Comptroller DiNapoli warns of MTA finance trouble
By Paula Katinas
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Bus and subway riders aren’t happy with the news from state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli about the possibility of higher transit fares coming sooner rather than later.
In an eye-opening report released late last week, DiNapoli, whose job is to monitor stat expenditures, concluded that if new funding sources are not found for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), the agency may be forced to raise transit fares and bridge tolls well before the next planned increase in 2019.
MTA had already announced plans to raise fares by 4 percent in 2019.
But straphangers might have to dig deeper into their pockets to ride the buses and subways a lot sooner, according to DiNapoli.
John Raskin, executive director of the Riders Alliance, said DiNapoli’s report comes at a time when the transit system is in great need of repairs and rebuilding.
Raskin, whose organization advocates for improvements in bus and subway service in behalf of riders, called on Gov. Andrew Cuomo to come up with additional financial resources for MTA.
“If Gov. Cuomo doesn’t pass a new revenue source to fund the MTA, the only way to fix our subways and buses will be with fare hikes and service cuts, which are regressive plans that hurt working people the most. Gov. Cuomo should move quickly to pass a progressive source of MTA funding, like congestion pricing, so we can restore reliable transit service without passing along the bill to the New Yorkers who can least afford it,” Raskin said in a statement.
DiNapoli came up with his conclusion after conducting an in-depth analysis of the MTA’s financial plan. He issued his report, called “Financial Outlook for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority,” on Nov. 9.
“Maintaining, modernizing and expanding the largest mass-transit agency in the nation is critically important to the future of the New York metropolitan region. In the absence of adequate funding, the system could fall into further disrepair and riders could face unplanned fare hikes. The state and city need to find solutions to prevent these possibilities from becoming reality, and the MTA must make the best use of its resources,” DiNapoli said in a statement.
The need for funding is paramount, according to DiNapoli, who said that while MTA has invested more than $120 billion in capital improvements since 1982, the need for repairs is outpacing the funding.
The subway system is in particular need of rebuilding, DiNapoli noted. Signals, power, stations, pumps and emergency ventilation equipment need to be restored, he said. In addition, MTA has had to delay the purchase of new subway cars. Nearly a third of subway cars are more than 30 years old and approximately 40 percent of signals 50 years old.
While the system struggles to maintain equipment, there has been a sharp growth in subway ridership during the past 15 years.
In July, MTA Chairman Joe Lhota announced a two-phase Subway Action Plan. The first phase, expected to cost $836 million, is aimed at stabilizing and improving the subway system. MTA has suggested that the state and the city split the cost. But DiNapoli noted that the state and city have not reached an agreement to share the costs.
Within such an agreement, MTA has had to draw on its reserves to begin Phase 1 of the Subway Action Plan, DiNapoli said.
MTA is also counting on the federal government to fund almost one-quarter of its capital program, according to DiNapoli, who said there is a great deal of uncertainty on whether these funds will actually be allocated. President Donald Trump has proposed eliminating the New Starts program, which would have funded approximately one-third of the estimated cost of Phase 2 of the construction of Second Avenue Subway.
According to MTA projections, the agency will be operating with a balanced budget through 2019. But the agency is projecting budget gaps in the following years, starting at $112 million in 2020 and growing to $493 million in 2021.
The budget shortfalls are being projected even with plans in place to raise transit fares in 2019 and 2020.
When asked by The Wall Street Journal to respond to DiNapoli’s report, Lhota told the newspaper that the report was tantamount to “fearmongering.”
To read DiNapoli’s full report, visit http://osc.state.ny.us/osdc/rpt7-2018-mta-financial-outlook.pdf.