Thirty years ago, when the ten-year-old MTA was facing a subway crisis, New York turned to Richard Ravitch to step in and save a decaying and unsafe system. Now, the 40-year-old MTA, suffering from the same economy slump affecting Americans the country over, has once again turned to Richard Ravitch to revive and revitalize the MTA’s finances. Ironically, Ravitch and his panel are tasked with solving a problem created by Ravitch thirty years ago: crushing debt brought about by investment in the subway system.

This is quite the conundrum. Why would the MTA turn to Ravitch to fix a problem that stems, by and large, from policies he instituted and paths he chose in the 1980s? Better yet, how exactly did Ravitch create those problems? A very well done Ray Rivera article in The Times this weekend delved into the issue of MTA debt, and in Rivera’s work, we see the origins of the MTA’s current financial difficulties.

Rivera writes:

When Richard Ravitch was named chairman of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority in 1979, he inherited a subway system in decay. Trains derailed or collided on average every 15 days. Stations were filthy and crime was rampant. Ridership sank to lows not seen since World War I.

To revive the system, Mr. Ravitch, a former construction executive, persuaded lawmakers to allow the authority to do what countless cities and states had long done to build and maintain their infrastructure: Issue bonds.

“The system was falling apart, and the only way I could get the money to rebuild it was to borrow it,” Mr. Ravitch said in a recent interview.

Nearly 30 years later, the system is by all accounts better. But the authority’s debt has ballooned, and like stressed homeowners across the country, the system is groaning under the pressure to repay it. Indeed, debt payments are the system’s largest single cost after payroll, and by 2012 they will account for one of every five dollars the authority spends.

Rivera goes on to talk about the recent restructuring of the MTA’s finances. The agency is on the hook for debt payments until, at the earliest, 2032, and those payments amount to at least $1 billion annually. If the agency wants to expand its system, as it is doing now, if the MTA wants to keep stations in a good state of good repair, renovate those that need improvements and keep equipment modern, those debt tolls could increase.

And it all started with Ravitch:

Money for capital improvements hovered around $50 million — not the billions Mr. Ravitch and his analysts knew it would take. So he went to Albany.

“The Legislature squawked,” recalled Mr. Ravitch, 75. “They said that will result in a fare increase, and I said ‘That’s absolutely correct.’ But I said it will also result in an improvement in the system and attract more riders and avoid the dysfunctionality in the system, and they were persuaded.”

The law passed in 1981, and the next year the authority issued its first bonds, totaling $350 million. The authority issued hundreds of millions of dollars in new debt over the next 20 years, nearly all of it going toward new stainless steel cars and buses, and track repairs, signal replacements and other system improvements. By 2000, the agency’s outstanding debt had reached $12 billion.

Over this time period, as the MTA fell further and further into debt, city and state politicians were content to let the transit authority crumble. Until 1991, New York City and State funded a combined 26 percent of the capital plans. From 1992 onward, that contribution fell to a meager nine percent, and the MTA had to rely on the money they could raise from bond sales. Right now, if all of the MTA’s bonds were recalled, the transit agency would, in all likelihood, default.

This time around, Ravitch is going to have to rely on something other than yet another bond issue to fund the MTA. The transportation agency cannot continue to borrow against itself to fund capital improvements, system expansions and maintenance programs. Ravitch will have to demand more money from a government strapped for cash, and identify some other sources of dedicated revenue stream. As we know, Ravitch got us into this mess by suggesting bond issues in the first place. Can he get us out of it?

Categories : MTA Construction, PANYNJ
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  • A few more service increases on the IRT lines · New York City Transit tried to sneak this by us, but we caught them anyway: While they publicly unveiled a whole bunch of service upgrades this past weekend, a few additions didn’t hit the wires until late this weekend. The transit authority has increased the frequency of service along the 1, 4, 6 and 42nd St. Shuttle lines. The adjustments add six additional trips to the local trains and ten additional trips to the 4 and Shuttle during the week. Considering the recent spate of bad news, the MTA should have been trumpeted this service increases this week. · (0)
  • Sluggish 7 line · For much of the morning, New York City Transit had a service alert warning of congestion on the 7 line. I wonder if the additional service was responsible for this morning’s delays. The MTA added more express trains and 14 more round trips on the IRT Flushing line, and today was the first weekday with the added service. We’ll have to see how things go tomorrow, but for now, the Subchat posters are keep their eyes on this development. · (0)

Hot on the heels of last week’s fare hike brouhaha, New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli has announced an upcoming audit of the MTA’s books.

The audit, first reported on Sunday morning by The New York Post, should be completedwithin the next few months, and DiNapoli’s office plans to release a preliminary report in September, well before the MTA Board votes on the fate of the fare hike proposal. “Mass transit is crucially important to the economic well-being of the city, and the MTA has historically not done the best job of managing its resources,” Dennis Tompkins, a spokesperson from DiNapoli’s office, said to The Post “Now it’s more important than ever that they implement every possible way to save money and increase efficiencies in the system before they raise fares on the public.”

Meanwhile, over the weekend, two different stories highlighted the need for such an audit. First, Pete Donohue of the Daily News uncovered 19,000 hours of unnecessary overtime. Some bus drivers were getting paid overtime to complete their duties when other drivers were available but not tasked to the job. Bureaucratic inefficiencies like these have long been a hallmark of the MTA, and as the transit authority streamlines their operations, the agency hopes to eliminate redundant overtime.

Then, on Saturday, shortly before the debut of the new service expansions Donohue reported on the MTA’s staffing of closed stations. Clerks had been manning the booths at 145th and 148th Sts. on the 3 line even though the stations were shut for six and a half hours each night. NYC Transit said that the stations were staffed to prevent vandalism and to “unlock turnstiles if an emergency ever required a train be rerouted to one of the depots.” This doesn’t strike me as the best use of resources.

In the long run, these two stories highlight small issues within the overall scheme of the MTA. The station staffing has cost the authority a whopping $1 million since 2000, and with budget deficits of nearly $900 million a year, one million over seven and a half years hardly seems important. But it’s the idea of it. Time and time again, city and state comptrollers have looked at the MTA’s finances, and time and time again, they’ve recommended ways to bridge the deficit gap that don’t involve fare hikes.

Nearly a year ago, when we were discussing this year’s fare hike, City Comptroller William C. Thompson issued a report highlighting how the MTA, with an assist from Albany, could avoid a fare hike. Included in that report was a study of student MetroCards that found the MTA’s footing more of the bill than it should have been paying. But nothing changes.

DiNapoli can dig and tally up figures. But it always seems that once a fare hike is on the table, nothing can stop it. The MTA will go on spending wastefully in certain ares and not enough in others. That’s just the way it is.

Categories : Fare Hikes
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Here’s an interesting bit of news before we get to the service advisories: The MTA and CNN are working on a deal that would put TV screens in the subway.

Helen Kennedy at the Daily News notes that the pilot program, as CNN will front the installation costs, will be free to the MTA, and the transit authority stands to benefit from increased advertising revenue. If that money-grabbing measure fails, we can always start taxing cigarette sales on Indian reservations to fund transit in New York. Someone save us with these stop-gap measures.

Anyway, while subway service is set for a few upgrades this weekend, we’ve still got a full slate of service advisories on tap. You can find these in convenient map form on Subway Weekender with separate maps for Saturday’s advisories and Sunday’s changes. It’s one of those weekends.

As always, these may be incomplete and are subject to change. Leave any corrections or amendments in the comments.


From 12:01 a.m. to 8 a.m. Sunday, July 27 and from 12:01 a.m. to 5 a.m. Monday, July 28, uptown 1 trains skip 103rd, 110th, 116th, and 125th Sts. due to roadbed replacement work.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, July 26 to 5 a.m. Monday, July 28, downtown 1 and 2 trains skip 86th and 79th Streets due to station rehab work at 96th Street.


From 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, July 26 and Sunday, July 27, 241st Street-bound 2 trains skip 219th, 225th, 233rd Sts. and Nereid Avenue due to switch maintenance work at Nereid Avenue.


From 4 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday, July 26, free shuttle buses replace 4 trains between Woodlawn and Bedford Park Blvd. due to switch replacement work at Woodlawn.


From 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday, July 27, Pelham Bay Park-bound 6 trains run express from Parkchester to Pelham Bay Park due to painting of the elevated structure.


From 12:01 a.m. throughout the day until midnight Saturday, July 26, the last stop for some Pelham Bay Park-bound 6 trains is 3rd Avenue due to roadbed replacement work at 143rd Street.


From 12:01 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday, July 26, Manhattan-bound A trains run on the F line from Jay to West 4th Streets due to rail and roadbed repairs in the Cranberry Street tunnel. In addition, from 5 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday, July 26, C service is suspended. A trains run local both ways between 168th Street and Euclid Avenue.


Due to emergency track work, from 12:01 a.m. to 5 a.m. Saturday, July 26, Queens-bound F trains run on the V line from 47-50 Sts to Queens Plaza.


From 8:30 a.m. Friday, July 25 to 11 p.m. Saturday, July 26, there are no G trains between Forest Hills-71st Avenue and Court Square due to tunnel rehab work between Whitehall and Canal Sts. Customers should take the E or R instead.


From 4 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday, July 26, there are no J trains between Crescent Street and Jamaica Center-Parsons/Archer due to track panel installation at Cypress Hills station. Free shuttle buses replace J trains between Crescent Street and the Jamaica-Van Wyck E station.


From 5 a.m. Saturday, July 26 to 8 p.m. Sunday, July 27, Queens-bound J trains run express from Myrtle Avenue to Broadway Junction due to track realignment work at Broadway Junction.


From 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday, July 26, L trains run in two sections:

  • Between 8th Avenue and Broadway Junction and
  • Between Broadway Junction and Rockaway Parkway (trains run every 24 minutes)

This is due to switch maintenance work at Rockaway Parkway.


From 12:01 a.m. to 5 a.m. Sunday, July 27, downtown N trains skip 49th Street due to track and roadbed cleaning.


From 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday, July 26, Manhattan-bound N trains skip 30th Avenue, Broadway, 36th and 39th Avenues due to track maintenance work at Queensboro Plaza.


From 12:01 a.m. to 5 a.m. Saturday, July 26, Q trains run in two sections:

  • Between 57th and Pacific Streets and
  • Between Atlantic and Stillwell Avenues

Note: Customers must walk through the passageway between Pacific Street and Atlantic Avenue. This is due to rail maintenance and repair between Atlantic Avenue and Prospect Park.


From 12:01 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday, July 26, Manhattan-bound N and R trains are rerouted over the Manhattan Bridge from DeKalb Avenue to Canal Street due to tunnel rehab work between Whitehall and Canal Streets.

Categories : Service Advisories
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  • MTA: Ridership may plateau in 2009 · For years now, the MTA has seen ridership numbers skyrocket, and as the NYC Transit performance indicators show, subway ridership is again up this year. The MTA, as Matthew Sweeney reports today, however believes ridership numbers could level off in 2009. Citing higher unemployment rates and a lessening of the impact of high gas prices, Jeremy Soffin, MTA spokesman, expects to same the same number of bus and subway riders next year as this. That total? A lofty 2.35 billion. Projections, however, have a funny way of being wrong. · (8)

The New Sign It’s been a rough week for the MTA. With two fare hikes on tap over the next few years and only a balanced budget to show for it, the public is grumbling about paying more for the same sub-par service.

But grumble no more for tonight’s news is good. Starting on Sunday night and continuing on into Monday, New York City Transit is rolling out some much-needed and long-awaited service upgrades. While the upgrades were reduced in scope, they will beef up service to under-served neighborhoods and overcrowded subway lines.

We start with the big change out in Flushing, Queens. Beginning on Sunday, NYC Transit is adding 14 additional round trips on the IRT Flushing Line between Flushing-Main Street and Times Square. As part of this upgrade, express service will commence at 5:30 a.m. — 5:33, to be precise — an hour earlier than it does now. But that’s not the only change.

Some Main St.-bound trains in the morning will discharge their passengers at Willets Point-Shea Stadium — a three-platform station — instead of at 111th St. — a two-platform station. This will, according to 7 Line Manager Lou Brusati, help the line run more regularly and smoother. At Main St. in the morning, express trains will leave from Track One every five minutes and locals from Track Two at least every eight minutes.

The Manhattan IRT lines are getting a boost as well. On Tuesday night, I spied work crews hanging up the news signs, and lo and behold, the 3 will start to enjoy more service. Starting Sunday, the 3 will become a 24-hour express train. From midnight to 6:30 a.m., 3 trains will run from 148th St. to Times Square making all express stops. NYC Transit also plans to take some pressure off the 2 by increasing the frequency of the 3 from every six to eight minutes to five to seven minutes.

“The return of around-the- clock 3 train service means people will no longer be forced to wait outside in the heat and humidity or the cold and snow for a shuttle to bring them home. It also means that those who commute late at night or early in the morning will have access to the same level of service as those who work day-time hours,” Assemblyman Herman D. Farrell, Jr., of Harlem, said while thanking the MTA for these upgrades.

Finally, we arrive at the upgrades to a few of the lettered train lines. The B, M and W lines — not nearly as fancy as the car with the same — will all see service increased in an effort to meet the MTA’s loading guidelines. For B train passengers — that’s me! — trains will now run until 11 p.m. at night, an increase of 90 minutes. Riders along the W will enjoy the same extended hours. The M will now run between Metropolitan Ave. and Broad St. from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. and from Metropolitan Ave. and Myrtle Ave. from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. Currently, trains stop running to Broad St. at 7:30 p.m.

In the end, these are somewhat minor but very essential upgrades, and the timing of this announcement couldn’t have been better for the MTA. While we really needed the full $45-million package of upgrades, these $8.9-million increases will have to suffice. Now we can’t say the MTA never does anything for its passengers.

Comments (12)
  • Coming soon: More mid-level management · While the jury is still out, NYC Transit plans to expand their line manager program. Howard Roberts, head of NYCT, and Elliot “Lee” Sander, MTA chief, say that the line manager program will help, in the words of Pete Donohue, “reorganiz[e] and streamlin[e] the underground bureaucracy.” But critics note that the two current test lines — the 7 and L — aren’t showing marked improvements in operations and the cost of the program is a concern. At a time when costs everywhere are skyrocketing, I’m not quite sold on the idea of adding 20 more managerial positions. · (5)
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