The MTA has launched its push for capital funding today with a report that pledges an additional $2 billion in cuts to its current five-year plan. With Albany gearing up to assess the immediate future of New York City’s public transit system and its short-term capital future, the MTA is out to prove that it can spend money efficiently and wisely while acknowledging that cuts to the funding grant are necessary to move forward.
“The critical importance of the MTA’s Capital Program to protecting the transportation system and creating New York jobs doesn’t excuse the need to implement it as efficiently and effectively as possible,” MTA Chairman and CEO Jay H. Walder said. “We cut $2 billion from our Capital Program last year by planning our program more effectively. Today I’m committing the MTA to doubling the savings we’ve achieved in our Capital Program to $4 billion, not by deferring vital projects but instead by finding better ways of delivering benefits.”
Continuing the long-term theme of “Making Every Dollar Count,” the plan — available here as a PDF — cuts the total five-year bill to $24.2 billion, down from an initial request of $28.2 billion. The 15 percent in savings is a substantial amount for an organization not known for keeping costs down, and the commitment to costs along with a fear of public-private partnerships could spur Albany to act.
The MTA has top-lined the savings, and it looks a little bit like this:
- Slash Administrative Costs ($150 million savings): Similar to the cuts put in place in the operating budget.
- Create Project Approval Gates ($800 million savings): The MTA will review every capital project through approval gates at each stage of its development to ensure that the agency is moving forward at the lowest cost. This strategy, combined with a softer construction market, has already delivered savings of $800 million.
- Make Changes to Track Work ($300 million savings): The MTA and its agencies are taking steps to overhaul the way employees and contractors perform work on tracks, saving more than $300 million.
- Change Rolling Stock Acquisition and Maintenance ($300 million savings): The MTA is reducing costs of buying and maintaining trains and buses by changing design specifications, increasing competition among suppliers, getting more life out of existing units, and embracing new technologies. These changes will save $300 million.
Of course, with these changes, riders lose some benefits. Older rolling stock models will have to last longer, and station components may not be upgraded as quickly as we would like. We may also see fewer shuttle buses replacing shuttered subway routes as the report itself says the MTA will “use replacement bus services only when there are no alternative services available.”
Still, the alternative — shutting down the capital campaign until money materializes and slowing down work on big-ticket items — isn’t acceptable. The MTA has shown a clear willingness to operate at more efficient levels. Will Albany acknowledge the effort with a proper investment?