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OpinionEditorial

Caution flags aplenty for the MTA

Albany lawmakers must take the comptroller’s new report seriously

LIRR riders on the platform at Jamaica Station

LIRR riders on the platform at Jamaica Station wait out delayed trains on Aug. 6. Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

How’s the Metropolitan Transportation Authority doing?

Pretty poorly, says state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli.

And MTA officials don’t really disagree.

And there’s even consensus on the reality that there’s no easy fix to get MTA finances and train and bus service moving in the right direction.

DiNapoli, who called the MTA’s state of affairs its “greatest challenge in decades,” sounded alarm after alarm in a financial outlook released Thursday, pointing to poor subway and Long Island Rail Road service. He predicted budget gaps in the coming years, and expressed significant concerns about capital program management, economic and ridership assumptions, and future revenue sources.

Data in the comptroller’s outlook tell a disconcerting story.

From 2010 to 2017, subway weekday on-time performance plummeted from 87.7 percent to 63.4 percent, though the first eight months of this year have shown a negligible uptick to 65.3 percent. Meanwhile, the LIRR’s on-time performance continues to fall, averaging 89.9 percent through August, compared with a peak of 95.2 percent in 2009. And LIRR delays in the first eight months of this year attributable to the railroad itself increased by 22 percent compared with the same period last year.

The finances are equally bleak. The MTA, the nation’s largest public transit authority, predicts an annual operating budget gap of $634 million by 2022. That assumes steady fare increases every two years and a continuously robust economy. Meanwhile, declines in revenue will approach $250 million annually by 2020 and beyond if New Yorkers continue to avoid the subways and buses, the report said.

DiNapoli also expressed doubt about the MTA’s ability to manage future capital plans, and to successfully fund and execute its Fast Forward plan to modernize the subways.

Clearly, a lot has to change. The MTA and its various divisions have solid new leadership and some extensive proposals to try to improve service, but there still is little confidence that it can overhaul its bureaucracy to operate more efficiently and less expensively. The MTA board must be more aggressive in holding the authority accountable.

That’s a tall order, but it’s far from enough. The MTA desperately needs new sources of reliable revenue — and that starts with some form of fee to drive into Manhattan’s central business district. That proposal could reduce traffic and provide revenue. While Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo supports such a tolling plan, lawmakers in Albany have balked. The idea requires the support of the State Legislature. Lawmakers should read DiNapoli’s report and understand the depth of the MTA’s problems before simply dismissing such ideas.

But even more must be done to close the MTA’s budget gaps and fund all transit improvements. DiNapoli should play a role there. His outlook doesn’t provide possible fixes for the crisis. He could do more by analyzing potential solutions and providing suggestions.

This train has a long way to go. — The editorial board

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