As the MTA is facing its worst financial crisis in decades, New York’s politicians have begun to speak out in droves. These comments could serve as a primer in assessing politicians’ attitudes toward transit. For example, we’ve already seen that John Liu, the chair of the City Council’s Transportation Committe, doesn’t get it, but what about a few other big names?

Curbed has Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz’s reactions to the East River tolling proposal:

“Haven’t we been down this road before? I have said it before and will say it again: East River tolls are discriminatory, impractical, and impose an unfair ‘tax’ on the outer boroughs—especially Brooklyn. Three of the four un-tolled bridges—the Brooklyn, Manhattan and Williamsburg…Additionally, even with advances in E-ZPass technology, tolls will create even worse traffic backups for communities such as Downtown Brooklyn, Williamsburg, DUMBO, and the ‘Brownstone Belt’ of Carroll Gardens, Cobble Hill, Brooklyn Heights and Boerum Hill, which already suffer.”

I hate to break it to Marty, but a financially crippled MTA would be far, far worse for Brooklyn than some tolls. In fact, two of the three lines up for service cuts run into Brooklyn too and serve many more people than the bridges on a daily basis. Unsurprisingly, Marty doesn’t get it.

But not everyone is as blind to reality as Markowitz. Richard Brodsky, a Westchester assemblyman who oversees the MTA, gets it, as William Neuman noted in The Times:

Assemblyman Richard L. Brodsky, a Democrat from Westchester County who is the chairman of a commission that oversees the authority, said he was worried that the authority’s long-term spending needs would be forgotten in a discussion of its more immediate fiscal woes.

“You look back at the generation of leaders in the ’60s and ’70s and say, ‘How could they let the subway system deteriorate as much as it did?’ ” Mr. Brodsky said. “We are going to be faced with precisely the choices that they faced.” He added, “The real question here is do we repeat those mistakes?”

As Brodsky noted, the region cannot afford to let the MTA slip back into the hell it became in the 1960s and 1970s. That would be far, far worse for our economy that some tolls on the East River. Brodsky also gives me hope that not every politician will have a knee-jerk reaction to inconvenient truths the Ravitch Report will contain next month. We need to look forward for a solution. If that means higher tolls or a congestion fee or higher taxes, then so be it. A New York without a functional MTA with the ability to expand to meet the demands of a 21st Century city would be a bad place indeed.

Categories : MTA Economics
Comments (9)

It’s hard to wrap your mind around $1.2 billion. What exactly does it mean to face a $1.2 billion deficit?

In New York terms, it would take A-Rod 44 years at his current salary of $27 million a season to earn $1.2 billion. For Mayor Bloomberg, $1.2 billion is approximately six percent of his pre-stock market crash net worth.

But for the rest of us — the subway- and bus-riding public — that $1.2 billion figure is a harbinger of bad things to come. While Richard Ravitch may have a few politically untenable aces up his sleeve, the reality is that the MTA is going to have to cut, baby, cut to chip away at this massive deficit.

Pete Donohue has the news as it will impact riders:

Metropolitan Transportation Authority officials wouldn’t release details of a still-developing doomsday budget plan, but sources said bus riders – particularly on express routes – would likely see the biggest cuts.

Subway riders would see fewer trains, especially on lines with parallel service, such as the Broadway line in Manhattan, where N, R and W trains run, sources said.

Layoffs also are on the table, officials said.

William Neuman has the bad news for fare-watchers:

The preliminary budget also called for an 8 percent increase in fare and toll revenues, starting in July, which would generate an additional $200 million.

Each 1 percent increase in fare and toll revenues would generate slightly more than $4 million in income each month.

Of course, the problem with that fare increase and the additional $200 million is that those are simply replacement funds. The MTA doesn’t think that city and state, also facing significant budget crises, will come through with a promised $200 million contribution. So the MTA will still be left with rising costs and debt payments while the fare hike will simply offset money they should have gotten in the first place.

Meanwhile, for the first time, MTA officials, off the record, are talking about cutting service and increasing the fare at the same time; there is no plan in place to fund the next $30 billion capital campaign; and other services — maintenance workers, station cleaners — may face the axe as well. This is a sorry state of affairs for a vital transit agency.

One day, when it’s too late, our legislatures will wake up and realize that we as a city are doomed to repeat the recent past when the subways weren’t properly funded. But by the time we reach a point analogous to the 1960s and 1970s, it will be far too late. This week’s news should serve as a warning shot. For some reason, I don’t think it will.

Categories : MTA Economics
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Earlier today, the MTA Finance Committee held a special meeting to update the MTA Board on worsening financial projections. According to reports from the meeting, the MTA could be facing a crippling $1.2 billion deficit if the agency cannot find economic relief from the city, the state, a fare hike or measures suggested by the Ravitch committe.

Sewell Chan and William Neuman filed a report on City Room:

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority faces a $1.2 billion budget deficit in 2009 — $300 million more than it had projected in July — that will very likely require new fare and toll increases or service reductions unless it gets new state and city aid or finds new sources of revenue, officials warned on Monday morning.

At a meeting of the finance committee of the authority’s board, the authority’s chief executive, Elliot G. Sander, said the authority faces a dire fiscal situation that could influence riders across the subway, bus and commuter-rail networks. The deficit was caused, he said, by the collapse of revenues from real estate and corporate taxes, which until just a few years ago had given the authority a string of healthy surpluses…

The magnitude of the fiscal challenges confronting the authority was evident in a PowerPoint presentation presented at the meeting and posted to the authority’s Web site. Real estate transaction taxes, which represent an important share of M.T.A. revenue, provided the authority with more than $1.4 billion in 2006 and nearly $1.6 billion in 2007. This year, the authority is on track to collect only $995 million in such taxes — about $50 million less than had been projected in July. And the situation is expected to get even worse. The authority now expects to collect $895 million in real estate taxes next year, and $877 million in 2010.

The PowerPoint presentation is available here, and in the next day or two, an archived video of the committee meeting will be posted on the MTA’s website.

“They will be very, very significant,” Sander said during the hearing. “Whatever that mix that we come up with, in terms of fare and toll increases and service reductions, there’s no question that they would have an impact, significantly, on our customer and on the functioning of that region.”

Right now, the financing mechanism for the MTA is clearly broken, and it’s up to the government to fix it. While the feds are working on a $700 billion bailout plan for the rest of the U.S. economic, it wouldn’t be out of the realm of the ordinary to suggest that less than 0.2 percent of that money be siphoned to ensure a healthy MTA. The New York Metropolitan Area’s transit infrastructure is probably at least that valuable to the national economy on the whole.

Meanwhile, the Ravitch Commission’s recommendations — discussed at length this morning — loom larger now. Somehow, someone will have to pay to fix the MTA. It will come out of taxpayers’ pockets either at the expense of everyone or at the expense of drivers who opt to enjoy the luxury of driving. In all likelihood, the end result will be some combination of both.

But no matter the solution, the government cannot allow the fortunes of the MTA to raise and fall on something as unstable as real estate tax revenues. It’s hard to underestimate the city’s need for a healthy public transit network. I’d hate to see New York learn the hard way a lesson we all should have picked up from the 1970s.

Categories : MTA Economics
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This morning, at 9:30 a.m., the MTA’s Finance Committee will meet in a special session to update the MTA Board on revenue and expense projections for the agency’s operating budget. While the news out of this meeting will not be good for the MTA’s bottom line, help, in the form of the Ravitch Commission is less than a month away.

In a few short weeks, Richard Ravitch will unveil his recommendations the city and state could adopt to save the MTA. Yesterday, the Post broke the unsurprising story that Ravitch is going to strongly urge the city to toll the East River bridges with the proceeds heading into the MTA’s depleted coffers. David Seifman and Bill Sanderson broke the story:

A state commission is proposing slapping tolls on the Brooklyn, Manhattan, Williamsburg and 59th Street bridges to plug a gigantic, $1.5 billion hole in the MTA’s budget, sources told The Post. In a report expected on Gov. Paterson’s desk next month, members of the Ravitch Commission – a 13-member panel appointed in June to identify solutions to the agency’s financial crisis – will recommend collecting tolls at all or some of the city’s East River bridges.

All of those bridges are owned by the city and currently have no tolls. But motorists now pay $5 each way on the MTA-owned East River crossings, which include the Triborough Bridge and the Brooklyn-Battery and Queens-Midtown tunnels.

Higher subway, bus and train fares and a new payroll tax – to be imposed on employers – will also be suggested by the commission, which is led by former MTA chief Richard Ravitch, the sources said. Because the non-toll spans are owned by the city, and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority is a state agency, both City Hall and Albany would have to OK the controversial idea.

The Daily News reported that congestion pricing would also be included in the Ravitch report.

On the surface, supporters of mass transit are going to find it tough to object to this idea. The City has often floated the idea of tolling the East River crossings as a way to generate more revenue for the MTA, and if indeed this suggestion appears in the Ravitch report, it will be hard for Albany and City Hall to ignore it. As with congestion pricing, it would serve two needs: The plan would both generate more revenue for the MTA and encourage commuters to seek out more environmentally friendly means of travel within New York City.

Of course, the Post went straight to New Yorkers who could find some way to complain about this plan. Business owners who rely on inter-borough travel decry it as another form of taxation with some even claiming that they won’t be able to stay in business if they’re charged $400 more a month in tolls. These drivers should be able to pass off the costs to their customers in the form of higher delivery fees. That’s not the issue.

The real issue I have is with people such as Walter Winds, mentioned in this graphic, who drives his wife to work over the Williamsburg Bridge. I can’t side with him in this great debate because subway trains already cross the Williamsburg Bridge. If Winds and fellow commuters who view cars as a luxury don’t want to pay, then they can take the train.

Meanwhile, John Liu, the chair of the City Council’s Transportation Committee and the man supposedly in charge of advocating for mass transit, is already campaigning against the tolls. “The mayor tried to impose them during the dire fiscal straits in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, and even then it went over like a lead balloon,” Liu said to The Post This plan, he said, will wind up on “the bottom of the East River.”

Thanks, John. Way to take a good idea and toss it under the bus for a change. One day, the head of the Transportation Committee won’t hate the idea of funding transportation in the city. For now, we’ll just have to hope that something Ravitch suggests — tolls, congestion pricing, money laundering — provides the MTA with the relief it needs.

Categories : MTA Economics
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This is a tale that began back in August of 2007 when a torrential rainstorm flooded the subway and left the city paralyzed. The MTA couldn’t communicate in real time to its passengers to alert them of the service outages, and millions of New Yorkers were left stranded.

A week after the flood, the MTA expressed interest in a text-message service advisory plan. Since then, we’ve heard bits and pieces about the plan. Exactly one year ago today, the MTA issued a Request for Proposals for a text-message alert system. In March, the MTA announced that these alerts would be “coming soon,” and in July, the agency said basically the same thing.

Now, according to the Queens Courier, the MTA may be set to launch this program by the end of the month. I’ll try to find out more about the shape of this project and any anticipated launch dates over the next week. It is a long time coming and will be a welcome development.

Without further ado, this weekend’s changes:


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, November 8 to 5 a.m. Monday, November 10, there are no 1 trains between 34th Street and South Ferry due to signal and station work required to open the new South Ferry terminal. Customers should take the 2 between 34th Street and Chambers Street. Free shuttle buses run between Chambers Street and South Ferry.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, November 8 to 5 a.m. Monday, November 10, downtown 2 trains run local from 96th to Chambers Sts. Uptown 2 trains run local from Chambers Street to 72nd Street. These changes are due to signal and station work required to open the new South Ferry terminal.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, November 8 to 5 a.m. Monday, November 10, uptown 2 trains skip 79th and 86th Sts. due to several jobs, including track chip-out north of 135th Street, and communication and cable installations. Customers should take the 1 instead.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, November 8 to 5 a.m. Monday, November 10, there are no 2 trains between 96th Street and 241st Street due to several jobs, including track chip-out north of 135th Street, and communication and cable installations. Free shuttle buses replace the 2 between 96th Street and 149th Street-Grand Concourse. 5 trains replace the 2 between 149th Street-Grand Concourse and 241st Street.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, November 8 to 5 a.m. Monday, November 10, there are no 3 trains running due to a track chip-out north of 135th Street station. Free shuttle buses and 24 trains provide alternate service.


From 9 a.m. to 4p.m. Saturday, November 8, Manhattan-bound 4 trains skip Bedford Park Blvd. due to rail replacement.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, November 8 to 5 a.m. Monday, November 10, Queens-bound AC trains skip Ralph and Rockaway Avenues due to station painting.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, November 8 to 5 a.m. Monday, November 10, downtown AC trains skip 163rd, 155th, and 135th Streets due to station painting.


From 11:30 p.m. Friday, November 7 to 5 a.m. Monday, November 10, free shuttle buses and shuttle train service replace the A between Howard Beach-JFK Airport and the Rockaways due to work on the Cross Bay Veteran’s Memorial Bridge.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, November 8 to 5 a.m. Monday, November 10, uptown C trains run express from Canal to 145th Streets.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, November 8 to 5 a.m. Monday, November 10, uptown D trains run on the C line from West 4th Street to 135th Street, making local stops, due to ADA work at 47th/50th Sts.-Rockefeller Center station.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, November 8 to 5 a.m. Monday, November 10, uptown E trains skip Spring and 23rd Streets due to ADA work at 47th/50th Sts. station.


From 8:30 p.m. Friday, November 7 to 5 a.m. Monday, November 10, there are no G trains between Forest Hills-71st Avenue and Long Island City-Court Square due to tunnel security work on the crosstown tunnel. Customers should take the E or R instead.


From 1 a.m. Saturday, November 8 to 5 a.m. Monday, November 10, J trains run in two sections due to structural work at Canal Street:

  • Between Jamaica Center and Essex Street and
  • Between Essex Street and Chambers Street


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, November 8 to 5 a.m. Monday, November 10, there are no N trains between Queensboro Plaza and Times Square due to track replacement in the area of 5th Avenue/59th Street, switch work at Queensboro Plaza and tunnel security work.

  • For Lexington Avenue and 5th Avenue, take the 7 to Grand Central and transfer to the uptown 456 to 59th Street
  • For 49th Street and 57th Street, take the 7 to Times Square and transfer to the uptown Q


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, November 8 to 5 a.m. Monday, November 10, N trains skip Prince, 8th, 23rd, and 28th Streets. (Same work as above.) Customers should take the Q instead.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, November 8 to 5 a.m. Monday, November 10, N trains are rerouted over the Manhattan Bridge between DeKalb Avenue and Canal Street. (Same work as above.)


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, November 8 to 5 a.m. Monday, November 10, Q trains replace the R between 57th Street-7th Avenue and DeKalb Avenue. (Same work as above.)


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, November 8 to 5 a.m. Monday, November 10, R trains run on the V line from Queens Plaza to Broadway-Lafayette Street, then via the Manhattan Bridge to DeKalb Avenue. (Same work as above.)

Categories : Service Advisories
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  • City to spend $4M to rename a bridge · This morning, I spied a SubTalk poster urging me to “Celebrate the dedication of the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge.” It took me a good two minutes to figure out that the MTA was referring to the erstwhile Triborough Bridge. Now, according to CityRoom, the City of New York is set to spend $4 million over the next two years as they go about renaming the bridge after the former New York Senator and Massachusetts native. The funny thing about this expensive renaming outlay is that no one in New York is going to call this bridge by its proper name. It will always, to natives of this city, be the Triborough Bridge. (And anyway, it should have been named after Robert Moses. It was his bridge through and through.) · (11)

Over at The Launch Box, another subway blogger also named Ben charts the progress of the Second Ave. Subway launch box construction in pictures. In his latest post, Ben links to a CB 8 Second Ave. Subway task force presentation from the MTA. The slides, available here as a PDF, cover the architectural finish and design elements of Phase I of the SAS.

It’s hard not to get excited about this. These images show that the MTA is pretty far along in the planning and design stages of Phase I of this project. Might we actually have a Second Ave. Subway in the next eight to ten years? Without further ado, let’s jump in. All images can be enlarged by clicking.

Station96Large

We start with architectural renderings of the mezzanine at 96th St. The station promises to be light and airy with substantial access points to the platforms and escalators all around. Signs are well marked and easy to read. I believe, though, that by the time this station opens, all available wallspace will be covered in ads. The stations will also be way more crowded than this.

Entrance96Large

Moving above ground, we see something new from the MTA: open-plaza canopied stations with escalator access. These canopies are very reminiscent of the WMATA’s awnings that popped up in 2005-2006 after years of suffering escalator abuse at the hands of the elements. These SAS entrances are rather ostentatious considering the existing subtle subway entrances throughout the rest of the city.

Entrance94Large

Above is the street-level view of the 94th St. entrances. According to the presentation, these entrances will feature curved edges and railings to facilitate pedestrian flow. They’ll be hard to miss and with adequate signage as well. Fancy shmancy.

Entrance69Large

The entrances incorporated into preexisting buildings will be a bit more subtle. The one above is from the building currently at the northeast corner of 69th St. and 2nd. With entrances on both 69th St. and 2nd Ave., straphangers will have plenty of access points at just one of the station’s money entrances. As the PDF shows, each station will have an uptown and downtown entrance. (The 83rd St. entrance of the 86th St. stop has a mid-block access point.)

Comparison69Large

Unfortunately, as astute Upper East Siders might have realized, that entrance at 69th St. and 2nd Ave. means the end of Patsy’s Pizzeria. The Yelp reviews are decidedly mixed.

Aux96thSt

For the architects among us, the presentation also gets into details about the ancillary buildings the MTA is constructing at SW corner of 97th St., the NE corner of 93rd St., the NW corner of 86th St. and the NW corner of 83rd St. (with more to come). They’re kind of ugly, but the MTA has designed them to fit in as best as they can with the surrounding neighborhood. These buildings as, for better or worse, a necessary evil of the subway line.

So there you go. You can check out a street overview of the buildings and entrances the MTA plans on constructing. Who knows? Maybe by 2015, we’ll have that Second Ave. Subway after all.

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On Monday morning, when I ran a piece on the MTA’s global investments, I leveled some fairly serious charges at MTA CFO Gary Dellaverson and his investment strategy. Relying on information from an article in The Times, I questioned the MTA’s decision to pursue some high risk, high reward investments and in doing so, overstepped my bounds without discovering the full story.

I wrote, as my analysis:

Basically, in a nutshell, the MTA got greedy…All of this economics mumbo-jumbo leads me to believe that perhaps the MTA needs some new fiscal leadership. Perhaps Dellaverson, the man who invested the MTA into this mess, needs to go. Perhaps he just needs new economic advisers who don’t play fast and loose with rather important public infrastructure funds.

Yesterday, the MTA rightly accused me of spouting forth on a topic about which, at the time, I knew little. Jeremy Soffin, MTA spokesman, wrote me a correction in the form of a letter submitted to — but not yet published by The Times. It reads:

To the Editor:

While it is important to your readers to know how the global credit crisis is impacting government services, the November 2 article “From Midwest to M.T.A., Pain From Global Gamble” confuses the issue by comparing the MTA’s successful use of variable rate bonds to riskier investment schemes.

The story implies that the M.T.A. was “wooed by bankers” to pursue variable rate bonds, but the agency has used these bonds to diversify its traditional fixed-rate debt since the 1980s. This mix provides the most cost effective financing for the MTA’s capital program of over $23 billion, with variable rate bonds saving the agency nearly $44 million just this year alone.

The M.T.A. did what was prudent for any governmental issuer of its size – it compiled a list of qualified banks, selected not on the quality of the sales pitch, but on market acceptance and ratings of the institution. The M.T.A. currently uses fourteen major domestic and international banks in its variable rate portfolio, of which Depfa is but one.

As the MTA continues to grapple with the volatility in the financial sector as well as the impact of the economic slowdown on the ‘real’ economy, it will keep its riders interests first and foremost by managing risk with supplier and product diversification.

In my post, I didn’t take the full economic picture into account. What the MTA did in investing in variable rate bonds was what millions of Americans do with their 401(k) plans. They diversified their holdings to spread out the risk in an effort that should have achieved maximum growth. If this one investment didn’t work — and that is a point I’ll get to soon — it has nothing to do with irresponsible investing or greedy officials and everything to do with the fact that, sometimes, investments don’t work out.

But on the other hand, while The Times article didn’t focus on this, as the MTA stresses, these investments works. The variable rate bonds saved the agency $44 million alone.

The other piece of this post and The Times article focused on concerns about the MTA’s debt payments, but these payments aren’t increasing because Depfa — the bank holding just one of the MTA’s many investments — is suffering. The debt is increasing because the MTA has had to borrow to finance its much-needed capital campaign.

While the article mentions a potential $12 million in fees to Depfa, the MTA believes this figure represents a worst-case scenario, and authority officials do not believe it will come to that. The MTA’s financial team is much more concerned with higher interest rates on their recent bond issue and the current disruption in the credit market than with what figures to be a relatively small payout to Depfa, if it even comes to that.

So in the end, I have to issue an apology to the MTA and Gary Dellaverson. I took the information from The Times’ article at face value when the MTA had a story to tell about their investments too that doesn’t make the authority look nearly as bad as I made it out to be. In reality, Dellaverson has done an admirable job spreading the risk at a time when the MTA really needs an outside infusion of cash. Monday’s post represented sloppy reporting by me, and my readers and the agency about which I write deserve better.

Categories : MTA Economics
Comments (2)
  • The election returns and transit · Mobilizing the Region takes a look at what last night’s local and national election returns mean for transit investment in the Tri-State area. With Democrats in power just about everywhere, the Tri-State Transportation Campaign sees good things ahead for transit in New York. · (0)
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