By Jose Martinez, The City
This article was originally published on by THE CITY
The future of New York City’s transit system, still struggling to rebound from the pandemic, could be on the line in Tuesday’s election for governor.
As the Metropolitan Transportation Authority chugs from crisis to crisis, the state agency faces the prospect of a new boss with a tough-on-transit track record. While the MTA’s not the only thing the two are far apart on, Rep. Lee Zeldin, the Republican opponent to Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul, has taken a stance opposite to Hochul on several major transportation issues.
The gap between the two candidates on future transit funding is potentially so wide that the head of the MTA — who is nominated by the governor — uncharacteristically chimed in on Zeldin’s record at the September unveiling of the widened Penn Station concourse.
Standing next to Hochul, MTA Chairperson and CEO Janno Lieber asked if he could add a comment after the governor was questioned about debating Zeldin.
“I hope when the debate comes around, we’ll be talking about the fact that Zeldin alone, among New York regional Republicans, didn’t vote for the [federal] infrastructure bill — we’re here celebrating infrastructure,” Lieber said. “That is a concern to us… who are trying to rebuild the MTA and the transit system.”
Zeldin has also pushed back against congestion pricing, the vehicle tolling plan designed to raise $15 billion for mass transit capital improvements that include signal upgrades, more station elevators and new trains and buses.
“The existential crisis is real, so how do you address that?” said Lisa Daglian, executive director of the Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee to the MTA. “How do you fill a $15 billion hole?
“That’s a big shovel and it’s going to affect 3.5 million people every day and growing.”
Representatives for Hochul and Zeldin did not respond to requests for comment on this story.
Safety Concerns, Money Woes
The tightened race for governor comes as subway, bus and commuter railroad ridership now regularly hits pandemic-era highs that are still about 35% below pre-COVID levels. Agency officials say that places the MTA on the brink of a “fiscal cliff” should $15 billion in emergency federal aid for operations be used up by 2024, a year earlier than expected.
The lag in riders returning — as many New Yorkers now regularly work from home or have shifted modes of transportation — is a problem for an agency that has traditionally counted on ridership revenue for close to half of its operating budget. A July report from State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli noted that fares covered just 32% of operating costs as of May.
As Lieber has been encouraging Albany lawmakers to consider new ways to fund the transit system, Zeldin has called the MTA “a money pit” and congestion pricing “a scam.”
Beyond those attacks and slamming Hochul’s latest subway safety plan to put more police officers into the subway as “a day late and a dollar short,” Zeldin has offered little, transit watchdogs say, in terms of specifics on how the MTA would fund its $18 billion operating budget.
“Improve the ridership experience, make it safer,” Zeldin said on WCBS on Sunday after being asked about the looming budget gaps. “If you have 2 million more people riding the subway every day and they’re paying their fare, that’s a lot more money for the MTA. Also, we need to enforce fare jumping.”
But with polls showing that Hochul’s lead has shrunk to single digits from nearly 20 points in July, transit observers and insiders are highlighting what is potentially at stake for public transportation in the election.
“[Zeldin] is waving transit safety as the Number One reason to elect him while having given every indication that he would make transit less safe by disinvesting in MTA capital upgrades and operating revenue,“ said Danny Pearlstein, policy director for Riders Alliance, a nonprofit advocate group.
John Samuelsen, international president of the Transport Workers Union and a former head of TWU Local 100, pointed to Zeldin’s criticism of the MTA as “the easiest cheap shot in New York to take.
“He may not be in favor of defunding the police, but he may be in favor of defunding the MTA,” said Samuelsen, who’s also an MTA board member. “And that’s a concern.”
While TWU Local 100, the largest transit worker union in the city, endorsed Hochul in April, Zeldin last Friday secured the support of the Subway-Surface Supervisors Association. The supervisors union, with more than 3,900 members, backed Zeldin’s call to hire more NYPD officers for the subway system amid an increase in transit crime.
“My members go to work each day and face the same problems that our customers do,” Michael Carrube, president of the SSSA, said last Friday in announcing the endorsement. “They could be injured, they could be fatally killed, they could be thrown into the subway tracks, and we don’t want that.”
While Hochul and Mayor Eric Adams generally have worked together on matters of mass transit — in contrast to their predecessors, Andrew Cuomo and Bill de Blasio — there is also the open question of how Zeldin and Adams would collaborate.
“In many respects, [Hochul] and Adams are each other’s biggest champions,” said Pearlstein of Riders Alliance.
Regardless of who is elected governor, Hochul or Zeldin will have plenty to contend with when it comes to the MTA.
Joseph Rappaport, executive director of the advocacy organization Brooklyn Center for the Independence of the Disabled, told THE CITY that the needs of the transit system must be central.
“It doesn’t matter who’s governor,” said Rappaport, whose group does not take positions on candidates. “There’s not going to be any excuse for putting in elevators and making stations accessible, absolutely no excuse.
“You can talk about cutting waste at the MTA and that’s fine. But you still have to fund it.”
THE CITY is an independent, nonprofit news outlet dedicated to hard-hitting reporting that serves the people of New York.
“[Zeldin] is waving transit safety as the Number One reason to elect him while having given every indication that he would make transit less safe by disinvesting in MTA capital upgrades and operating revenue,“
Exactly, Zeldin gets NY Post headlines by railing against crime (which he has no plan to fix) and meanwhile has no plan for the MTA which the governor has immense control over!
Republicans like to kill all big projects in the name of “saving money.” This just kicks repairs down the line. Trump and Christie killed so many critical projects for our area.
Absolutely. If Christie didn’t kill the 2nd tunnel project NJ would have many more public transit options into NYC. But now they are stuck with borrowing train tracks and a tunnel under the Hudson River
The reality is that we got congestion pricing yet MTA wants to cut bus service between the outer boros and Manhattan even AFTER congestion pricing passed. They tried to cut express buses between the Bronx and Manhattan in 2019 before COVID after congestion pricing passed and only put the plan “on hold’ after Riverdale residents packed a last minute meeting to shout down the MTA on a rainy night. They’re currently trying to pull the same stunt in Queens as well. The Bloomberg congestion pricing plan only charged a fee weekdays 6AM-6PM and provided increases in transit service. This congestion pricing plan is a 24/7 fee with no tangible improvements in service and service cuts in the outer boroughs. Even LIRR is opening a new station in Manhattan next month and service levels are supposed to generally remain the same in Eastern Queens and Long Island.
Wow. Thank you for info.
In Manhattan since about 2009, there has been significant ongoing bus cuts ( route, frequency , bus stop cuts) while at the same time the City has been massively growing the bicycle infrastructure.
City DOT actually does PR encouraging biking, Citibike – but does not message encouraging bus or subway use.
Zeldin is right. The MTA is a money pit. And you can start by making an effort to stop fare beating
Oh, yeah, that’s the ticket: Just stop fare beating & the MTA will then be positively swilling in money…
The police have only had a presence in the subways since Hochul started to loose votes to Zeldin. And the police aren’t there to stop fare beating (I have literally watched the police, watch fare beaters 5-6 times), they focus on real crime. Hochul has had multiple chances to repeal catch and release parole and really has done very little here. But Zeldin is also nuts and wants everybody to carry guns in NYC. Both candidates are terrible.
This statement is so off-base, I suggest you pick up an actual newspaper (not a TABLOID like the NY Post) and read about the actual financial situation of the MTA. Once you do, you’ll realize what an unmitigated disaster Lee Zeldin would be for the MTA, NYC and this state.
Have you been in the subway recently?
The number of cops stationed by turnstiles has been robust for the past six months – as have the number of citations issued.
Not at the 93 st and Broadway entrance. Just yesterday saw about 6 guys jumping or squeezing thru. Sometimes they open doors for pals to file thru. Same thing on buses back door. Especially at school time 3-4:30 pm .
six months? six days is more accurate.
Maybe it is money pit, but not funding it properly is not the answer. I am all for stopping fare beating. that’s a drop in the bucket tho. big issue is low ridership from WFH. The increase in crime is in part a result of that. i foresee Zeldin not funding MTA to please his upstate constitutency, with crime, delays, structural isues getting worse and worse. NY has problems that needs fixing, but zeldin hasn’t shown anything to make me belive he has a single answer.
Plus, why would i vote for someone who doesn’t believe in the results of voting?
I assume your talking about Nadler. Who called Trump an illegitimate president
Trump actually lost in 2016, only “winning” because of Republican vote counting authorities in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Florida, possibly PA too.
But of course in 2016 HRC conceded. And Nadler has indeed spent 5+ years spewing Russiagate nonsense.
I assume you meant “you are” or “you’re” rather than the possessive your. That aside, given that Trump lost first by 3MM and then again by 7MM votes, one might indeed think of him as an illegitimate President — but certainly as a Loser.
— “why would i vote for someone who doesn’t believe in the results of voting?”
This is very nicely put. Thank you! I hope that others, such as the “lifelong liberal” commenter below, will keep in mind what they are voting for if they propose to vote for Mr. Zeldin.
Do you use the MTA? And what MTA services are you willing to give up?
Also, why aren’t you commenting on the tens of billions of dollars (in mid-1990s dollars) that Rudy and George Pataki stole from the MTA, and then no follow-on governor or mayor restored?
False. Privatize the MTA and it will work.
Thats why MTA came about The subways were privatized initially and couldnt sustain
It’s absolutely true that Rudy and George P stole billions from the MTA.
And yes, the commuter tax was allowed to expire in the late 1990s.
Then, the NYC subways and buses worked better that today and better than 20 years when there was more money for the system; that was from about 1984 to 2003ish.
Things really declined for the subway and bus system in about 2013.
Privatizing things is about rewarding the few with higher prices and even less service for the many.
All of the subway lines started as private corporations. None could survive. Public transportation has long term positives that don’t always show up on the balance sheet every quarter. If you can post a list of privately owned and profitable subway lines, I would love to see it.
What’s CNBC omitting? This is the business cable channel that features the likes of Larry Kudlow.
Japan also has nationwide single payer (government) medical insurance.
The Paris Metro is run by the government. It’s excellent.
I don’t know why people respond like this? Did you even click and read the article provided? Are you that afraid that there might be information that would make you reconsider your point of view?
@denton above asked for a list of privately owned and profitable subway lines. They got a list of one. The piece linked is actually an “commentary” (aka opinion) piece. It cites no evidence that Tokyo’s subway being privately run has any impact on its performance. The two are independent facts, with only conjecture connecting them. But, still, it is true that as of 2016 (or, 2021 per this Bloomberg piece:
https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-07-15/japan-gives-nod-to-future-ipo-of-massive-tokyo-subway-operator ), the Tokyo subway is profitable.
To me, this is actually evidence that it takes extremely rare conditions for privately owned subway lines to work. Because, if it were easy to do, we’d see a much bigger list.
Can we also start by firing those booth workers who only sit, are never helpful, constantly have their head down, etc.? Or please bring back some work ethics so they can prove their worth? Unpopular but inefficiencies in some of these public benefit organizations deserve some scrutiny. I would imagine there are ways to trim expenses before endlessly dumping good money over bad money…?
Congestion pricing is a tax on workers who have to drive into lower Manhattan.
Examples, hotel managers who work off hours, building services types, owners of small businesses; the owners of independent restaurants use their personal vehicles bring things like flour for pizza to the shops.
The commuter tax should have been renewed 20+ years ago.
And all the food trucks & hot dog trucks ,etc. Poor people trying to make a living.
Tons of farebeating on buses and subways.
Also, especially in Manhattan, a significant number of people stopped using the subway – instead they are bicycling/using Citibike.
(Interestingly City DOT does not promote use of MTA buses and subways. City DOT PR encourages bike use)
As for CP…..the City keeps worsening congestion: street shrinkage, streets closure, bike lanes, continual development, allowing 1000 new hail (Uber) licenses…
NYCDOT used to oversee 7 subsidized privatized bus companies. The private bus companies wanted to improve service and knew the communities pretty well, better than MTA knows most communities, but NYCDOT wouldn’t let the private companies make good changes in order to make them look bad so MTA can take over. Bloomberg got an MTA takeover as NYCDOT didn’t want to be in the transit oversight role. Now there’s a whole unit called MTA Bus Company where NYC pays ALL OPERATING LOSSES and the cost of MTA running the same service has more than quadrupled vs. NYC paying the previous private bus companies. MTA milks MTA Bus Company for as much money as they can, they transfer higher paid NYC Transit employees to MTA Bus Company and put lower paid MTA Bus Company employees in NYC Transit. All this bike infrastructure isn’t necessarily about safety, its about not spending money on transportation.
Where can we read more about this? An express bus driver recently told us that he used to work for one of the private companies before it was taken over by the MTA (and them he became an MTA employee), he complained how much more poorly the MTA ran things and how passengers complained more as well.
The new express busses are a good example of products bought by clueless bureaucrats. Neither the drivers or passengers like them.
This is from 2014, and employee as well as rider morale has gotten worse since then.
Fare beating isn’t an especially big financial drain on the system.
Also, the MTA includes MetroNorth and the LIRR.
Friends, I’m tired of seeing neighbors mugged, shot, or pushed onto the tracks. I have to step out of the groupthink bubble. I need to assert my own desire for a safe community free of all the ‘broken windows’ I see/hear/smell all day.
Don’t worry; I’m sure my vote won’t actually elect Zeldin.
I think we all want a better-functioning and more robust MTA…but the fact that “insiders” say Zeldin is putting a teetering MTA “on the line” doesn’t sound like a bad thing. It’s the “insiders” who were not up to the challenge of reforming the MTA even before Covid.
I support congestion pricing. Beyond Zeldin’s opposition to Congestion Pricing, the only substantive written policy of Zeldin’s on the MTA is an op-ed he wrote over ten years ago that sounds absolutely reasonable: https://nypost.com/2011/07/25/after-walder-an-mta-to-do-list/#f397a4b8afbfd1e
That NYPost piece from 2011 is simpleminded.
In other words, it solves nothing, and actually encourages the destruction of the MTA.
Congestion pricing MUST be scuttled. You can’t put a 24/7 congestion pricing fee and have MTA cut bus service and remove bus stops in the outer boroughs AFTER congestion pricing passed. If this happened on the UWS, people would be crying to Gale Brewer to no end.
Zeldin is all doom and gloom and only provides simplistic answers that look nice on the cover of the Post. It is easy to take shots at the incumbent but how about some real strategies? When he stops funding the MTA, then it will really be dangerous.
That being said, I’m not a fan of congestion pricing. The tolls on bridges and tunnels serve as congestion pricing. How about they toll all the east river crossings, giving a discount to NYC residents? That will help.
Despite this one disagreement with Hochul, I still think she is far better than Zeldin.
What has she done that has helped families in the state that is hasn’t run on? It seems the only slightly good things she even says are his talking points, watered down to sound less conservative — she offers zero vision for what New York will look like if we elect her.
We can’t keep operating out of fear based of talking points from TV and politicians designed to scare us — on either side of the aisle. I’m voting based on what I SEE happening to our state. Not what I hear. Electing the same democrat leadership is not a path to a different result. They’ve held full majorities in NY for years now. They are running left full speed with no one to slow them down. Enough is enough.
After almost a year and a half of not setting foot in the subway, no amount of “improvements“ will lure me, or hundreds of thousands of other New Yorkers like me, back underground if we don’t feel safe. The platforms could look like the lobby of the Plaza and a person could still be shot, stabbed or shoved to their death. Statistics don’t lie, and enough with the 70’s/80’s comparisons (I remember), NOW is what matters. Low subway ridership equals lost income, and lost union jobs; so, it’s not rocket science… fix the crime. In the meantime, I’ll continue walking, taking buses, bicycles and the occasional Uber. This lifelong liberal can’t wait to vote Zeldin!
You know, no matter how hard the anti-car folk scream the fact is that, relative to the rest of the US, it’s safe on the street here. Our death rate due to cars/trucks/buses is less than half the country as a whole. So you’re twice as safe on the street here as in about 98% of the rest of the country.
However, even at that low rate? Ruling out suicides (which, sadly, account for most deaths on the subway), deaths/person on our safer than most streets is still about TWENTY TIMES higher than in the subway.
So claiming you will stay on the street because you need Zeldin makes as much sense as claiming that republicans have an answer to crime when the vast majority of the high crime states in the US are, in fact, run by republicans. Because guess what? The vast majority of our high crime states are firmly in the hands of the GOP, and the two poster boy governors of the right wing, De Santis and Abbott, preside over murder rates about 60% higher than in NY.
So yeah, let’s emulate that.
Stephens: under what conditions will you feel safe? We will never have a zero crime subway system. And what is Zeldin going to do to fix crime when he wants to defund the city?
I’ve been back to the office and back on the subway since July 2021.
Don’t love it (never did) – but IMO the 1,2, and 3 are OK.
In fact the subway is faster and less crowded than pre-Covid.
The 1,2,3 are not ok if you have to travel north of 96. They are not ok at all.
North of 96th on the 1 isn’t bad. Nothing changes until 125.
The MTA is more than just a money pit/ cash drain!/ scam. Bring back ‘Train Daddy’ .. fabulous Andy Byford and we’ll have some accountability.. And the system will run 1000 times more efficiently.
You understand the MTA is also the TriBorough bridges + tunnels and the LIRR + MetroNorth?
Byford only ran the NYTransit part of the system, so city buses and the subway, well the subway system that isn’t PATH.
NYC Transit and TBTA are affiliate agencies of the MTA. MaBSTOA, which operates most Manhattan and Bronx local buses is a subsidiary of NYC Transit. MNR, LIRR and MTA Bus Company are subsidiaries of the MTA. Different relationship. Although elected officials like the public not to know about that so that they aren’t held accountable.
Finally an issue I can agree with Zeldin about! Congestion pricing is not the answer to MTA’s problems. It needs to be revamped operationally top to bottom and better regulated as a PBC to be responsive to its customers…in all ways, not just fixing crime. More money will just mean more waste and bad spending — new construction costs 16x Tokyo? (if I have my numbers right). Congestion pricing is not about congestion. It’s about giving anyone who doesn’t care about the money a faster trip through midtown during rush hour and anyone who drives through at 10pm a new tax. Be honest about it and sell it as a tax, not a congestion solver. Or simply shut down sections of the city to cars if that’s where we want to go.
A few years ago I was involved in a large ($300M) construction project close to subway lines and stations. It involved a few meetings with MTA to involve them in the plans . I counted 35 MTA people at the table against 5 from the Owner/Architect and Contractor side. Bloat at MTA? Inevitable. Not one of the 35 were directly involved in day to day operations of the subways. All engineers, estimators, schedulers, accountants etc etc .
Great news. While I’m a big fan of the MTA, and use it daily, the congestion tax is very unfair to New Yorkers. We already pay income tax to the city. Let’s hope both parties wake up before its too late.
Re: Fare Evasion
MTA reported $119 million combined bus and subway fare evasion for first quarter 2022/January – March 2022.
Fare-Beaters were about 12.5 percent of subway riders and 31.5% of bus riders.