Did you hear the one about how the agency with a $15 billion operating budget and a 5-year $30 billion capital plan doesn’t have money? Yes, apparently the MTA is so starved for cash that we must, MUST start tolling the currently un-tolled East River crossings….or tax millionaires…or increase the mansion tax… But before debating which revenue source is best, consider this: How many signal upgrades, new train cars, and general maintenance could $8 billion have gotten? That’s about what the MTA spent on three grandiose Manhattan projects (2nd Avenue Subway, Fulton Street Center, and The Hudson Yards 7 Train Expansion) while doing nothing for outerborough transit, not upgrading the ancient subway system, nor even performing adequate maintenance. As NY Times writer Jim Dwyer ably noted, it is the MTA’s devotion to Taj Mahal style projects at the expense of basic maintenance that put us in the mess we are in today. Let’s rein in the MTA before we discuss schemes and revenue streams. We say it’s NAP (Not Another Penny) time for the MTA till they are overhauled.
The MTA is an insulated state agency controlled by the governor with little input by the NYC mayor and even less by suburban county executives. It is completely unaccountable to the New Yorkers whose lives are so impacted by every decision made by its board and executives. Why aren’t the people given a say on the board, or the executive, or funding measures? Only 4 of the board seats are under city control, said Councilman Jumaane Williams at the 8/8/17 City Council hearing about funding the MTA, yet the governor is demanding a 50/50 revenue split with the city. Certainly, the City needs more say, but shouldn’t the people have some control as well? Shouldn’t’ we consider direct election of the MTA board? Increasing the debt burden should be a ballot initiative and the Chairman (who couldn’t deign to show up to the hearing) CANNOT serve at the pleasure of the governor alone. Until these or other democratic initiatives are instituted the MTA should get not another penny.
Once the MTA fixes its own infrastructure, then we can look at sustainable long term sources of revenue and everything should be on the table. Maybe East River crossings should be tolled but why should folks from New Jersey get a pass? As we’ve pointed out before, in its current scheme, the Move NY plan unfairly burdens outerborough businesses and residents (The Move NY Plan: They’ve Got a Bridge to Sell You). And, if the tolling advocates are correct that tolls will reduce congestion, where will those vehicles priced out of Manhattan go? Maybe the MTA should promote parking areas, with profits to the MTA help subsidize mass transit. Development of hub and spoke type scenarios in the outerboroughs would give drivers places to leave their vehicles and ride the rails. Overnight truck parking is sorely needed around the City. The lack of overnight truck parking discourages companies from taking advantage of discounted tolls, forces drivers to park on residential streets, and makes off-hour or early morning deliveries more difficult. Other possible revenue streams include, raising the transfer tax on high-end residences (over 10% of Manhattan homes are bought by out-of-towners, says the NY Times), high end metrocards and reinstating the commuter tax.
At this point though, giving the MTA, as currently structured more money is like giving an alcoholic a bottle of whiskey. Not another penny until the house is in order.