Home New York City Transit On the politics and purpose of Andy Byford’s subway rescue plan

On the politics and purpose of Andy Byford’s subway rescue plan

by Benjamin Kabak

Andy Byford’s plan to modernize the city’s subway system will hinge on political support from a governor reluctant to embrace transit.

For the first four months of his time in New York City, Transit President Andy Byford has played his intentions fairly close to the chest. He has refused to engage in the political game of challenging Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s support of transit and wading into the ridiculous funding battle between the Governor and Mayor Bill de Blasio. He’s been open and honest about Transit’s shortcomings, particularly around ADA accessibility issues, accurate accounting of subway delays and the overall state of things. He was brought in to fix things, and that’s what he’s trying to do.

A few weeks ago, Byford unveiled his first big initiative — the bus turnaround plan. Designed to combat declining ridership caused by abysmally slow, unreliable and infrequent bus service, Byford wants to modernize the bus system and redesign the network. The project doesn’t include a big price tag, and the biggest ask is likely city-state cooperation. But the bus plan was just the appetizer.

Last week, Andy Byford revealed what is intended to be his pièce de résistance – his plan to rescue the New York City subway. It is now under the Fast Forward moniker with its own website and a lengthy PDF. In broad sweeps, Byford hopes to accomplish in 10 years what the MTA has long claimed would take 40: a complete modernization of nearly the entire subway signal system. “As I said when my appointment was announced, what is needed isn’t mere tinkering, a few tweaks here and there,” Byford said in introducing his plan. “What must happen is sustained investment on a massive scale if we are to deliver New Yorkers the service they deserve and the transit system this city and state need. Now is the time to think big and transform our network so it works for all New Yorkers.”

I’ll dive into the details and questions I have surrounding the plan in a later post. In summary, the plan is divided into two five-year halves (intentional), signal modernization throughout the city, ADA accessibility for around 150-180 stations and state-of-good-repair work at nearly 300 stations. It also includes over 3000 new subway cars and a new fare payment system. If some of these initiatives sound familiar, that’s because they are. Byford’s plan is essentially New York City Transit’s asks for the MTA’s next two five-year plans, and that’s fine. Byford’s approach is a politically expedient and operationally efficient way to line up this major work, and it will require riders to suffer some pain I’ll delve into later this week.

But political expedience can go only go so far, and nearly immediately last week, the messy ugly politics of transit in New York City came to the forefront. Prior to the plan’s great unveiling, early press reports indicated a price tag anywhere from $19 billion to $38 billion, and apparently that set off a storm in Albany. The announcement on Wednesday didn’t include a dollar figure, and the MTA disputed reports that Cuomo pushed the agency to omit any talk of money. Meanwhile, Cuomo issues one of his milquetoast statements that tried to indicate he had no idea what was coming or when despite his intimate involvement in MTA efforts lately.

Dani Lever, a Cuomo press representative, put her name on the initial statement. “Our bottom line is that the plan needs to be expeditious and realistic and we made it clear to the chairman that before it is finalized, the MTA must bring in the top tech experts in the nation. Because if we can experiment with self-driving vehicles, there must be an alternative technology for the subways,” she said. Cuomo repeated Lever’s statement nearly verbatim at the New York State Democrats’ convention last week before reenaging in his tired shtick over city ownership of the physical infrastructure of the subway system. It was really just a bunch of word vomit and an attempt by the governor to distance himself from the controversial and expensive subway rescue plan that the man he picked to rescue the subway produced.

And therein lies the political rub. Byford has stayed above the political fray because Cuomo has largely let him, but how long can that last? And if Cuomo’s words last week are to be taken seriously, are we to believe that Cuomo did not know about the New York City Transit President’s 10-year plan that, at one point at least internally, carried a potential cost figure of nearly $40 billion? This is the same Cuomo who micromanages everything and has his hand in as many political pots as possible. Cuomo knew.

And if Cuomo knew, is he setting up Byford to be the fall guy? Byford is the respected British expert who came to New York by way of Toronto and can plausibly be ignorant of the budgetary machinations that impact every aspect of New York state politics. He can be the guy who puts out the plan while Cuomo pretends to play the responsible adult, swatting it down for spurious claims of fiscal concern while salvaging some cheaper elements in an attempt to bolster his infrastructure cred. Maybe the signals are fixed, but maybe they’re fixed in 20 years instead of 40 (or instead of ten).

If that’s what’s going on, then I would humbly suggest Byford noisily exit while he can still save face. If the governor who brought him in to fix the problem won’t stand behind the solution, Byford should quit and quit loudly, burning down the house of cards as he goes. If Cuomo never intended to fix anything, Byford shouldn’t spend any more time on this forsaken transit system than he has.

Of course, it’s easy to say that but it’s not that easy for Byford to follow through. The subway rescue plan won’t start until 2020 at the earliest, and the funding fight is a long and arduous one that requires a strong subway champion. Perhaps Cuomo will come around (he already tried, at the end of last week, to walk back his initial comments once the skepticism seemed through), and perhaps Byford can be that champion. But right now, he’s firmly in the political thick of things, and the fate of the New York City subway system rescue plan, if not the entire system and the city itself, hangs in the balance.

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Larry Littlefield May 29, 2018 - 8:00 am

Is anyone here prepared to suggest a solution? Do you realize having the “state pay” or the “city pay” is a copout. So his “tax the rich” given that we already have the highest tax burden in the country, or “cut those lazy poor” given that they are the only group of people who have had benefits slashed form them — for 25 years?

Who is prepared to step up and say who should be worse off they they are now, in what way?

And if you are talking about those who currently have taken the most, relative to everyone else, do you realize that these are the most powerful and entitled people out there?

The first step is to challenge that entitlement, and to tell those who are screwed that they are screwed, as I proposed here for New Jersey.


But that requires becoming politically unpopular, and having “no friends” in that world. And that isn’t the route NJ’s Governor took, and he just elected, unlike Cuomo and the state legislature who face election this November.

If Albany is going to fund anything, it will do it as little as possible, after Election Day, in secret, with no one born before 1958 contributing a dime. Which is exactly how we ended up where we are — with underfunded pensions, and with the MTA already deep in debt.

If people aren’t even willing to call people out on blogs, what does one expect from the careerists?

OLDER AND WISER May 29, 2018 - 1:47 pm

You mention “…no one born before 1958 contributing a dime…”

I was born in 1942. My generation shouldered high federal taxes for decades to help pay for our parent’s very expensive hot war plus our own very expensive cold war.

The pension I accrued over 30 years with NYCT is not enough for living large in Florida. It has, thankfully, been enough to enable me to remain in my one bedroom here in the city.

Please state unequivocally what percentage haircut you are advocating be applied to our monthly pension benefits. Thanks.

Larry Littlefield May 29, 2018 - 2:02 pm

What percentage were those benefits increased retroactively?

“My generation shouldered high federal taxes for decades”

Lower FICA taxes prior to 1983 than generations entering the labor force later have been forced to pay since, with lower benefits. The Reagan, Bush II, and now Trump tax cuts, leading to a massive increase in debts future workers will have to pay off. Etc.

Perhaps not at NYCT, but the average American born when you were was paid above 20 percent more over their careers than those born later. You can look that one up in one of the post linked in the post above.

Just be glad the general NYC pension fund NYCT workers are in is not as badly underfunded as the Teacher, Police, and Fire pension funds, since they got even more deals. Although it is always possible that in the future resources will be shifted to those funds from yours to even things out.

Almost nobody who retires starting 10 years from now will be living large — if they can retire at all.

Larry Littlefield May 29, 2018 - 2:11 pm

Did you say 1942? You aren’t one of those 20/50 people are you?

The soaring cost of THAT deal is part of what wrecked the transit system the first time.

New York City would never have recovered from that and similar deals from the Lindsay years except for one thing — the retroactively enriched pensions and debts from the 1960s were not inflation adjusted. So when inflation soared in the 1970s, the real cost/value of those pensions/debts fell by half over a decade. It is as if the MTA were to only pay half the pensions and debts going forward.

But then, the Tier I who had cashed in and left the city in ruins while moving to Florida suddenly got a big retroaction pension increase in the huge pension deal of 2000! Something they had never been promised. The payouts by NYCERS soared by something like 50 percent in just a year! Announced cost of the deal — NOTHING.

Still, the consequences were not as horrible as that 20/50 pension deal in the late 1960s. But this time we have FAR MORE DEBT — federal, state, local MTA — due to all the tax cuts and breaks YOUR generation demanded and used (mostly) the Republicans to provide, while using the Democrats (mostly) for pension increases.

Peter L May 29, 2018 - 4:22 pm

These “Pensions” you speak of … those are … what? Assuming the money isn’t confiscated by the Trump Organization, I can get (full) Social Security benefits at 67. I also contribute what little I can (and have over the years) to the passel of 401(k)s, a 401(a), and a 403(b) (not the trains) that I have (in 12 years at my current job, I am making 12% less than I would be had my salary kept up with inflation). Those funds are at the mercy of the banksters, though, not to mention the gamblers in the exchanges, so those funds probably won’t have enough in them to buy a decent annuity when I am numerically ready to retire.

So I can’t get too excited about people who have pensions griping about having to pay more.

And for the kids behind me? It’s worse.

OLDER AND WISER May 30, 2018 - 1:48 am

No, LL, I was not a 20/50 guy. I put in 30 full years. One other thing. You noted how inflation reduces pension and debt costs. But you forgot to mention the flip side – that inflation also reduces purchasing power for fixed income retirees. Which is exactly what is likely to happen again soon enough, once the combined effects of trade wars, a looming 3 way arms race and possibly further tax cuts in 2019 eventually take hold.

Larry Littlefield May 30, 2018 - 7:29 am

Here is the thing. You speak of your situation. Fine. What about your situation relative to everyone else’s?

Someone can say “I don’t care if younger generations have to live off dog food, I have a right to the retirement my generation promised itself.” OK, but only if it was pre-funded AND not retroactively enhanced.

What happens is either older generations of public workers got their pensions retroactively increased (as in NYC over and over), older generations of taxpayers didn’t funded the pensions public were promised to begin with (as in NJ), or a combination of both.

Retirees may be falling behind inflation, but the average worker has fallen behind inflation for decades.

SEAN May 30, 2018 - 10:34 am

Your point>?

OLDER AND WISER May 30, 2018 - 10:51 am

No doubt there are advantages and disadvantages to being born into any particular generation. (We weren’t exactly an all volunteer force in RVN in ’68-69).

I no longer have the mental stamina to complete sufficient research to either confirm or refute your facts and figures.

I can only observe that even as inflation and perpetual rent increases inexorably erode my fixed income, your long suffering younger workers at Transit continue to enjoy (as they should) periodic retro GWIs, all of which will ultimately be reflected in the FAS component of their pension benefit algorithms.

Larry Littlefield May 30, 2018 - 11:21 am

The Vietnam War, and 20 years of perpetual prosperity and the assumption it would continue, might explain the attitude of most of the 1960s generation toward the common good. Nor our problem.

Those who felt they had to do their duty and went got screwed. Those who felt they had to do their duty and pay a price to oppose the war got screwed. Those who found a way to work the system and weasel out have been running the country.

Including Clinton, Bush II, Trump.

Adirondacker12800 May 29, 2018 - 3:59 pm

You can expect much tax revenue from people born before 1958 who are dead, so I expect you mean the retired or about to be retired. It’s not their fault politicians promised them good pensions and then didn’t fund them.

Larry Littlefield May 29, 2018 - 4:07 pm

In Red States they didn’t fund them.

In NY they promised them good pensions, funded them, and then retroactively increased them.

Public employee pensions are exempt from NY state and local income taxes. Same in Illinois, another state with a sold out future.

Adirondacker12800 May 29, 2018 - 4:19 pm

Then it matters less that they move to Florida and don’t pay income taxes on them there either. It makes housing costs in New York and Illinois marginally lower.

Larry Littlefield May 30, 2018 - 7:32 am

Ah, but I bet they all vote absentee in NY.

Chalk beat NY found that in the NYC teacher’s union the retirees outvoted the active teachers in the most recent union election.

In part because after they pushed through that 25/55 deal for older teachers who had been promised 30/62 in 2008, and then pushed through Tier VI for new teachers with a higher employee contribution and 30/63, they changed the relative weighting of the votes of active workers and retirees.

A microcosm of the United States.

Larry Littlefield May 30, 2018 - 11:28 am

Speaking of making real estate costs lower in Illinois, three economists at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago proposed, as the least awful option, a statewide property tax at 1.0% of value (an extra $2,500 per year for a $250,000 house) for 30 years — just for the unfunded state pension liability. Over and above tax increases for local pension liabilities, infrastructure deterioration, and state and local debts. They estimated the values of houses would fall by 20.0%.


“Because the debt is so large, it’s unrealistic to think that new taxes (such as a tax on legalized marijuana or financial transactions) or increases that affect only a narrow segment of the population will be enough.”

Not as large as NYC, but close.

“There are several good reasons to pay off Illinois’s pension debt through a statewide residential property tax:”

“Fairness: Illinois residents who have benefited most from the past services of governmental employees are more likely to be homeowners, so it seems reasonable that they should pay a larger share of the costs.”

“Efficiency: Standard economic theory predicts that home values go down in response to new property taxes (that is, they are ‘capitalized’ into home values). Current homeowners would not be happy about this, but it would be a good result for the Illinois economy. That’s because the new taxes wouldn’t affect people thinking of moving to Illinois. While they would have to pay higher property taxes, that would be offset by not having to pay as much for their new homes. In addition, current homeowners would not be able to avoid the new tax by selling their homes and moving because home prices should reflect the new tax burden quickly.”

Those hoping to rape the millennials one more time by selling for high prices and moving to Arizona (their Florida) went nuts about this. How can they afford to pay more in property taxes when federal policy is that housing prices should be high enough that younger home buyers should be paying 50.0% of their incomes on debts?


So those with no retirement savings can sell for more. No one wants to deal with the reality of the situation we are in.

Adirondacker12800 May 30, 2018 - 11:49 am

The employers didn’t get any value at all from their employees for all the years the employers paid lower taxes while those unfunded liabilities accrued.

Larry Littlefield May 30, 2018 - 12:43 pm

Not “employers.” Past taxpayers. And they got a hell of a deal. Pretty good schools outside the city of Chicago, an extensive transit system, extensive parks, and below average state and local taxes as a percent of their incomes, despite high corruption. See chart.


Compared with ours.


How was this miracle accomplished by those heroes in Illinois state and local government? By robbing the future (now the present).

Now taxes are soaring. In the city.


In working class suburbs.


Even in affluent suburbs.


All this in a peak year for the economic cycle. We aren’t seeing as much damage — yet — because of yet another financial bubble, but we will.

Stephen Bauman May 29, 2018 - 8:13 am

Let’s see how well history repeats itself. Here are a few golden oldie links from the Cuomo-Walder saga of 2011 – Cumo’s first year in office.

Crains 21 Jul 2011
NY Times – 30 Jul 2011
NY Times 2 Aug 2011

Here’s an indication of how Cuomo has responded to the MTA crisis.

Stephen Bauman May 29, 2018 - 8:41 am

Dani Lever, a Cuomo press lackey, issued a bunch of words. “Our bottom line is that the plan needs to be expeditious and realistic and we made it clear to the chairman that before it is finalized, the MTA must bring in the top tech experts in the nation. Because if we can experiment with self-driving vehicles, there must be an alternative technology for the subways,” she said.

Let’s not ignore the last part regarding self-driving vehicles being an alternative technology for the subways. There are nearly 6000 conductors and train operators. Assuming a burdened rate of $100K/year, that comes to $600M. The question is how to implement the technology inexpensively so that savings can be realized.

I would suggest that the autonomous vehicle (AV) approach is better suited than the vehicle to infrastructure (V2I) approach. There are 600 trains operating during rush hours. The autonomous vehicle hardware would have to be placed at both ends of the trains because they reverse direction. Let’s assume the cost for each system would be $100K – that’s more than the cost of a Tesla with such a system. So, the price tag would be 1200 x $100K or $120M. That’s a 2.4 month payout.

anon_coward May 29, 2018 - 9:24 am

It’s going to be a lot more than $100K per each side of the train. This is real tech that will have to be tested before production. Not consumer tech where they release it broken and fix later

Stephen Bauman May 29, 2018 - 11:52 am

The consumer application is tougher than one for a single subway system line NYCT. That’s because there are far more scenarios for consumer vehicles on the open road than for a subway train on a limited, fixed guideway with well defined characteristics.

Most of the artificial intelligence (AI) problems have resulted in not being able to determine the correct action for new situations.

Larry Littlefield May 29, 2018 - 9:28 am

Nobody is going to want unmanned trains. You’d think that with 1,500 people on the thing they could provide one human employee.

As for other savings, well, the union has managed to keep employment rising no matter how much service and maintenance are cut, according to the data that was reported to the Governments Division of the U.S. Census Bureau.


To my shock. I don’t know what to think about this anymore.

Stephen Bauman May 29, 2018 - 12:08 pm

Nobody is going to want unmanned trains. You’d think that with 1,500 people on the thing they could provide one human employee.

When one examines responses to the many subway problems, one is struck by how few were first reported to emergency responders by the MTA.

Two cases in point are last year’s derailment/fire on the A train in Harlem and the Williamsburg Collision in 1995. The call came in from civilians (either passengers or eye witnesses) not the MTA.

The press reported that NYPD and FDNY had 300 personnel on the scene within 15 minutes. Two of the people they rescued were the 2 person crew of the train. How effective would that 2 person crew have been directing the hypothetical 1500 passengers in an evacuation procedure within 15 minutes of the derailment? The only practical thing they could do would be to assure the passengers to remain calm and that help was on the way. According to press reports, that wasn’t done in the A train derailment.

The Williamsburg Bridge collision was reported by a passing motorist with a cellphone.

Bjartur May 29, 2018 - 9:39 am

1) The MTA does not employ fewer motormen on automated lines. Running the trains without a motorman was proposed by the MTA around the time CBTC was implemented on the L; however, it was successfully challenged by the Transit Workers Union as a violation of their contract. So, the MTA would have to go through a nightmarish collective bargaining process to get to the point of being able to employ fewer motormen–hardly a foregone conclusion.

2) For this plan to be feasible, the MTA would require that these autonomous vehicles be interoperable with the existing signalling system (at least until all train cars are replaced/refurbished). Therefore, the MTA would have to continue to maintain the existing fixed-block signalling system (quite expensive) until the very distant future where all train cars were compatible with this technology, and would reap none of the benefits of CBTC until this were the case (as, regardless of whether a train has drivers, it will be using fixed-block signalling until the rest of the line is compatible).

Larry Littlefield May 29, 2018 - 11:21 am

FYI, the MTA wanted to eliminate the CONDUCTOR on automated lines, not train operator.

Roy May 29, 2018 - 12:20 pm

I.e. like just about every other mass transit system in the world.

Stephen Bauman May 29, 2018 - 12:35 pm

the MTA would have to go through a nightmarish collective bargaining process…

The subway’s operating expenses were $5.6B, according to the NTD. That’s 10.7% of their expenses. It’s equivalent to every passenger paying a little more than a $0.22 per trip. What do you think the response would be, if the public were given the choice between a prolonged, nightmarish strike and saving 22 cents per ride?

the MTA would require that these autonomous vehicles be interoperable with the existing signalling system…the MTA would have to continue to maintain the existing fixed-block signalling system…would reap none of the benefits of CBTC

Nobody’s estimated the CBTC’s payoff. CBTC is estimated to cost between $19B and $38B. Even if it eliminated the entire $5.6B of operating costs, it would still take between 3.9 and 6.8 years to pay off the investment. That’s a lot worse than 2.4 months. CBTC’s time to recoup investment is likely to be greater than the time to retirement of its proponents. :=)

Eli May 29, 2018 - 9:54 am

Why are people acting as though $19B is a crazy amount of money for this? LA–LA–just passed a $120B transit bond issue. Come on.

SEAN May 29, 2018 - 10:11 am

Granted, but look where Los Angeles is starting from as compared to NYC. Also there’s only two underground lines & the rest are surface or elevated light rail in LA.

Charley May 29, 2018 - 2:29 pm

Agreed – Los Angeles passed a half cent sales tax thru 2050 to fund their major projects – why can’t NYC do the same? If it can get on the ballot, I think it has a good chance of passing (as long as some cost reform measures are put into action) and it’s a viable way to fund this plan. It would raise well over $100 Billion, which would create enough funding NOW to build out the rest of the SAS at once as design build, which would be a huge overall cost savings instead of doing the work in phases. There would also be money to fund and construct some of the RPA’s recent recommendations for regional mobility.

Marcel May 29, 2018 - 5:59 pm

Unlike Los Angeles, NYC cannot impose taxes without the consent of the state legislature, which is controlled by Republicans.

SEAN May 30, 2018 - 10:48 am

Perhaps it’s time for NYC to force through a home rule request & bypass the bullshit that is Albany.

Nathanael November 11, 2018 - 1:07 pm

We just fixed that this November. 🙂 State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins. This is going to help a lot.

Larry Littlefield May 30, 2018 - 1:50 pm

New York City Sales tax right now

8.875 percent

Purchases above $110 are subject to a 4.5% NYC Sales Tax and a 4% NY State Sales Tax. The City Sales Tax rate is 4.5%, NY State Sales and Use Tax is 4% and the Metropolitan Commuter Transportation District surcharge of 0.375% for a total Sales and Use Tax of 8.875 percent.

Note we already have an MTA tax of nearly half a percent, but it was bonded against and the future money is gone.

9.25 percent

Los Angeles County residents will see a half-cent sales tax increase beginning today, as a result of voter-approved Measure M. The countywide sales and use tax rate will now be 9.25 percent in unincorporated areas and cities that don’t have special district taxes.Jun 30, 2017.

So it is a little higher, but not much. But remember log rolling. If NYC agrees to pay half a percent more, how much goes to the LIRR, how much to MetroNorth, and how much Upstate?

Stephen May 30, 2018 - 5:39 pm

I’m not sure if you copied/pasted from somewhere and dropped a word, but the $110 threshold is for clothing purchases. Otherwise, anything and everything that is taxable gets hit from its first penny.

Tom P May 29, 2018 - 10:53 am

The optimist in me hopes that this is sold as part of congestion pricing. For now, congestion pricing hopefuls have been trying to convince the wary Queens voter of congestion pricing. The idea is to have better roads by convincing some to switch to transit, and those who still want to drive pay for the improvements to make transit better.

But, what are the congestion pricing advocates selling? We know that existing transit is mostly full, and the best hope for any major capacity improvements (signal improvements) was 30 years away! If I wasn’t a real transit fan and believer in the idea, I’d be real skeptical and worried that my congestion pricing dollars would be going to keeping the bloated monster afloat, rather than making the improvements we need.

This improvement plan is what needs to be sold to the wary Queens voter. I don’t think that it is a coincidence that the 7 and EMFR lines are among the first to get the improvements.

I know this isn’t a panacea, but I think it is a great first step.

Stephen Bauman May 29, 2018 - 12:49 pm

I know this [congestion pricing] isn’t a panacea,

One of congestion pricing’s income sources comes from increased public transit use. There isn’t any accounting for any increased operating expenses due to the increased ridership. This means there will be a significant shortfall in money available to improve public transit.

The fare box recovery rate is 60% for the subway and 33% for the buses. This means every new fare income dollar is associated with an increased cost of $1.67 on the subway and $3.00 on the bus for each dollar received. These substantial increased operating costs are likely to overwhelm any projected investment for improving operations.

Remember, one of congestion pricing’s objectives is to divert large numbers of people from cars to public transit. The more successful congestion reduction the worse it becomes for public transit’s bottom line.

Tom P May 29, 2018 - 1:37 pm

That’s a good point, but,

-we don’t really know the ratio of those who would pay the fee versus shift to transit. Presumably the fee for those who do pay could be set to more than offset the additional ridership cost.
-This new plan, in addition to the signal upgrades, proposes lots of efficiency improvements. Hopefully the fare box recovery rates you quoted could be improved with more efficient maintenance, new electronic signals that require less maintenance and emergency fixes, streamlined management procedures, etc.

Peter L May 29, 2018 - 4:43 pm

$1.67/$3.00 thing is only true if you have to add vehicle service hours to accommodate the new passengers. Probably true underground, probably not true on the surface.

SEAN May 30, 2018 - 10:44 am

Yes & no. On the subway most definitely, but on busses it depends on the route as there’s a big difference between lines.

Stephen Bauman May 31, 2018 - 12:20 am

$1.67/$3.00 thing is only true if you have to add vehicle service hours to accommodate the new passengers.

More passengers per bus means greater loading/unloading time and fewer stops that can be bypassed for lack of passengers. This translates to greater running time. To keep the same headways more vehicle-revenue-hours will have to be added, even for “uncrowded” routes.

SEAN May 31, 2018 - 9:26 am

Witch in the long run benefits all passengers as more busses = lower headways & easier transfers.

Stephen Bauman May 31, 2018 - 9:38 am

You’re confusing a social benefit with the monetary cost to provide that benefit.

Until buses become emission free, more buses = more health problems.

SEAN June 1, 2018 - 9:23 am

Stephen, you posted…

More passengers per bus means greater loading/unloading time and fewer stops that can be bypassed for lack of passengers. This translates to greater running time. To keep the same headways more vehicle-revenue-hours will have to be added, even for “uncrowded” routes.

Then I posted

Witch in the long run benefits all passengers as more busses = lower headways & easier transfers.

How is that a confusion of any sort. And as for zero emition busses, the MTA has a contract to purchase a sizeable number from a Ca based company.

SEAN June 1, 2018 - 9:33 am


There you go Stephen.

J Adlai May 30, 2018 - 9:12 pm

The fare box recovery rate is 60% for the subway and 33% for the buses. This means every new fare income dollar is associated with an increased cost of $1.67 on the subway and $3.00 on the bus for each dollar received. These substantial increased operating costs are likely to overwhelm any projected investment for improving operations.

This is not true.

Every new fare income dollar is another dollar than does not have to come from subsidy. If ridership declines, then in order to maintain service levels, there would be a need to increase the amount of subsidy, meaning the farebox recovery ration decreases. Conversely, if the amount of farebox revenue increases, without a commensurate increase in service, then there is less money required for subsidy.

Stephen Bauman May 31, 2018 - 12:15 am

if the amount of farebox revenue increases, without a commensurate increase in service…

That’s a big caveat. Does anybody believe that service measurements like crowding (passengers per square meter) and headway (seconds between trains) are low? Moreover, they are so low that vast numbers of new passengers could be handled without substantially increased operating costs?

More passengers means more passengers per station. More passengers per station means greater dwell time within stations to permit them to enter/leave trains. Greater dwell time means longer trips. Longer trips mean more trips are required to keep the same headway or service level (tph).

You don’t get something for nothing.

J Adlai May 31, 2018 - 8:19 am

Regardless of what is best practice, what we think and feel, and what should be done, not only has the MTA not increased service much in the face of growing ridership, they have actually cut service. So the reality is that farebox revenue grew while expenses (theoretically) declined.

Stephen Bauman May 31, 2018 - 9:58 am

For the subways 2006 and 2016, according to the NTD.

The number of passenger trips increased by 42%
The number of passenger miles increased by 33%
The number of vehicle revenue miles increased by 2%
Operating expenses per vehicle revenue mile increased by 102%

Stephen Bauman May 31, 2018 - 10:02 am

I should have added

The CPI increased by 19%

J Adlai June 1, 2018 - 8:07 pm

This is a different animal together. As you note, passenger miles increased 33%, vehicle miles increased 2%. So there was not a commensurate increase in service to accommodate that passenger growth.

As for the 102% increase in operating expenses per vehicle mile, why did that occur? Was it because the additional growth in ridership required additional staff, added wear on vehicles and infrastructure caused a spike in maintenance costs and additional infill stations increased costs? Or did the MTA make decisions that increased this number no matter what ridership numbers looked like?

johndmuller June 4, 2018 - 8:09 pm

The numbers paint a confusing picture. One aspect of the data seems clear (operating expenses per vehicle revenue mile doubled while the vehicle revenue miles themselves remained the same). Is this as worthy of shock and awe as it sounds? What’s in there besides labor anyway? OTOH, revenue varies directly with trips, which were up 40%, but the fare went up kind of “a Lot” during that period, so revenue increased by 40% plus ((($$ “A Lot”) / ($$ 2006 fares)) expressed as %), which might be pretty close to the same doubling if one figured it out.

I know a lot of things went up “a Lot” during this period, for example, my water bill, which went up about 500%, and I also suspect/strongly believe that the various government indices like the CPI are underestimating inflation, at least in part by design. One can compare the various estimates for the Gateway project and see a comparable increase in costs for the various parts.

Maybe it would be good to make sure that whatever we do, we, we pay some attention to the people doing it to make sure that we get our money’s worth going forward. All these recriminations do little more than get people mad at each other, much as certain politicians spew out “fake news” getting us riled up and distracted from what they may or may not be doing under cover of the smoke screen.

Stephen Bauman June 4, 2018 - 11:46 pm

OTOH, revenue varies directly with trips, which were up 40%, but the fare went up kind of “a Lot” during that period, so revenue increased by 40% plus ((($$ “A Lot”) / ($$ 2006 fares)) , which might be pretty close to the same doubling if one figured it out.

Fare Revenues increased by 72%
Fare Recovery Rate decreased from 72% to 60%

Vehicle Operations went from $1.2B to $2.78B
Vehicle Maintenance went from $467M to $836M
Non-Vehicle Maintenance went from $719M to $1.6B
Administration went from $269M to $959M

Stephen Bauman June 5, 2018 - 6:05 am

What’s in there besides labor anyway?

Number of Full Time Operating Employees decreased 2%
Number of Full Time Operating Employee Hours increased 16%

Christopher May 29, 2018 - 6:40 pm

How many of the readers of this blog voted for Cuomo? Be honest. I expect to see plenty of hands.

The solution? Or at least the first step towards a solution? Stop voting for Cuomo. Stop giving him money. Stop acting like it’s even socially acceptable to vote for Cuomo. Did your friends vote for Cuomo? Let them know they’re part of the problem, too.

D Yale June 3, 2018 - 9:03 pm

Good point! Vote for Cynthia Nixon, who is very much pro-subways & buses. It’s time to give Cuomo the old heave-ho!

Benjamin May 30, 2018 - 1:35 am

One thing that seems complete absent from this was platform screen doors. While the cost to do this throughout the system is likely very high I unscientifically suggest that significant gain could be had by doing it at high traffic stations with the most clutter and trash.

As I walk out of my hotel room the last few weeks into the HK MTR I am amazed that their tracks seem cleaner than our station platforms. (They are also able to maintain a significant degree of climate control on the platforms which I assume to related.)

Larry Littlefield May 30, 2018 - 11:12 am

Do the HK MTR train sets have doors in different positions? They have willfully made platform doors prohibitively expensive to impossible on the subway. It they want to do it, they have to start planning for it now and do it over 40 years as trains are required.

I’ll say it again — if all the doors were in the same position, there could be walls at the platform edge everywhere the doors were not, getting much of the safety benefit with little of the failure risk/maintenance cost.

Don’t forget that the subway was designed to use the trains pushing air through the tunnels as ventilation for the stations. Absent that ventilation, the platforms would be hell without a whole new air circulation system as well — another cost. The gaps in the walls would allow that ventilation to continue — another savings.

But the doors all have to be in the same place.

J Adlai May 30, 2018 - 9:07 pm

Doors don’t all have to be in the same place. It’s not as clean, but you can have multiple door configurations.

Larry Littlefield May 31, 2018 - 9:38 am

So what happens when these complicated multi-location doors go out of service, like elevators and escalators?

What happens when they are sabotaged as part of a job action?

What happens when they are vandalized.

What happens when they are neglected to save money?

J Adlai June 1, 2018 - 8:09 pm

The same thing that happens if you use normal Platform Screen Doors. These doors are not any more complicated than normal Screen Doors, they just occur at more locations, or are wider to accommodate off positions.

Larry Littlefield June 3, 2018 - 1:31 pm

I have trouble understanding how this could be so. Do you happen to know a place that has these?

BenW May 31, 2018 - 11:29 am

What? No, the trains ventilate the tunnels via piston action—but they do that by pushing hot air from the tunnels onto the platforms.

Larry Littlefield May 31, 2018 - 2:23 pm

They push air into the stations pulling in, and suck air out of the stations pulling out.


“Every effort has been made to so design the new subways, that the excessive heating which occurs at times in the summer in the present subway may be avoided. The tracks are to be divided so that trains going in one direction will be in a separate tube or tunnel from those going the opposite way; by this means it is expected to utilize the movements of the trains (the so called piston action where there is only one track in a single tube) to push the air ahead and out through the openings which are provided for this purpose.”

“The piston action of the trains in the single-track tube of the Hudson & Manhattan R.R. has been noticeably efficacious in promoting efficient ventilation, but except on the Fourth Ave., Brooklyn line, where there is a parked space in the center of the street and where walls are provided between each track, it was not considered practicable to divide all the tracks of the new four-track lines so that each would be in a separate tube, on account of the difficulty of providing outlets for the center tracks. It would be impractical, of course, to provide openings in the roadway of the streets, and in order that the openings in the sidewalks might be used, the center wall only was built dividing the traffic going in opposite directions, but leaving the two tracks on one side in the one space. If this does not produce the required movement of the air, that is, actual propelling movement, not mere stirring up as in the present subway, the fans must be utilized to supplement it. Openings about 2 ft. wide and 8 ft. high are provided at every 10 ft. in the center wall as a means of communication between the two sides, and as refuge niches, and these may tend to reduce the piston effect to some small extent.”

“Although this arrangement in the four-track section will reduce somewhat the positive piston action of the trains it will be beneficial to the extent that it will tend to reduce the air resistance, which has been shown (see J. V. Davies, “Air Resistance in Tube Tunnels,” Trans. Am. Soc. C. E., Vol. LXXV, 1912.) to be by no means a negligible factor in cost of operation in single-track tubes, though this cost may be offset by the benefits of more efficient ventilation.”

t-bo May 31, 2018 - 9:26 am

Meantime on the quality-of-life front in the trains: Rank-smelling, passed-out holdovers still left on the Q trains as they depart 96th St. NYC Transit tells riders to contact a social-service agency to intervene. There’s only a few minutes at best to try to make the call before train leaves, and of course by then it’s too late to make contact. Instead, the authorities should effect a removal to the station platform (“All passengers: Please leave the train”) whereupon the social intervention can take place. It is YOUR JOB to do that–it is not the patrons’ responsibility.

smotri May 31, 2018 - 2:08 pm

Cannot agree more. It’s virtually every single day, during rush hour or not. Somewhere sometime a MTA representative said, cited in an article somewhere, that these people have a ‘right to ride the train’. Beyond belief.

BrightonReader May 31, 2018 - 11:10 pm

I’m beginning to wonder whose blog this is.

Larry if you want to pontificate as much as you have then set up your own blog as it is offputting to some readers when one person monopolises the comments

Almost 25% of the comments are from you.

Larry Littlefield June 1, 2018 - 9:14 am

I have my own blog. It’s mostly about $. So when there is a post about $, I have a lot of comments.


And yes, my comments are off-putting to some readers, everywhere I make them. Because they quantify just how deep in the hole later-born generations have been left by those who came before, which is the opposite of what occurred for most of American history.

Mostly it’s all under Omertà. But not entirely.



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