Home New York City Transit NYCTRC: What about an Adopt-A-Station program?

NYCTRC: What about an Adopt-A-Station program?

by Benjamin Kabak

Maybe we’re looking at the MTA’s financial crisis from the wrong perspective. Maybe, instead of asking a financially distraught state or city to pick up the tab, business developers, real estate mavens and local communities should pitch in and clean up.

That is at least what the New York City Transit Riders Council is suggesting. In a report that rehashes some familiar territory, the NYCTRC proclaims the subways to be in dire straits. As the council wrote in the press release (PDF) drawing attention to its survey of 50 stations (PDF), “The most common indicators where stations received failing grades include the presence of exposed wiring, the cleanliness and condition of station ceilings, the presence of tactile warning strips indicating platform edges, water leakage on ceilings, water leakage on walls, and cleanliness and condition of station walls.”

We know this already. We’ve had everyone from NYCT President Howard Roberts to the Straphangers Campaign and some local politicians tell us so. But the report contains some rather out-of-the-box approaches to combating both the decrepit stations and the finances involved in fixing them up.

The NYCTRC report begins with the regular litany of funding sources. The state should ensure a “steady, predictable source of revenue.” The city should “join with NYC Transit in a mutually beneficial effort to create a positive subway experience for users” — which is just a fancy way of saying, “Give the MTA more money.” But after that, things get interesting.

First, the NYCTRC suggests a “station impact fee.” Under this plan, the city would automatically charge a fee on any new development with walking distance of a subway station. The report says, “The presence of a subway station within walking distance adds great value to any development and increases the use of this transportation service; as such, new development and redevelopment should share in the care and maintenance of this important asset of the community.”

Next, the Council calls upon Business Improvement Districts to lend a hand in station maintenance. As clean and modern stations would attract more shoppers and business people to an area, the BIDs have a substantial interest in maintaining and improving conditions underground.

Hand in hand with the BID proposal is one calling for the creation of an “Adopt-a-Station” plan. Through this program, “neighborhood-corporate partnerships are formed to financially support capital improvements and maintenance of stations. Community residents and commercial establishments should have the opportunity to participate in the preservation of their local subway station.”

Why the MTA hasn’t implemented this idea in the past I do not know. By encouraging communities to take ownership of stations, the MTA can get its riders and those local business owners who rely on the stations to take command of some of the things the Transit Authority can’t. Critics will call this a dereliction of the MTA’s duties, but those same critics won’t fund the transportation agency to its fullest.

Of course, this idea gets to the very philosophical nature of the MTA. If the MTA — a public benefit corporation tasked with maintained and running the trains — can’t fulfill its overarching goal, should the public step in and rescue it through such a program? And while some richer neighborhoods have the disposable income to spend on subway station maintenance, do the city’s less well-off areas have to suffer as well?

Perhaps modeling such a plan on the successful Adopt-A-Highway program would be a good way to start. Perhaps the MTA shouldn’t come knocking, hat in the hand, to ask communities for such a direct contribution to station upkeep. But as it becomes more clear every day that the MTA doesn’t have the money, that the city and state don’t have funds, that congestion pricing remains a long shot, someone will have to step in and implement and out-of-the-box idea to rescue our subway system. If this one doesn’t deserve a shot, I don’t know what does.

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Alon Levy August 7, 2008 - 8:20 am

The stations most in need of a facelift aren’t located in neighborhoods where the locals have enough money for this kind of thing. I’m sure Upper West Siders will be thrilled to be able to direct more money to their own stations, but I’m pretty sure icons of blight like Chambers on the J will remain as they are.

Scott E August 7, 2008 - 9:28 am

That may be true, but if the businesses in more prosperous areas contribute to full station overhauls in their areas, the transit authority can divert some of those funds to fix the more pressing (safety, drainage) needs in othere areas of the system.

The question is… would the local contributions be in the form of only money, or also in labor? We know that if the MTA is offered something for free, they will keep pushing for more and more until they (likely) mismanage it anyway. The proposed #7 extension is the closest example of this. To my knowledge, platform-edge doors, ten new trains, and a new/expanded rail yard in Queens weren’t part of the city’s initial offer. Two stations (not one) was.

As a local developer, I’d be hesitant to drop some change in the “save the local station” paper cup unless I was sure it would be spent productively.

Peter August 7, 2008 - 9:05 am

Exactly right, Alon.
As it is, Midtown developers reap the benefit of subsidized transportation that brings customers and employees to their buildings, and in return provide niggling benefits. The huge Conde Nast building is immediatly adjacent to the Times Sq Station complex, yet has no entrances providing access where that station needs them most, Northeast of Times Sq.

Andy August 7, 2008 - 10:35 am

I like this idea and feel like it can easily be integrated into a plan that involves several small solutions instead of one huge one. The fact is there is no quick and easy solution to our crumbling subway and an “anything and everything” approach needs to be used. Also what we need to do is change the policy of telling developers of buildings simply to build and maintain an escalator and area of egress and thats it. Then you get the situation like we have in Union Square where they never fix anything and the MTA then can’t do anything because its the developers responsibility. Just have the building pay a tax for being so close to the subway and use that money in the best way possible. Did we REALLY need that overbuilt and fancy entrance to the downtown E and C trains at 50th street when the rest of the station complex is crumbling? There are many of these cases where the stations have grand and glorious entrances sponsored by a developer and then once you get IN the station there is poo on the floor and water dripping on your head. It’s just a foolish policy.

Alon Levy August 9, 2008 - 1:33 am

Are you proposing to put a tax on buildings that are located near subway stops, but not those that are located far away from them? If so, it’s a pretty backward way of thinking. We need to promote transit-oriented development, not tax it.

Boris August 7, 2008 - 10:39 am

I think the MTA will protest when asked to give up its monopoly over stations- and possibly reduce some stations’ budgets, which are probably substantial but fail to provide needed services due to various financial black holes. So the creation of any trust funds, especially if they get a say in how to spend station impact fees (ie, earn more in wealthy neighborhoods and subsidize stations in poorer neighborhoods) will be problematic.

I wonder if any study has been done relating station conditions and other variables. Are conditions correlated with presence of businesses vs. residential buildings vs. government offices, number of riders, etc?

Streetsblog » Today’s Headlines August 8, 2008 - 9:02 am

[…] Post, AMNY, Politicker)Speculation Abounds on How Far MTA Will Take Corporate Sponsorship (Post)2nd Ave Sagas: The ‘Adopt-a-Station’ Model Deserves a ShotBronx Bus Riders Want Manhattan Stop Restored to Select […]

Angus Grieve-Smith August 8, 2008 - 8:34 pm

In 2005, City Council Candidate Robyn Sklar tried to organize a station cleanup for a campaign event. The MTA told her it was absolutely forbidden. There should really be some way that individuals who want to donate their time can do so.

Sheepshead Bites » Blog Archive A Shonda -- A Look At The Adopt-A-Highway Program » Sheepshead Bay News Blog June 17, 2013 - 12:28 pm

[…] appear not to have been painted in decades, something Joe Lhota was looking to change. In 2007, Second Avenue Sagas asked why the MTA couldn’t have an Adopt-A-Station program. Presumably, local businesses and […]


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