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NYC Council Balks as MTA Wants $3 Billion for Disabled Access

Henry Goldman

(Bloomberg) -- New York City Council members told leaders of the state Metropolitan Transportation Authority they won’t approve billions of dollars in spending increases until the agency improves subway and bus performance and shares more information and decision-making with the city.

As a Dec. 18 MTA board vote looms on its proposed $51.5 billion five-year capital improvement plan, Council Speaker Corey Johnson told MTA Chairman and CEO Patrick Foye that the city would need more representation on the agency’s 17-member board and more details on the capital plan before the council would approve another $3 billion to pay for more access to transit by the disabled.

“We have 90% of the ridership, we already pay for the majority of the operating budget, and we already contribute billions to the MTA capital program,” Johnson said. Congestion pricing, which in 2021 will impose fees on motorists entering midtown Manhattan, will finance another $15 billion in bonds for the capital plan, he added, “and we’re being asked once again to open up our wallet to give more than ever before, after absolutely no input.”

Foye, accompanied by Andy Byford, who runs the city’s subways and buses as president of New York City Transit, tried to assure Johnson that the agency would give city officials details of the capital plan within 60 days of the MTA board vote next month. As evidence the MTA is improving, he cited improved subway and bus on-time performance data and progress replacing obsolete signaling technology on several of the city’s subway lines.

“The unfortunate reality is that the MTA has to reconcile our service improvements and customer commitments with the fact that our cost structure is not where it needs to be,” Foye said. “Even as we pursue aggressive cost cutting measures to find nearly $3 billion in annual recurring savings, we’re looking at major out-year deficits.”

The five-year capital plan, which is supplemental to a $17.6 billion 2020 operating budget, hinges on receiving about $10 billion in federal aid and savings of about $1.6 billion over the next four years from the elimination of 2,700 administrative jobs through attrition.

Agency officials say they need a total of $6 billion from the state and city over the next five years to pay for accessibility improvements throughout the system, including the agency’s bus service for the disabled, which has increased to $549 million a year from $11 million 25 years ago, as its users increased to 159,000 from 25,000. The city, which now pays 33% of the cost, would have to pay about $100 million more a year if it agreed to split the cost evenly with the MTA.

The $51.5 billion capital plan includes plans to install new signaling technology on six subway lines at a cost of more than $5 billion, replace 60 miles of track, buy 1,900 subway cars and 2,400 buses, and modernize 174 subway stations with 65 new escalators and 78 elevators, Foye said.

Johnson said the agency’s decision to spend $250 million over five years to hire 500 police officers to deter turnstile jumpers and bus-fare beaters appeared to be an excessively “heavy-handed” reaction. He cited the experience of a Dutch city that issued transit cards in return for fines charged against violators. Foye said the expense was justified by an increase in assaults on MTA subway operators and bus drivers.

To contact the reporter on this story: Henry Goldman in New York at hgoldman@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Flynn McRoberts at fmcroberts1@bloomberg.net, William Selway

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