Five Ways to Save the MTA – New York Daily News
The MTA is on the brink of financial disaster, with federal pandemic relief funds drying up and a projected operating deficit of $2.5 billion a year starting in 2025. Why? Ridership has yet to return to pre-pandemic levels, plateauing at around 60% of what it was at the start of 2020. The work-from-home revolution, slow service and concerns about safety are all factors. While some people can afford not to use public transport, the reality is that our public transport system is a lifeline for millions of people who need to get to work or school, access medical attention or who have no other means of crossing the city. If we don’t fix what’s wrong with our transit system now, we’ll never get the riders back — or our city.
Before the pandemic, the MTA had come a long way since its “hellish summer” of 2017, but there was still a long way to go to improve the system. The impact of the pandemic now threatens to undo all of this progress and more. We need to save the MTA and do it quickly. Here are five ways to restore trust in the system and get back on track.
First, we need to get more funding.
Fare revenue represents the largest share (32%) of the MTA’s budget, with only 7% coming from state and local government coffers. We don’t fund other public services like sanitation, fire or police in this way. We should not depend on users to fund public transit.
Filling the MTA gap is difficult, but it can be done. New York State’s budget is $220 billion. Every penny of expense, every dollar of lost revenue and every tax incentive must be on the table so that we can fully fund public transit.
But we can’t just pump more money into the status quo. We need fast, reliable service for everyone who uses our subways and buses. There is no reason for passengers to have to wait up to 20 minutes or more for a ride. A constant six to eight minute service will give snags the confidence in the reliability they need to return to the system and forgo using a car, which only adds congestion and pollution to our roads. Also, people feel safer on public transport when they don’t wait 15 or 20 minutes for the next train or bus to arrive.
Second, we need to turbocharge our buses.
This vital surface transit is too slow, largely due to roads jammed with cars and delivery trucks. Although the speed of buses has improved slightly in recent years, it is far from sufficient. The city should immediately triple its commitment to installing dedicated bus lanes, redesign congested hallways to minimize private vehicle traffic, and aggressively implement transit signal priority, currently in place at just 260 of our more than 13,000 intersections. Additionally, Albany must give the city home rule authority to implement greater enforcement of cameras in bus lanes.
Third, we need better staffing to improve underground public safety.
According to NYPD data, levels of crime on public transit fell in 2020 and 2021, but rose significantly last year. Despite a number of high-profile violent incidents and attacks in recent years, the level of crime in transit today is still lower than before the pandemic and remains at historically low levels. Nevertheless, many New Yorkers still do not feel safe on public transportation.
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Mayor Adams is already deploying extra police to subway stations and trains. We can build on this by deploying more non-law enforcement personnel to help passengers adjust to service changes and manage non-emergency security issues. Additionally, we should place crisis intervention centers directly at key stations with the appropriate staff to offer direct assistance to those in need, rather than trying to convince someone to get into a vehicle and go to a nearby social service centre.
Fourth, we need to improve our stations.
Riders’ worst fears have materialized this year in a number of subway shootings. We need updated safety procedures and evacuation protocols so passengers aren’t left guessing what to do when something happens. Evacuation protocols for station platforms are virtually non-existent, as subway entrances and exits are often just narrow staircases and non-functioning elevators unable to accommodate large flows of people. Along the same lines, the MTA must commit to a robust station maintenance plan that is transparent to the public to ensure platforms are clean, well-lit, and equipped with functioning security cameras.
Fifth, we need to move full speed ahead on congestion pricing.
We cannot rebuild our subway system for the 21st century without charging cars to enter Manhattan’s central business district. The MTA is committed to making 95% of subway stations accessible by 2055 – a phenomenal and surpassed goal that will be impossible to achieve without congestion pricing funding. The same goes for the other major capital needs of our system. Simply put, many of the physical improvements needed to bring people back into the system cannot happen without this dedicated stream of funding.
To save the MTA, passengers must have a reasonable degree of certainty that they will arrive at their destination on time and safely. The survival of our city depends on it.
Gonardes represents parts of Brooklyn in the state Senate.
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