Most days, the lack of funding for the MTA isn't anybody's biggest subway worry.
Ridership is peaking, and the crowds on some lines can be unbearable. Service through this winter was plagued with delays that made getting around miserable, and the nasty weather only made it worse. Some fellow riders add to the agony with their eating, screaming, swearing, on-train grooming, panhandling, and space-hogging. These self-centered ways are enough to drive us over the edge as we shell out more and more for this exhausting experience.
So when we hear that the MTA's five-year capital program lacks, depending on whom you ask, either $15 billion or $19 billion of the $32 billion it needs to maintain the system and move it forward, it's easy to dismiss that worry and focus on staying upright in the exit scrum. But it's only by finding all this funding that the MTA can hope to improve the day-to-day problems of the city commuter.
Much of that money, for instance, is for the Second Avenue subway. That branch, as it begins service, will relieve overcrowding on the Lexington Avenue line, the most-used rapid transit line in the United States. The cash is also needed for new subway rails and cars, new stations and signals and buses, and new routes and equipment for the commuter railroads.
Options for raising so much money are limited, and politically charged options like taxing automobiles for every mile, charging a fee for any vehicle that drives below 60th street in Manhattan and tolling East River bridges are gaining steam, but facing opposition. As always, if the MTA can't get more creative and entrepreneurial and politicians don't get more supportive, riders will face higher fares, or lesser service.
Inadequate MTA capital funding isn't as immediate a problem as being crammed onto an overloaded subway car, but it's what causing the cramming, and the money must be found.