to be re-coupled. Such is probably why 24hr service still makes sense in NYC in the first place; smaller cities, including Philly, often bustitute at night, assuming they maintain 24hr public transportation.

      I don’t know enough about bus depreciation to know the difference between Greyhound and the MTA, but I would guess there’s much less wear and tear for Greyhound. And then the MTA has to contend with vastly different financing and regulatory demands.

      I was going to comment that perhaps having shorter trainsets ready at night might make sense, but it doesn’t solve the marshaling problem – they still have to have to be swapped out of the yard. And that doesn’t say anything about the capital cost of buying two separate sets of equipment, which must then be amortized – a problem that applies to your suggested that “smaller buses” would make sense at night.

      * Heck, maybe after 4am on some lines at some nights, considering the night life crowd.

      • Sharon says:

        “they still have to have to be swapped out of the yard. And that doesn’t say anything about the capital cost of buying two separate sets of equipment”

        They don’t have to be swapped out at the yard when splitting and there is no need for two sets of equipment. First all r-160’s are two 5 car train sets connected together. Trains can be split in terminal station such as stilwell ave Coney Island the same way the BMT did for decades.

      • Alon Levy says:

        Bolwerk, running shorter trains helps save on maintenance costs. It’s not too useful on the subway, but on commuter rail it makes a difference between 1 tph and 4 tph off-peak.

  4. Sharon says:

    “Figure that daily non-peak usage ends around midnight (12am), giving way to lighter late night service. To separate the cars requires marshaling them into a yard to be separated. Doing that with literally many dozens and perhaps hundreds of trainsets would be expensive and time-consuming. At 5am,* higher daily usage starts rearing its head again. So all those trains need to be marshaled back into the yard to be re-coupled.”

    You sound like you work for the UNION that want people to think that running shorter train is going to cost more than it saves. THE PURPOSE IS TO PROVIDE BETTER SERVICE AS MANY PEOPLE IN OUTER BOROUGHS NEED CONNECTIONS AND SHORTER WAITS.
    1) train can be split in station by the train crew. Al It entails a push of a button. You break 1 R-160 set into two 5 already linked 5 car sets. Both train go into service no train goes back to the train yard. First short train leaves Stillwell ave (D,Q,N,F) at 11 pm )

    As for putting trains back into service in the morning, there is more than enough fully connected train sets to cover early parts of the morning rush. the cut units can be quickly reconnected if needed. Unlike when NYCT ended the practice in the late 1980’s early 1990, the short train to be reconnected are linked 5 car units and NOT SINGLES where each of the 10 car connections needed to be connected and tested
    We are talking about very few train sets plus there are dozens of train sets sitting in CI yard during rush hour unused each day. I drive by around 9 am and 6 pm every day.
    Once again this 1) Improves service by reducing wait times 2) save money as you remove costly conductors from trains 3) reduces energy usage as you are running only 60% of the current number of cars 3) reduces maintenance costs of running around cars that are not needed.

    • Bolwerk says:

      Well, if the union is right it’s right. I’m not saying there is never any reason to run half-trains,* but what I pointed out is still a pretty big obstacle, even if it’s not a yard operation. By the time the 11:55 N Train gets out of Queens, it’s still another hour to Coney Island. Separating at CI by 1am will allow 1-2 round trips with the shorter train, and then it is squarely back to the time where a full train is needed. Compared to just losing the redundant staff (conductor), it’s a very negligible savings, and one that could possibly confuse passengers à la the G Train shuffle.

      * Weekends perhaps?

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