5 Reasons to Fully Fund the MTA Capital Plan

Photo of Emily Thenhaus

New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority is seeking $32 billion to pay for maintenance, upgrades and expansion to the transit system, the largest in the country. The MTA knows how it will pay for about $17 billion of that total, leaving $15 billion still to be identified. On January 13, an unprecedented gathering of former MTA chiefs called on leaders in Albany to find new revenue to fund the five-year plan. While $15 billion is a sizeable number, it represents the bare minimum of what is needed to keep trains and buses running and New York's economy humming. Here's why:

1. Additional Service and Repairs Are Needed to Handle Surging Ridership.

A fully funded MTA capital plan means fewer breakdowns and faster service.

Nearly three billion trips were taken on the MTA’s subways, buses and commuter trains in 2013. In 2014, daily MTA ridership broke records multiple times. The increase in riders and bridge-crossers, coupled with insufficient and uncertain funding, has put pressure on the century-old transit network.

Good transit service eases commuting for everyone, by taking cars off the road and improving travel for car users and transit riders. The sweeping improvements to the transit system in the past two decades laid the foundation for New York’s economic renaissance, as the metropolitan region once again became a desirable place to live and do business.

2. A New Signaling System Would Cut Train Delays.

Our trains are falling behind, literally. Train delays are on the rise, with nearly 25% of all subways arriving late between October 2013 and October 2014 as ridership growth puts pressure on the network. System modernization efforts included in the proposed MTA capital plan, such as expanding communications-based train control, or CBTC, to the E, R, M, F and 7 lines in Queens and the D, F, M and B in Manhattan would reduce these delays and make our transit systems safer, faster and more reliable. A fully funded capital plan means a fewer episodes of being ‘momentarily held’ by the train dispatcher. Bonus: With CBTC, we get countdown clocks, too.

Modernizing Subway Technology: How CBTC Works from Regional Plan Association on Vimeo.

3. The Metrocard Is Stuck in the ‘90s.

Every New Yorker who has sat on an idling bus as passengers slowly dipped their Metrocards, waited in long lines to refill their cards, or lost this magical golden ticket and struggled to recoup their money knows that it’s time to update the MTA’s fare payment system.

Cities from Chicago to Seoul and London to Los Angeles allow riders to use a single card that can be tied to their bank account to pay for bus, subway or even taxi trips. The easy “tap” technology speeds entry onto subways and buses. Some cities also are allowing passengers to pay with their smartphones, with more on the way soon. The MTA’s fare payment system will be modernized like its peers around the world with a fully funded capital plan.

4. Our Growing Metropolis Needs New Tracks, More Buses and Faster Routes.

Expanding Select Bus Service, continuing the next phase of the Second Avenue subway and completing the Long Island Rail Road double track project, all funded in the MTA capital plan, will ease congestion and improve residents’ ability to get around throughout the region.

Importantly, Capital Plan dollars would help expand transit service to communities in parts of Queens, Brooklyn, the Bronx and Staten Island that currently lack adequate trains and buses, bringing access to good jobs and schools to neighborhoods that have been left behind by the region’s success.

The high levels of ridership MTA currently faces along with anticipated future growth highlight the system’s urgent need for expansion. The 4,5,6 subway lines alone carry more people a day on average than the ridership of San Francisco, Chicago and Boston combined.

5. We Must Stormproof Our Transit System.

Our tunnels and tracks aren’t ready for the next storm. Superstorm Sandy caused $4.7 billion in damage to MTA system. In order to protect tunnels and facilities from the next storm and rising sea levels, the MTA needs to take action now to make the aging system more resilient and to protect it from severe weather. A fully funded MTA capital plan would support the federal funding allocated to prepare the region’s most valuable economic asset. 
Damage to South Ferry station after Hurricane Sandy; Photo credit: MTA