Home MTA Politics 1968-2015: Requiem for the MTA

1968-2015: Requiem for the MTA

by Benjamin Kabak

It’s a bit of a simplification and injustice to a complicated time in New York history to say that the MTA’s founding in 1968 was driven by politics. It was, as students of the Empire State’s past know, part of a ploy to dump Robert Moses from his position of power atop the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority. The real decision to remove the subways, its funding and fares from the purview of electoral politics really came in the mid-1950s with the founding of the New York City Transit Authority. But that’s neither here nor there as we come today not to praise the MTA but to bury it.

The New York City Transit Authority began in 1953 as a public benefit corporation of the State of New York, and the MTA died in late July of 2015. It’s exact time of death is hard to pinpoint, but it came at around noon on Wednesday when Gov. Andrew Cuomo determined that the MTA wasn’t a state agency and noted, as a symptom or a cause or even just a non-sequitur, that the apparently now former-agency headquarters aren’t in Albany.

I may or may not be employing a fair bit of hyperbole to make a point, but either way, it’s worth delving into how exactly we got here. The latest round of capital funding politicking came this week. After Cuomo vowed state funding to cover the MTA’s $9 billion capital gap so long as the city ponies up more money too, MTA CEO and Chairman Tom Prendergast penned a letter to the mayor’s office asking for money. He defended what he feels is a modest request:

As to the assertion that the State runs the MTA and the City’s representation is not adequate, I should note that of the 17 voting members of the MTA Board, four are designated by the Mayor and six by the Governor. When the City faced its financial crisis and lacked the resources to restore a crumbling system, the MTA brought it back from the brink of collapse, restoring ridership and rebuilding it into one of the best and most extensive public transit systems in the world. And while the City fiscal crisis that necessitated the State provide the majority of the MTA’s public funding has long passed, we have never recalculated the responsibility for financing an authority that principally serves the city. Today, the City has greater surplus funds than the State.

We are also concerned that the public might be misled by the suggestion that New York City government is already paying more significantly toward MTA operating costs or that the need for recurring capital investment on a large scale is, as First Deputy Mayor Shorris suggested, “a reflection of the failure of the MTA governance model.” MTA revenues from New York City residents who use the system are substantial for the obvious reason that use of MTA services is profoundly greater in NYC than in other parts of the MTA service area. To illustrate, trips on NYC Transit, Staten Island Railway and MTA Bus services average 300 trips per resident per year. For the commuter railroads, the intensity of use is less than one-tenth that…just 29 trips per resident on average…

The direct City aid to the MTA’s operating costs in 2015 is $1.88 billion, or 27%. State subsidies will total $4.73 billion or 69%. It is my view that the MTA, an independent authority created by the State and operating with a governance structure that has seen minimal change since its origins in the late 1960s, has well served both the City of New York and the MTA region. In other words, we believe that the MTA governance model and New York City’s representation in MTA decisions have over the decades worked very much to the City’s benefit.

Unfortunately, Prendergast’s letter [pdf] ended on a down note concerning potential revenue sources. “Finally,” he said, “I have read that the City may pursue funding strategies that were not politically feasible in the past and are not likely politically feasible now. Pursuing these strategies would likely cause further delay and leave the MTA exactly where we are today one year from now.” So basically Prendergast wants more money from the city but doesn’t want that money to come out of sustainable transportation policies involving a traffic pricing plan. Alas.

Meanwhile, de Blasio has responded with something of a shrug, noting that the city has already commited more money this year and that he wants to know where the state money will come from before committing city resources. He has also hinted, through spokespeople and subordinates, that he feels the MTA is a state agency and that the city doesn’t have the responsibility without control. If that’s not a direct challenge to the 60-year political and economic structure of the New York City Transit Authority, I don’t know what is.

So then, is the MTA dead? Andrew Cuomo has essentially disavowed it as a state agency at the same time Bill de Blasio notes that the New York City subways aren’t New York City’s responsibility while the MTA’s head has to go begging to politicians via publicly released letters to fund the whole damn thing. It would seem then that the MTA is an orphan with no adults taking responsibility. It’s dead.

Or is it? The MTA was created to insulate subway fare policies from the electorate. The Board of Estimates would never win reelection if it kept approving subway fare hikes, but the subways were collapsing due to a lack of revenue from decades of fares that weren’t targeted to inflation. By creating a public benefit corporation, the state ensured that elected politicians never had to approve a fare hike and that the public could direct its ire on rising prices and declining service at appointees and bureaucrats rather than elected representatives.

So maybe I’m wrong. The MTA hasn’t died. Rather in 2015, the MTA has become the perfect embodiment of its founders’ dreams. No one has to take any responsibility for transit funding schemes and the trains will, more or less, still run somewhat on time. Cuomo and de Blasio may both win while the millions of New Yorkers who rely on the MTA’s various railroads for their daily commutes will all collectively lose.

You may also like


Larry Littlefield July 30, 2015 - 7:29 am

The way we got here is through 25 years of selling the future. Both the city and state agreed to de-fund the MTA Capital Plan and have the agency borrow instead, even as contractors were allowed to inflate costs, pensions were retroactively increased, and fares were cut.

Now that the future is here, who is going to take responsibility for the blame?

This isn’t something that is being done now. It is what is happening now as a result of self dealing over decades. And not just at the MTA. The Social Security actuaries released their report a couple of days ago and it shows the same thing: a radically diminished future.

I quit the MTA to run against the local state legislator, one of the people who were doing this, more than a decade ago.


No one was interested. If they didn’t care then, and certainly if they don’t care now, they shouldn’t be surprised when the consequences some due. And, again, not just at the MTA.

In the face of this, what matters to Cuomo, DeBlasio and Christie? Their own careers. The only option is sacrifice now to avoid more sacrifice — or disaster — later, but that’s not Generation Greed’s MO. So they throw up their hands.

LLQBTT July 30, 2015 - 9:30 am

I read recently that in Greece, both the politicians and voters preferred to go over the cliff (i.e. leave the Euro zone) rather than make the hard choices of reform. Does this sound familiar? Just human nature it seems.

LLQBTT July 30, 2015 - 9:32 am


A quick technical note: I had to spoof your site to be able to post,

Posting via Safari on iPad=redirects to Facebook prizes
Posting via (spoofed) Firefox from iMac (really from my iPad)=OK

Nathanael July 31, 2015 - 7:25 am

You don’t understand what was going on in Greece. Leaving the eurozone is the *only* responsible option; you can read Krugman’s discussion of Optimal Currency Areas to understand why.

Unfortunately, both the politicians and the voters preferred to go “over the cliff” into 50% unemployment and eternal servitude to abusive German oppressors rather than leave the eurozone.

Varoufakis was the only one ready to do the right thing, but he didn’t have the support of Tsipras, and eventually had to resign in protest.

Larry Littlefield July 31, 2015 - 8:12 am

“Eternal servitude to abusive German oppressors.”

We are in the same position relative to the Russians, Arabs and Chinese. The only differences are we aren’t in as deep, and we have our own currency, but we are too big to bail out. Are we being oppressed by the Arabs and Chinese by going into debt to import oil and other stuff? Or are we doing it to ourselves? We may be having that debate in 10 years.

If they leave the Euro (this isn’t over yet), a bunch of rich tax evaders and seniors who now have paper claims on other people’s work in a valuable convertible currency would suddenly have paper claims on a currency that can only buy things in Greece. And they would only be able to afford what younger Greeks produce.

Unemployment would fall, but EVERYONE would be poor, including those who benefitted from the party of the past. The tax evaders and early retirees. Basically they’d be wiped out by inflation.

When you are in this deep, the choices are inflate the debt away, default the debt away, or face stagnation. In this country some people’s debt is other people’s wealth, because debt has been used for consumption and not investment and there is no income producing asset behind much of it.

Bolwerk July 31, 2015 - 10:29 am

Having a sovereign monetary policy is exactly why we are not, and could never be except by deliberate choice, in Greece’s position. Greece’s government cannot meet its obligations. Ours always can. NYC or a U.S. state or the MTA could in theory be put in Greece’s position, but the Feds can’t be.

You actually have it backwards. The Arabs (moreso) and Chinese (less so) assume the place of Greece in relation to us. Oil is sold in U.S. dollars, and the yuan is pegged to a basket of currencies including ours. I believe Russia maintains a sovereign currency, though its strength relative to the dollar weakened a lot when oil prices fell.

Nathanael August 2, 2015 - 3:40 pm

What Bolwerk said. We can always pay off the Chinese and Arabs in inflated dollars which we print on the printing press at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. It’s not as if the contracts require delivery in gold. (Look up the abrogation of the gold clause under FDR to understand why this is important.)

The Greek situation… well, the Greeks actually could print euros in Athens, but it’s “illegal” according to the EU and Greece would promptly be kicked out of the EU. The Chinese and Arabs are just accepting our dollars with no promises, so we really can just inflate them away.

Henry August 2, 2015 - 3:41 pm

That was actually plan B from the German finance minister: let Greece issue a parallel currency and then meld it back into the eurozone within five years. It’d basically create a new currency in all but name and would wreck whatever savings the Greeks have left.

Nathanael August 2, 2015 - 3:49 pm

Savings is bad, macroeonomically. Money is only useful to the general economy if it’s being spent.

That’s the thing that the idiot German finance minister doesn’t recognize. He’s been damaging the German economy, and he’s been damaging the economies of the whole rest of the Eurozone at the same time; the rest of the Eurozone is taking more damage, but make no mistake, he’s hurting Germany too.

Germany’s economy is based on exports, and if the buyers in the “periphery” are all out of work and don’t have any money to buy the exports with, Germany’s economy promptly goes down the tubes. Even domestic Germany buyers have less and less money to spend.

Werner von Siemens argued against rapacious money-hoarding capitalism and in favor of socialist collectives back in the 1880s — but nobody in power in Germany is listening.

“A number of great factories in the hands of rich capitalists, in which “slaves of work” drag out their miserable existence, is not, therefore, the goal of the development of the age of natural science, but a return to individual labour, or where the nature of things demands it, the carrying on of common workshops by unions of workmen, who will receive a sound basis only through the general extension of knowledge and civilization, and through the possibility of obtaining cheaper capital”

Nobody in power in Germany has learned the lesson of Henry Ford either — namely “pay your workers enough to buy your products”.

In the Merkel administration, it’s austerity and steal-everything-for-the-CEOs all the way, and we know where that leads.

adirondacker12800 August 2, 2015 - 5:46 pm

Dolly Levy put it much more colorfully. “Money is like manure; it’s not worth a thing unless it’s spread around encouraging young things to grow.”

For the past 35 years we’ve been told that if we just cut taxes on rich people some more they’d spread so much of it around, lots of it would trickle down making us all rich. A little something has trickled down, it’s not money and it hasn’t made us all rich.

adirondacker12800 August 2, 2015 - 5:36 pm

In nice round numbers two thirds of the Federal debt is held in the U.S. The other third is held by the rest of the world. The Chinese and the Arabs may have the biggest pieces of that smaller fraction but they don’t hold as much as people think they do.

Bolwerk July 31, 2015 - 9:22 am

Tsipras really bungled it before anyone knew hew did. You’d think he would have actually had a plan in place to leave the Eurozone, or at least the rudiments of one (I can’t imagine it’s easy or fast). This really weakened his ability to negotiate.

Larry Littlefield July 31, 2015 - 10:20 am

Puerto Rico is in the same situation, by the way. If it were a separate island with its own currency that currency would plunge, along with the real values of debt in it. But it is a dollar country.

Henry July 31, 2015 - 10:22 am

It’s not just the currency that causes issue; we peg the Puerto Ricans to federal minimum wage, and all ships docking in Puerto Rico have to be US-flagged, among other things. They basically get all the restrictions of being a state with none of the benefits.

Bolwerk July 31, 2015 - 10:51 am

Interestingly, I don’t think PR residents have to pay U.S. income taxes (though they are on the hook for FICA).

Bolwerk July 31, 2015 - 10:39 am

PR is not in the “same situation” as Greece. Its situation is it has a government that may not be able to meet its obligations, but it also gets its social safety net and much other domestic aid from a bigger central government. Greece’s banking system is getting buttfucked by the ECB and Merkel, while PR’s is happily protected by the basically untarnished credit of the Federal Reserve. If shit really hits the fan, it’s likely PR will simply be bailed out politically, and life will go on despite neoliberal whitemale butthert about bailouts.

This can’t be exaggerated: Greece is wayyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy worse off than Puerto Rico, and Puerto Rico started out poorer to begin with.

Anonymous August 2, 2015 - 5:18 pm

Worst thing is that the EU is now talking about taking even more sovereignty from national governments and putting it into an even more bloated Brussels.

Euro politicians are weird creatures. If something doesn’t work, they want to increase it so they won’t have to admit that it has failed. The European Union (including it’s lack of democracy), the Euro, the Schengen area (just look at Calais). I mean, they’ve already been talking about instituting tyranny in Greece a while back, moving even more sovereignty to unelected people in Brussels (only 0.1% of the EU population ever received a ballot to elect Juncker)..

Speaking of Juncker, some interesting quotes come to mind:

“If it’s a Yes, we will say ‘on we go’, and if it’s a No we will say ‘we continue’.”
“Monetary policy is a serious issue. We should discuss this in secret, in the Eurogroup […] I’m ready to be insulted as being insufficiently democratic, but I want to be serious […] I am for secret, dark debates.”
“We decide on something, leave it lying around and wait and see what happens. If no one kicks up a fuss, because most people don’t understand what has been decided, we continue step by step until there is no turning back.”
“When it becomes serious, you have to lie.”
“There can be no democratic choice against the European treaties”

He’s not even trying to hide it anymore. He’s the real life Frank Underwood. And everyone is acting the way he wants them to.

And then we have the audacity to accuse the US of being undemocratic. Let’s just say that when I get the chance to move out of the EU I definitely won’t look back.

Bolwerk August 3, 2015 - 1:22 pm

Insofar as the EU is “undemocratic” it seems to be that it’s adopting USAian neoliberal policies with regard to trade and corporate governance. I’d say in general the EU constituent states are more democratic, and probably rightfully scoff at America about that.

OTOH the USA doesn’t have the EU’s malignant checkerboard nationalism. Though we’re also generally ignorant of it and how malignant it is, probably to the advantage of some of the more authoritarian elements in places like Israel (who get away with stuff like this with scarcely a blink from the country of Title VII.

Nathanael August 2, 2015 - 3:42 pm

Puerto Rico is in a *similar* situation to Greece, but with one key difference.

The US Federal Government has repeatedly been willing to send large amounts of federal aid directly to Puerto Rico and to Puerto Rico citizens.

The German government, which is currently running the EU, has absolutely refused to send aid directly to Greece, and is actually demanding that Greece pay euros to Germany.

It would be as if the US suddenly demanded that Puerto Rico pay a huge amount of extra money to the federal treasury, while cutting off all Social Security payments in Puerto Rico. See how nasty the Greek situation is?

Alon Levy July 31, 2015 - 1:37 pm

Tsipras did in fact have a Grexit plan. He chose not to exercise it, because it wasn’t a credible threat: it’d wreck the Greek economy even worse than austerity, the rest of the EU was relatively insulated, and the German hardliners welcomed Grexit, to the point that Schäuble kept adding more and more conditions to the measures intending Greece to walk out and call it quits.

Bolwerk July 31, 2015 - 2:30 pm

You think? I’m not so sure. That’s an economy dying for some fucking liquidity. And they’ve had most of a decade of austerity now, so the idea that things could get worse before they get better might actually be more appealing to them than the idea that things just stay where they are perpetually.

Either way, regardless of what Tsipras’ plans were, he wasn’t prepared to execute them.

Larry Littlefield July 31, 2015 - 3:24 pm

“It’d wreck the Greek economy even worse than austerity.”

Grexit would be a disaster — for 5-10 years. But what they have is a disaster indefinitely.

There are times I think that the U.S. would be better off now if the federal government had allowed the economy to collapse in 2008.

Stepping in to turn things around only AFTER a bonfire of bankruptcy had wiped out all those unearned paper claims that built up over the years.

It would have been terrible at the time. As it is, however, we are heading for oligarchy.

Nathanael August 2, 2015 - 3:43 pm

From the information which has come out, *Varoufakis* had a Grexit plan, one which would have *worked*, and Tsipras refused to execute it because Tsipras is a fool and an idiot.

Larry Littlefield July 30, 2015 - 10:24 am

“We ate it together.”

That’s how the former head of the Greece government explained it when SHTF.

No they didn’t. Younger generations didn’t get a slice, and are paying the price. So they voted no.

Those younger generations would have been better off with a full-on collapse, rather than perpetual stagnation. May have been true for the U.S. in 2008, too

Bolwerk July 30, 2015 - 10:57 am

That’s because the “hard choices” European bankers want them to make are hideously draconian. There is no comparison between Greece and the MTA. Greece is a sovereign state, in a monetary union, in an economic slump it is unable to escape for fiscal reasons. However stupid the choices it made leading up to the present crisis, the only solutions left to it are basically big bailouts from the rest of the EU (which could come in many different forms) or leaving the monetary union so it can exert full control its own fiscal and monetary affairs. The most painless option for everyone on the planet is the first one, but it’s politically fraught.

The MTA is a government bureaucracy, not a national economy. It was designed to be supported by ongoing appropriations. There are plenty of relatively painless ways out of the MTA’s most imminent problems, including MoveNY. It can’t raise taxes on its own. It can’t issue bonds without permission or instruction.

Alon Levy July 30, 2015 - 8:44 pm

You’re getting Greece exactly backward. The electorate and the prime minister both thought that if they stalled for time they’d get a better deal, but ultimately a large majority of Greeks, including Tsipras, believes harsh austerity (i.e. more unemployment and wage cuts) is better than leaving the Eurozone.

Reform has nothing to do with it. When the creditors talk about reform, they for the most part aren’t demanding that Greece crack down on tax evasion, and Greece has only made minimal effort to institute such crackdown on its own accord. They are demanding an end to the patronage system, but this is a recent demand, from this month. No: most of the reforms are not really reforms, but cuts – pension cuts, wage cuts, tax hikes, privatization of state-owned enterprises in order to raise capital, and reduction in public-sector payrolls.

Ralfff July 30, 2015 - 12:25 pm

Apparently the actuaries said that Social Security will be unable to pay out full benefits in 2034, a year later than what they said last year. This doesn’t sound like a demographic crisis. Oh, and disability is imminently going broke because of Republicans trying to attack the public. I like your writing on New York but leave SS out of it.

Larry Littlefield July 30, 2015 - 12:46 pm

In 2034, when I’ll be 73. So it isn’t a problem for those who will be gone. But it is a problem for those coming after. And it is the same problem — the Generation Greed problem. Paying for things with debt, and not any current money.


Bolwerk July 30, 2015 - 1:04 pm

It’s a problem that can wait until the 2020s or 2030s, when it gets close to being imminent. In the mean time, we should be addressing fires already burning now like joblessness, crap wages, personal (not government) and especially student debt, economic alienation, and housing/living costs.

Larry Littlefield July 30, 2015 - 1:58 pm

I’ve heard one proposal. Wait until the whole generation that came of age in the 1960s and early 1970s is in, and then shut SS & Medicare off to new people.

Problem solved. For Generation Greed. All they need is rationalizations. And there are plenty of people prepared to provide them

Bolwerk July 30, 2015 - 2:28 pm

I don’t see the concern. If you’re worried about a problem that could instantiate in 20 years, climate change would seem to trump social security solvency.

This is something people like Paul Ryan pretend to care about so they can make excuses to dismantle social safety net.

Larry Littlefield July 30, 2015 - 3:25 pm

Paul Ryan proposes to save younger generations from much higher taxes by taking away their old age benefits — and guaranteeing them for older generations that didn’t want to pay.

His equivalent on the other side propose to save younger generations from benefit cuts by drastically raising taxes — but not on retirement income and not until all of Generation Greed is retired.

You use Ryan to rationalize, Ryan use others. Cuomo and DeBlasio blame each other, Cuomo with the help of a toadie. Etc.

Bolwerk July 30, 2015 - 3:51 pm

What is it you think I’m rationalizing? I mentioned five imminent problems that aren’t 20 years in the future. Why is something that could be a problem 20 years in a future – something that could be reversed at any point between now and then – more important?

Larry Littlefield July 30, 2015 - 4:12 pm

Can’t be reversed. It’s like global warming, which isn’t a problem now either.

It’s like saying why save for retirement, when I could do that between age 64 and 66. There is so much I want to buy now.

Or why keep replacing parts of the transit system. It’s running fine. But once it starts to fall apart, you can’t catch up.

Perhaps the problem is human nature.

Bolwerk July 30, 2015 - 4:32 pm

This was from 2012:

“An immediate payroll tax increase of about 1.3 percent for both workers and employers would correct the projected deficit, as would immediately reducing benefits by 16.2 percent, or some combination of these two approaches.”

The same source, claiming to be reporting on SS trustees’ proposed solutions, says:

If Social Security changes are deferred until the trust funds become exhausted in 2033, it will then require a tax increase of 2.15 percent for both workers and employers to continue paying out benefits at current levels.

Some crisis.

Another (obvious) solution: remove the cap on FICA contributions for high incomes.

adirondacker12800 July 30, 2015 - 4:59 pm

1) Tax unearned income more. Or even more radical make people pay at tax on unearned income at the same rates as wages.
2) Institute a VAT. No more accounting hanky panky where companies like BMW lose money selling cars in the U.S. By charging much more at the factory door for cars destined for the U.S. Or iThingies or cheap shit at the dollar store.
3) Moderately painful tax, a fraction of a percent, on short term trades. Side benefit of making market speculation much less attractive.
4) Raise the payroll tax because people paying now can expect to live longer than their grandparents did.

We don’t have to sit around with our fingers in our sphincters until there is a crisis.

Ryan July 30, 2015 - 5:12 pm

Why should the current generation be asked to bear 100% of the deferred suffering? Why can’t the children of the 80s and 90s do the same damn thing that the children of the 60s did?

The only way to truly guarantee fairness is to continue kicking the can down the road until we all kick ourselves right off of the cliff. If I have to choose one group, one demographic, one generation to ‘suffer’ – the group I’m picking is ‘everyone.’

adirondacker12800 July 30, 2015 - 5:43 pm

The alternative to paying taxes to support Grandma is having Grandma come to live with you. Even if she isn’t your grandmother. It won’t be for long because she won’t be able to pay for her easily treated condition and die. You being invincible will never make bad investment choices or get laid off or get sick or be in an accident and won’t face those kind of problems.

Nathanael July 31, 2015 - 7:28 am

Pffft. The federal government can just print money to pay for Social Security, if we ever need to — it’s not as if we have any risk of inflation in this depressed economy.

Global warming, now there’s a real problem which is already biting our asses.

Nathanael July 31, 2015 - 8:21 am

It’s worth understanding that global warming is a matter of degrees. Even though we have some really nasty disasters already ‘baked in’ and unavoidable, it CAN get worse if we don’t do something now.

There’s a lot of worse to get. Basically, we shouldn’t give up until ‘atmosphere turns to Venus’ is guaranteed.

Nathanael July 31, 2015 - 8:22 am

(That is to say, if we get to the point where we can’t avoid the atmosphere turning to Venus, then we might as well give up.

Anything short of that, and we need to fight global warming, because we can prevent further disasters.)

Alon Levy July 31, 2015 - 1:41 pm

What depressed economy? It’s not 2011 anymore. US unemployment is 5%. Productivity growth is meh so wages aren’t rising, but the employment situation is pretty close to full employment, which means that printing money is inflationary.

adirondacker12800 July 31, 2015 - 2:47 pm

Productivity and wage growth got divorced from wages back in Saint Ronnie’s day.

Bolwerk July 31, 2015 - 2:50 pm

You’re both right. Or wrong. I don’t know. Whatever.

Either way, employment:working age population ratios seem troubling in the USA. At least if I understand that correctly.

Nathanael August 2, 2015 - 3:52 pm

No, printing money is not inflationary at the moment.

You’re looking at the easily-doctored “headline” unemployment number, which is a pile of stinking garbage.

Look at the employment-population ratio or at U6 or at wages, you’ll see that the economy is still depressed.

(And stagnant wages have NOTHING to do with “productivity”. Productivity is not even *correlated* with wages any more. Productivity goes up, CEOs collect more money.)

adirondacker12800 July 30, 2015 - 3:31 pm

It’s just awful that people aren’t dying as young as their parents and grandparents. And are able to do that because doctors have treatments that work.

Larry Littlefield July 30, 2015 - 6:35 pm

Thanks to Generation Greed, I expect that those under age 55 will end up being sicker and dying younger. They’ve been screwed by those coming before all along, but when it will really hurt is when they are old themselves. It’s already happening.


adirondacker12800 July 30, 2015 - 8:22 pm

People who die of drug overdoses in their 20s or 30s don’t cause 75 year olds to drop dead in 2050.

Alon Levy July 30, 2015 - 8:47 pm

See? The unhealthy American diet has its fringe benefits!

Henry July 30, 2015 - 4:31 pm

To be the devil’s advocate, where would capital money come from even if the city and State were to fund it? Most likely they’d issue debt as well, but just shift liability onto the city and State rather than the MTA. We’ve been down this road before; the city taking on transit debts is how we wound up with the fiscal crisis in the ’70s, and the State suffered when it bailed out the City and assumed that debt as well. The pension plans in the city and state aren’t fully funded either, so we can’t steal money from that, and we already have some of the highest taxes in the Union.

Larry Littlefield August 1, 2015 - 9:28 am

“Where would capital money come from even if the city and State were to fund it?”

Higher taxes, higher fee and tolls, and lower spending on other things.

Even with the highest taxes in the Union.

This is the reality of where Generation Greed has left us.

And if we repeat the borrowing of the past 20, we’ll just be back in the same situation — but even worse off — in five years.

Nathanael August 2, 2015 - 3:52 pm

Maybe we could spend less on corrupt politicians. They seem quite expensive.

Elvis Delgado July 30, 2015 - 8:26 am

This is only tangentially relevant to the specifics of this particular topic, but the MTA is currently reporting the following:

Service Change Posted: 07/30/2015 8:01AM – Due to insufficient lighting at Graham Av, 8 Av-bound L Subway Line trains bypass station.

So it’s come down to this. The MTA cannot even pay its light bills, and they’re shutting down the system, station by station.

JAzumah July 30, 2015 - 1:40 pm

That sounds like an infrastructure problem, not a bill paying problem.

John-2 July 30, 2015 - 9:06 am

Aside from Rockefeller wanting to get rid of Robert Moses and his power base once and for all, the other factor in the MTA’s creation was John Lindsay’s desire to pass the buck on the city’s responsibility for running the TA and the MBSTOA, after the disastrous 1966 strike on the day he took office as mayor. As a stand-along city authority, there was only so far the mayor’s office could distance itself from the TA, because the mayor still had control of the board’s appointees; once the MTA was created and the governor was given the majority of the appointments, the city’s majors could simply tell voters to take their concerns to Albany.

Cuomo’s current feud with de Blasio means his statement may just be his way of trying to stick it to the current mayor, by threatening to give him back, if not board control, than major financial responsibility for the city’s subways and buses. If de Blasio’s willing to up the ante on this one, he needs to demand to regain voting control over whatever authority does run the city’s system, though my guess is suburban voters would freak out at that, and the budget people at City Hall would get the vapors over the system suddenly being untied from Moses’ old TBTA bridge and tunnel revenues, which you can be sure Andrew Cuomo’s not giving up control over in this fight (and, hey — if nothing else comes out of the kerfuffle, maybe the subways can dump the current plug-ugly MTA logo and go back to the much nicer 1964 World’s Fair TA design).

Nathanael July 31, 2015 - 7:34 am

The 1966 strikers were bad people. Their successors are still running the TWU Local 100.

I’m normally a supporter of unions (though I oppose police unions 100%, since people with guns and government authority shouldn’t have any *more* power than they do by virtue of having guns and government authority), but TWU Local 100 is rotten, and has been acting contrary to its own members’ self-interest.

A similarly rotten union at Metro-North was actually replaced when disgruntled workers voted to switch to a different union. For some reason this hasn’t happened at the worthless TWU Local 100.


Anyway, there’s one really interesting point here: if the NYTA were handed back to the city, the MTA would still contain the uber-expensive commuter railroads, Metro-North and LIRR, as well as all the old debt. I’d love to know how Cuomo would fund that, since the bridge & tunnel tolls won’t cover them.

eo July 31, 2015 - 9:00 am

Why do you think that Cuomo would not hand in part of the debt of the MTA to NYTA? If anything, he has proven himself no fool in the past. Do you think he will be one now? The tolls will more than finance a lightened debt load plus the two railroads.

Nathanael August 2, 2015 - 3:54 pm

The holders of the debt would refuse a refinancing which reduced the revenue streams backing the debt.
There’s no way Cuomo could force the MTA debt on the city, because *Wall Street* would have his head (as well as everyone in the city, of course).

Avi July 30, 2015 - 9:33 am

What’s the budget breakdown between NYCT, LIRR, and MNR? If NYC took NYCT back but left LIRR/MNR with the state, how would that effect NYCT’s budget?

Elvis Delgado July 30, 2015 - 9:51 am

Well at least in theory, the money-losing entities within the MTA – NYCT, LIRR, MNR – share in the toll revenue from the MTA’s bridges and tunnels. If the NYCT lost that source of funding, it would be in far worse shape than even today.

Larry Littlefield July 30, 2015 - 9:53 am

NYC would have to pay $billions more to cover the subway, bus and paratransit deficits.

Meanwhile, city residents would have to continue paying state and MTA taxes to pay for suburban services.

If people want a break up, it should be something reasonable. Net cost to the city of taking over the bus system but getting the payroll tax revenues within its borders — $800 million.

But part of the deal would have to be no more MTA borrowing for anything but entirely new infrastructure, and even that with specific and limited state approval. And no more state funding for suburban buses. As I described here.


MMerchant July 30, 2015 - 1:53 pm

“The direct City aid to the MTA’s operating costs in 2015 is $1.88 billion, or 27%. State subsidies will total $4.73 billion or 69%.”

Nice bit of sleight of hand there. Who pays the taxes that feed into the State subsidies? By and large it’s NYC residents, and that’s by design. Despite the fact that NYC generates outflows of tax revenue that go to the rest of the State, upstaters contribute virtually nothing towards keeping that engine running.

Larry Littlefield July 30, 2015 - 1:59 pm

They are counting the dedicated MTA taxes as state contributions. Those are only collected downstate.

BrooklynBus July 30, 2015 - 2:16 pm

One question for our mayor, if he feels the City need not take any responsibility for the MTA and the City contributes money only out of the kindness of its heart, not that it should, then why are NYCT employees under the NYC pension plan rather than the State’s pension plan? The truth is that the city bears more responsibility than it wants to admit, especially now that the city’s DOT commissioner is on the MTA board.

johndmuller July 30, 2015 - 9:48 pm

I think that it is better the way it is than anything anyone has thought of so far. The number of appointees to he board could be tweakable perhaps, and the notion of upscaling to include New Jersey and Connecticut governments and their transit elements and/or the Port Authority could be explored.

The magic of Wall Street could be harnessed to figure out some way to securitize all this debt, find some (of those of whom it is said that one is born every day/minute/hour) to buy these securities and let the market do its thing and cleanse us of all the debt. Isn’t this the traditional way to finance railroads? Didn’t people sell the Brooklyn Bridge over and over again?

AlexB July 31, 2015 - 10:11 am

While this is in way left field, the best way to solve NYC’s transportation issues would be to create a tri-state Federal agency with an elected president and dedicated tax revenues covering the following counties: Bronx, Queens, Kings, Nassau, Suffolk, New York, Hudson, Union, Essex, Bergen, Passaic, Fairfield, Westchester, and Rockland. It would be better for it to be a Federal agency with an elected head (or council) rather than a pseudo-Port Authority type organization that would just become another vehicle for corrupt NY/NJ politicians to dispense favors and reward unions. Mass Transit in the NYC region is too important for the regional and national economies to be run the way it is today. I also think that because we have free movement of capital and people in the US, local zoning (housing) regulations should also be subject to federal review, but that’s another issue entirely 😉

TimK July 31, 2015 - 11:22 am

And Richmond County. I’m assuming that was an accidental omission.

adirondacker12800 July 31, 2015 - 2:17 pm

So the yokels out in the hinterlands can tell us we are spending too much money and they need it for their subsidized roads, telecom, roads, electricity, water, roads, mail delivery, health care and food stamps etc.

johndmuller July 31, 2015 - 7:33 pm

Could be you’re thinking a bit too small; the MTA already includes Richmond, as mentioned below, and also Orange, Putnam and Dutchess in NY and further east in Connecticut, at least out to New Haven I would assume. Including most if not all of the rest of Connecticut, and perhaps up to Springfield in Mass. as well would be a good start. In HY, a half dozen more counties going up the river and you’ve got pretty much all of the Albany area included. With both Hartford and Albany involved, the legislators might get a little more generous. As for NJ, you’d want at least the entire Northern half, and maybe all of it, particularly if eastern Penn is also going to get involved, which would be perfectly sensible, especially if you want to get the Lackawanna cutoff rehabbed.

Doing a whole extended NEC from Georgia to Maine could even be in play.

I’m not talking about competing with Amtrak or splitting up Amtrak into the NEC and the rest, but that could be on the table too, I suppose – although I think it would be bad for most of the mid continent if Amtrak-NEC went its own way.

I am talking about a large enough area with a stable funding mechanism like a multi-state sales wnd/or fuel tax dedicated to the Megopolis Transit Agency, which would be operating commuter trains and low cost intercity trains in the region. Including subways and local buses is up for discussion, but IMhO, they should also be under this umbrella also to protect their funding.

There is a danger that it would go the way of Washington DC’s METRO, and find itself unable to form the necessary consensi among its members and fade slowly into insignificance, but a common funding mechanism should keep everyone on board (like the income stream of the Port Authority allows Cuomo and Christie to be pals).

adirondacker12800 July 31, 2015 - 8:11 pm

Sounds great. Instead of convincing the locals they need to spend more money, convince someone three states over that money needs to be spent someplace they never heard of.

johndmuller August 1, 2015 - 12:12 am

adirondacker12800 says:
Sounds great. Instead of convincing the locals they need to spend more money, convince someone three states over that money needs to be spent someplace they never heard of.

The whole point of doing it this way is that you don’t have sell them on the project. They are already committed by virtue of being in this compact and having already signed up for the x% sales/fuel/VAT assessment in advance. The ‘board’ vets the projects and then they happen, no convincing necessary. Everyone just hopes that whomever nominates your representatives to the board knows what they are doing.

adirondacker12800 August 1, 2015 - 1:08 am

And they are going to say the Roosevelt Island tram is expensive redundant infrastructure. Ask why the Staten Island Ferry is free. And wonder why you can go from the northern Bronx all the way out to Far Rockaway for the same fare as Times Square to Penn Station. Why the buses lose so much money and why can’t you make them run faster, their buses are much faster. Why you need… and on and on and on.

AlexB August 1, 2015 - 4:45 pm

I totally did forget Richmond. Oops! I intentionally did not include the very suburban ones farther out like Putnam, Orange or Morris because they couldn’t really be part of a unified bus network and would resent having to subsidize a frequent network of local subways and buses elsewhere (as noted by adirondacker12800). Local buses connect Hackensack, Paterson, White Plains and Mineola to the subway and PATH systems but that system doesn’t really extend to Newburgh, Morristown, Pughkeepsie, etc. I almost didn’t include Suffolk for that reason but there’s enough reverse commuters going to the Melville area that it seems more connected to the core. The outer counties could pay this fictional Federal MTA to operate trains lines farther out if they wished without having to abide by it’s likely higher tax structure.

adirondacker12800 August 1, 2015 - 5:22 pm

Morris County used to have an extensive fairly frequent bus service to Manhattan. NJTransit then went and opened Midtown Direct and it collapsed.The bus operator sued saying it was unfair competition. It still has a local bus service which is expanding.
Morristown and the rest of Morris County along the line, has had train service to Hoboken since the Delaware Lackawanna and Western moved operations to Hoboken. And to Jersey City before that. 1838 if Wikipedia is correct.

johndmuller August 2, 2015 - 4:14 am

I was mostly trying to spread the joy over a larger area with more players both to increase the fund-raising acreage and make the political alliances more complicated so that it wouldn’t always be the same us versus the same them. I was thinking more of building a lower budget alternative to Amtrak using commuter rail infrastructure; really more an alternative to intercity buses – going to work on the local rail infrastructure from the low end rather than trying to overlay HSR on top of the devolved system we have now. Obviously, the local subway and bus systems are whole different animals to commuter rail operations, not to mention local ferries and tourist rides.

Considering your spokemanship on behalf of the more rural areas, it is difficult to see how the MTA manages to hang together as well as it does. Possibly, it manages because it is operating services that lose money, so it doesn’t have to care if the counties drop out of the bus system and such a county may well end up paying more for less service when it finds a third-party operator.

In any event, I assume that the MTA has some way of keeping the various jurisdictions from feeling that they are getting too ripped off. For one thing, some of the MTA’s financing comes from the local NYC bridges and tunnels, which people in the out-counties are not so likely to patronize. Perhaps the Delaware River bridge tolls could offset some of the local Philly mass transit costs in the same way if eastern Penn were to join.

I can see how this would be massively difficult to set up without some totally new source of funds – perhaps the new excessive wealth tax on the 1% (amounting to 1% of their excessive wealth of course). Just the threat of something like this by Mayor de Blasio got Cuomo to rollout a new state preschool program. Perhaps the 1% can be extorted so easily.

adirondacker12800 August 2, 2015 - 12:59 pm

Commuter trains aren’t that much cheaper than HSR trains.
Spend twice as many hours on a slow train the operator has to charge you twice as much “rent”.

If it takes the train 6 hours to get from Boston to Washington DC they have to charge you for 6 hours of using the train. If it takes 3 hours they have to charge you for 3 hours of using the train. They can fill it up and send it back to Boston and charge another train load of people for using the train.

Nathanael August 2, 2015 - 3:57 pm

Adirondacker, that doesn’t sound like a disadvantage. If a unified agency created a unified fare system like the Transport For London Zone System… great! And if the Roosevelt Island tram was tossed, it would probably be bought by an amusement park operator, and that would be appropriate.

Henry August 2, 2015 - 4:02 pm

The Roosevelt Island Tram is currently operated by its own authority.

It’s not super clear that a zoned system would be better for New York. Historically (and currently) speaking, the fare has been flat to allow middle and lower-class residents to move to the outer boroughs. This is still largely the case today; the 1% are not making hour-plus commutes from St. Albans or Canarsie. Introducing a zoned system would be highly regressive, and besides, we do have one (although it isn’t unified); all five boroughs make up the first zone. Even internationally zoned fares are a mixed bag, and Paris is actually moving away from zoned fares with their flat-fee, metropolitan-wide monthly ticket.

adirondacker12800 August 2, 2015 - 6:04 pm

I’m old enough to remember when you needed a fistful of change, pieces of paper and tokens to get around. I don’t know why people find it so offensive to have two slips of plastic in their wallet. Or two accounts or more accounts tied to the RFID.

If the wundercarde is good for the NYC Subway and PATH why wouldn’t it be good for PATCO and the Market Frankford El. Or the Chicago L. Or BART. Or the Tokyo subway?

Bolwerk August 2, 2015 - 10:01 pm

In Europe one piece of paper can cover the nearly the entire continent’s rail infrastructure.

adirondacker12800 August 2, 2015 - 10:38 pm

Amtrak sells the kind of paper that’s good for transit across the continent too. Using your wundercarde from Berlin in Paris and Rome, not so much.

Bolwerk August 3, 2015 - 9:10 am

No, it doesn’t. Amtrak sells tickets useful only on Amtrak. You can’t use an Amtrak ticket on the LIRR or someting.

Henry August 3, 2015 - 10:13 am

From the point of view of the consumer, it’s best to make things as easy as possible. Plus, the fare media we have in place is inefficient on commuter rail, functionally obsolete on the subways and buses, and vendor-locked and incompatible on PATH. Since two out of three of those systems are basically at the end of their useful lives, we might as well go the extra step and put everything on the same fare media. I don’t have to pick out a store-specific credit card for every store I go to, do I?

Besides, NICE, the LIRR and MNR have mobile ticketing apps (although I’m not sure if any of these work cross-agency), and the peer agency MTA is partnering with for next-gen fare technology in London now allows Apple Pay at turnstiles, so it’s not entirely inconceivable for intercontinental transit fare media in the form of your phone.

Ethan Rauch July 31, 2015 - 10:56 am

Re. the comment of Kate Hinds: several NY state agencies are headquartered in the City of New York. Besides MTA, one of them is the State Insurance Fund, which I had the misfortune to work for decades ago.

Fredro September 23, 2019 - 5:59 am

Nice post!


Leave a Comment