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Fund the MTA’s Action Plan

JOHN SAMUELSEN President of Transport Workers Union International and TWU Local 100 | 9/14/2017, 3:12 p.m.
NYC Transit workers know the subway system inside and out. We know it better than anyone else.
NYC subway/MTA Wikipedia

NYC Transit workers know the subway system inside and out. We know it better than anyone else.

We operate the trains, build the tracks, inspect and repair the antiquated signals. We take apart subway cars and rebuild them with new wheels, traction motors, brakes and air conditioning systems. We fix turnstiles, add trips to riders’ MetroCards and haul away the garbage that riders throw onto the track bed. 

You name it. We do it.

We are proud of the vital role we play in the life of our city, and we want to provide the best possible service to the riders. We literally move NYC. 

That’s why Transport Workers Union Local 100 developed a 10-point “boots on the ground” rescue plan to restore subway reliability, and why we are so adamant that the MTA’s Action Plan, which encompasses much of our advice, be immediately funded.

We are now conducting preventative maintenance and inspections on wayside signals, subway cars and other equipment far more frequently.

We are replacing heavily-used train parts and onboard systems at shorter intervals.

We are removing trash from the tracks, using 21st century industry vacuum machines, on more aggressive schedules.

Such corrective measures, and others, will absolutely reduce signal failures, equipment breakdowns and track fires, which are leading causes of delays—and rider frustration. 

The work to get the NYC subway system back into a proper state of day-to-day reliability has begun. But funding is needed—in the short term, not next year or the year after that—for the Action Plan to be completely implemented and sustained. If that necessary funding doesn’t materialize, these positive steps we are now seeing could be halted, and others could wind up being shelved.

This funding doesn’t need to be a complicated or drawn-out process. The MTA could fully fund its reliability plan if Mayor de Blasio stepped up on behalf of subway riders and corrected an unfair practice that he inherited from his predecessors.

On behalf of NYC government, the MTA directly provides city residents with two unique transportation services. It gives the city Department of Education student MetroCards so children can ride MTA buses and subway trains to and from school.

The MTA also operates Access-A-Ride, which picks up the elderly and disabled in wheelchair-accessible vans and takes them where they need to go.

In Westchester, Nassau and every other county in the MTA region, local governments pay the cost of providing these special services.

NYC government, however, doesn’t fully reimburse the MTA. The city only pays a fraction of the bill, and stiffs the MTA for the rest: approximately $500 million annually.

That’s $500 million a year that is drained right out of the MTA’s operating and maintenance budget. That’s $500 million a year that should be available for MTA to improve the subway experience for riders.

If Mayor de Blasio and City Hall simply reimbursed the MTA for student MetroCards and Access-A-Ride, then the Subway Action Plan would be fully funded. Gov. Cuomo has already pledged to pay 50 percent of the new expenses with taxpayer revenues that the state controls. He has asked the city to pay the other 50 percent.

A 50-50 split is a fair arrangement. 

True, the mayor doesn’t control the MTA. The riders, however, are his constituents, and he does have influence on the authority. The mayor has four voting members on the board, a significant block of power, and he can single handedly veto the MTA’s capital construction plan.

A lack of full control does not absolve any mayor of responsibility to his or her constituent riders.

Perhaps de Blasio should use this opportunity to demand the city and state have an equal number of appointments to the MTA board. Parity could be part of an agreement that includes the city properly reimbursing the MTA for student MetroCards and Access-A-Ride.

To pretend that this reimbursement failure does not exist is a slap in the face of NYC Transit riders, NYC Transit workers, MTA Board members and the residents of all those counties that are not allowed to siphon off money from the MTA’s Operating Budget like NYC does.