Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio, setting aside their differences on how to fund New York’s ailing transit system, on Tuesday presented a 10-point plan that they say will “transform the MTA,” and includes consolidating many of the functions of the LIRR with the MTA’s other agencies.
The plan also includes, for the first time, de Blasio’s expressed support for Cuomo’s congestion pricing proposal, as well as both leaders’ blessing for the MTA to continue raising fares by 4 percent every other year.
The MTA Board is set to vote on the latest such fare hike Wednesday.
The plan calls for the LIRR to consolidate common functions, including construction management, legal services, engineering, purchasing, human resources and advertising with the New York City Transit Authority, Metro-North Railroad, MTA Capital Construction, MTA Bus and the Staten Island Railway. The restructuring, designed to make the centralized agencies more streamlined and cost-efficient, would be complete by June, the officials said.
In a statement, acting MTA chairman Fernando Ferrer “strongly” endorsed the plan, which he called a “holistic cure for much of what ails the MTA.” The agency has projected a budget deficit that could reach $1 billion by 2022, and also has struggled with declining performance, including at the LIRR, which last year posted its worst on-time performance figures in nearly two decades.
The plan “builds on work we are already doing to improve service through aggressive action like the Subway Action Plan; reduce costs through innovative procurement and development models like those used on the LIRR Third Track and Double Track projects; and reduce spending through a mandate to all operating agencies,” said Ferrer, who urged the State Legislature to support the plan.
The plan’s likely most controversial aspect calls for installing cashless tolls for commuters who enter Manhattan south of 61st Street — a proposal that would require approval from the Democrat-controlled State Senate and Assembly. De Blasio previously opposed congestion pricing to reduce traffic in New York City, preferring a tax on millionaires to help fund the MTA.
“We cannot let another year pass without action that makes people’s lives easier,” de Blasio said in a statement. “This crisis runs deeper than ever before, and it’s now clear there is no way to address it without congestion pricing and other dedicated revenue streams. The time to act is now.”
In an interview Monday on WNYC radio, Cuomo called congestion pricing “an idea whose time has come” and said the plan would reduce the need for even steeper fare increases than those already planned. MTA officials have said, without a new revenue stream, fares would have to rise by about 27 percentby 2024 to close a growing deficit.
The plan by Cuomo and de Blasio calls for the MTA to keep future fare hikes to “inflationary increases of 2 percent per year” — a formula the MTA has followed for several years.
“I think it’s wrong to further burden the riders, and congestion pricing, frankly, taxes people who drive in,” Cuomo said. “They’re the ones who will pay the tolls. Most of them come from out of state. Only 1 or 2 percent come from the outer boroughs. It’s a luxury to drive into Manhattan. There’s a tremendous environmental cost … and I believe the tolling on congestion pricing is a better way to fund the system.”
The plan specifies that funding from the new tolls would be placed in a “lockbox” for the MTA, “with priority given to the subway system” and other transportation initiatives within New York City.
Long Island’s senior Democratic state senator, Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach), said he plans to question MTA leaders about what the proposed restructuring would mean for Nassau and Suffolk commuters during a public hearing scheduled for Friday in Mineola.
“It is critical that any comprehensive plan ensure that LIRR riders receive significantly improved, sustainable service, and that any congestion pricing plan contain a dedicated revenue stream for the LIRR,” Kaminsky said.
Similarly, Kevin Law, president of the Long Island Association, which represents businesses across Nassau and Suffolk, said, before being able to support the proposal, his group needs to review the details of the plan to see “how they will impact Long Island commuters and taxpayers.”
Also proposed by the governor and mayor is the creation of a “Regional Transit Committee” to review the MTA’s five-year Capital Program, which funds major infrastructure investments throughout the agency. The panel would comprise transportation, engineering and governments experts with “no existing financial relationship with the MTA.”
The plan specifies that the panel would include “organizations representing subway riders and driving commuters,” but makes no mention of a representative for riders of the MTA’s commuter railroads, including the LIRR.
“I think, clearly, it shows a disdain for the commuter railroads,” said Mark Epstein, chairman of the LIRR Commuter Council, which represents railroad riders. “I hope it’s an oversight.”
How to fund, transform the MTA
- WHAT: Reorganization: MTA will develop a reorganization plan to make the agency more efficient and effective. The antiquated structure will be fundamentally changed to centralize common functions among the six existing entities. Currently — NYCTA, LIRR, Metro-North, MTA Capital Construction, MTA Bus, SI Railway — operate as six separate entities. All common functions, such as construction management, legal, engineering, procurement, human resources, advertising, etc., will be consolidated and streamlined in a central operation. WHEN: Completed by June 2019.
- WHAT: Congestion pricing: The MTA Transformation Plan would include a congestion pricing financing model. Electronic tolling devices would be installed on the perimeter of the Central Business District defined as streets south of 61st Street in Manhattan. The FDR Drive will not be included in the Central Business District. Revenue will be placed in a “lockbox” to provide a funding source necessary to ensure the capital needs of the MTA can be met, with priority given to the subway system, new signaling, new subway cars, track and car repair, accessibility, buses and bus system improvements, and further investments in expanding transit availability to areas in the outer boroughs that have limited mass transit options. WHEN: Tolls will be set once the electronic infrastructure is in place and a Capital Plan is finalized, but no later than December 2020.
- WHAT: MTA fares: Fares for public mass transportation must be controlled in future years through cost containment actions and improved management. WHEN: The MTA should be able to operate with mass transit fare increases limited to inflationary increases of 2 percent per year.
- WHAT: MTA Board appointments: All appointments will be modified so that all terms end with the appointing elected official’s tenure. WHEN: Begins with restructuring.
- WHAT: Fare evasion: Partnership between the state and city is necessary to combat fare evasion. The state will work with the MTA, city and district attorneys to develop an enforcement strategy, with both personnel and station design modifications that do not criminalize fare evasion but instead prevent fare evasion, sanction violators and increase enforcement. WHEN: Begins with restructuring.
- WHAT: Independent audit: The MTA will undergo an independent audit to determine its assets and liabilities. WHEN: Completed no later than January.
- WHAT: Review: The Capital Plan shall be reviewed by a committee of transportation, engineering and government experts who have no existing financial relationship with the MTA (The Regional Transit Committee, “RTC”). The committee will have appointees by the governor, mayor, State Assembly and Senate, and organizations representing subway riders and driving commuters. The RTC also will review the toll and fare increases proposed by the MTA as necessary to fund the Capital Plan. WHEN: Begins with restructuring.
- WHAT: Design build: The MTA will have major construction projects and planned projects pursued as “design build.” The MTA will do preliminary drawings only to the point necessary for bidding the project in a private sector competition based primarily on cost and timing of the project. Selections will be made with incentives and sanctions for performance. All major construction projects will be reviewed by construction and engineering experts who are not affiliated with the MTA or its consultants. The MTA will be more aggressive in debarring failed contractors. WHEN: Begins with restructuring.
- WHAT: Subway Action Plan: The MTA will expedite the completion of the Subway Action Plan, including: signal repair; water management; station enhancements; rail welding; friction pad installation; increased refurbishment efforts; and other service improvements. WHEN: Immediately
- WHAT: Provisions: The governor and mayor will work closely with the Legislature to effectuate provisions in this framework. WHEN: Begins with restructuring.
Source: Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio