Category Archives: Public Transit

MORPC and Partners Kickoff Regional Corridor Analysis Study

A group of Central Ohio community leaders joined the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission (MORPC) in kicking off a new study aimed at assessing the potential for compact development in our regional transit corridors and how high-capacity transit could better serve residents in the region.

MORPC projects that Central Ohio is expected to grow by up to 1 million people by the year 2050. Insight2050 shows that compact development patterns, characterized by infill and redevelopment, are more responsive to the changing demographics that come with that growth and the increased market demand for smaller residences in walkable, mixed-use environments.

The Regional Corridor Analysis will study a variety of metrics to assess the impact(s) of compact development along five regional corridors, and study the relationship between these corridors and the various types of high-capacity transit technologies, which are defined as transit beyond local or express bus service. Examples could include Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), Light-Rail Transit (LRT), Commuter Rail or intercity rail.

“With this focused approach to growth, Central Ohio communities have the potential to capture some of the new market demand, support smart mobility options like those being developed in Smart Columbus, and provide benefits associated with compact development,” said MORPC Executive Director William Murdock. “It also presents the opportunity for high-capacity transportation options that support infill development goals and provide accessible options for residents and employees.”

MORPC is partnering with the City of Columbus, the Central Ohio Transit Authority (COTA), the Columbus District Council of the Urban Land Institute (ULI Columbus), the Columbus Partnership, Groveport, Dublin, Whitehall, Reynoldsburg, Westerville, and Bexley on the Regional Corridor Analysis study.

For more information on the Regional Corridor Analysis study please visit http://www.morpc.org/our-region/insight2050/index or contact Jennifer Noll at jnoll@morpc.orgor 614.233.4179

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Ahead of 2018 Session, Cuomo Mum on Pursuing MTA Board Overhaul

GothamGazette

In June, as New Yorkers became increasingly frustrated with subway performance and braced themselves for the expected “summer of hell,” Governor Andrew Cuomo was the focus of intense criticism, responding with a series of measures he said were needed in order to fix the ailing Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA).

Among them, Cuomo introduced last-minute legislation that would allow the governor to appoint a majority of MTA board members, a gesture some saw as an attempt to bolster his sometimes claim that he does not actually control the MTA and its beleaguered subway system. Currently the governor appoints a plurality of board members as well as the chair and CEO of the MTA, giving the state’s chief executive de facto control of the board.

Cuomo’s bill, announced June 20, the final day of the session — giving it minimal chance to be passed through the Legislature this year — adds two state seats to the MTA board appointed by the governor and an additional vote for the chair. The proposal drew swift criticism from board members not appointed by the governor, who believe the body’s independence is hampered enough, and transit experts, who see it as a cynical ploy.

The measure was not included in the final legislative deal of the session and the governor has been silent on the subject since, though his nomination of Joe Lhota to once again lead the MTA was accepted and the governor appeared to retake responsibility for the future of the subway system.

Cuomo’s board reform proposal came amid a debate between the governor and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, both Democrats, over control of the state authority. The governor, while appointing the leadership and six members, has argued that the board’s organizational structure — which allows city and downstate suburban appointees to total a slight majority of votes over budgetary and contracting decisions — is flawed and has historically led to finger-pointing and dysfunction.

“Who’s in charge? Who knows! Maybe the county executive, maybe the president, maybe the governor, maybe the mayor,” the governor said, during a press appearance where he defended the bill.

“If you believe I have control with six [voting members], then you shouldn’t have a problem giving me actual control. And if you have a problem giving me actual control, you know what that means? You were disingenuous when you said I had control,” he added.

Along with the governor’s six board appointees and the mayor’s four, Westchester, Suffolk, and Nassau Counties each get a board member, and Rockland, Orange, Putnam, and Dutchess Counties appointees share a collective vote. There are six non-voting members of the board. If Cuomo had his way, there would be 16 total voting members and the new structure would give the state eight board appointees and nine votes.

When asked whether the governor still stood by the proposal and whether he would promote it as part of his 2018 agenda — his State of the State speech and policy platform release will occur January 3 — a spokesperson for Cuomo’s office said that the governor’s view on the issue had not changed but that the governor’s agenda was not yet finalized.

“The MTA’s board structure was purposefully created to avoid accountability, which is why in June Governor Cuomo advanced legislation to update it. Unfortunately, the Legislature failed to adopt the bill,” said spokesman Peter Ajemian.“That design flaw still exists today with the city’s refusal to pay for the system without recourse, and the MTA’s inability to implement its full Subway Action Plan.”

Ajemian emphasized that Cuomo’s administration has appointed a new leadership team is still making significant gains with the half of the plan that is funded by the state.

While the MTA board approves the budget and the chair and CEO run the authority, there is no credible argument that the governor does not effectively control the subway. Critics, including de Blasio, quickly pointed to the governor’s attention to and oversight of the completion of phase one of the Second Avenue subway extension as evidence of Cuomo’s control of the MTA.

“The governor controls the MTA. That’s a hard, accepted fact in the eyes of New Yorkers, said mayoral spokesperson Austin Finan, in a statement to Gotham Gazette. “What’s needed now is a new, dedicated revenue stream to modernize the subways and buses that city riders depend on.”

The current board structure dates back to 1965, though in 1983 Cuomo’s father, former Governor Mario Cuomo, similarly attempted to add members to the board to gain a majority, The New York Times has pointed out. The elder Cuomo gave up due to opposition from then-New York City Mayor Ed Koch and suburban officials.

After the board convened and objected to the legislation, Cuomo appointed Joe Lhota, who briefly ran the authority before leaving for a 2013 mayoral run, as its chair — a move that was hailed by transit experts as a step in the right direction in terms of taking responsibility for the transportation system and its ongoing woes.

hRegardless of whether the governor decides to move forward with controversial MTA board restructuring, he and his chair seized a collective unilateral control over much of the authority’s actions.

Days after appointing Lhota, Cuomo declared a state of emergency at the MTA, ordering Lhota to assess the transit authority’s needs within 60 days. The administration has extended the order every 30 days, granting Lhota the authority to execute many contracts without a board vote.

“State of Emergency declarations must be renewed every 30 days, and as such, the Governor has renewed MTA’s order every 30 days so the MTA can continue to work swiftly and without constraint,” said Ajemian in statement, when asked when the order would be allowed to expire.

While MTA board members interviewed by Gotham Gazette declined to comment on the record about Cuomo’s restructuring bill, those from New York City have made clear that the governor already calls the shots at the agency. At least one gubernatorial appointee, Scott Rechler, sided with Cuomo on the legislation, when speaking to the New York Times in June.

“Let him put 100 percent of his political capital, his expertise, his energy, his relationships into fixing something that is immensely broken,” he told the outlet.

The general consensus is that the governor already has more than enough power over the MTA.

To restructure the MTA board, Cuomo would need the support of Legislature, which is led by an Assembly member from New York City and a Senator from Long Island.

A spokesperson for Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said no legislation had been proposed in the Assembly, so the speaker could not comment. A bill was hastily introduced and sent to the Senate’s rules committee on the last day of this year’s legislative session, and a spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan did not return a request for comment.

Google Maps will soon tell you when it’s time to get off your train or bus

Google is about to launch a small but useful update to Google Maps that will give you live guidance and interactive real-time notifications during your journey.

The idea here is to give you real-time updates while you are on your transit journey. These updates will appear in the Google Maps app and, maybe most importantly, on your Android lock screen.

To get started, you search for your transit directions in Google Maps as usual. So far, so good. What’s new here is that you’ll soon be able to tap a “start” button at the bottom the screen with the details about your transit journey and then get live updates as you walk or ride on your local buses and trains.

NYC should get eight new subway lines and extensions, report says

timeout.com

Lots of great ideas last few days…but nobody puts a dime on the plate!

Last week, the Regional Plan Association (RPA) published its Fourth Regional Plan, a sweeping report that recommends 61 actionable steps aimed at improving the New York metropolitan area’s infrastructure, housing and environment in order to allow it to thrive in the coming century.

Upon its release, the plan caught a good deal of flack for a proposal to slash 24-hour subway service in order to extend windows for track updates and maintenance. But that audacious idea is just the tip of the iceberg—the RPA has put out a whole slew of interesting recommendations that, if put into action, could radically change the way millions of people navigate and live in New York City.

One of those recommendations comes in the form of eight new subway lines and extensions, which would provide train access to entire stretches of the city that are currently without it. In its report, the RPA points out that more than one-third of New York City’s residents do not live within walking distance of a subway station. The organization’s proposed changes to the subway system are coupled with its idea of a new, unified regional rail system called the Trans-Regional Express (or T-REX). Together, they’d expand train access to cover millions of additional people in New York City and the surrounding area.

Perhaps the most notable of the RPA’s proposed subway additions surrounds the Second Avenue subway project (which the RPA strongly advocated for in its Third Regional Plan in 1996). The plan advocates for the line to extend from its current terminus at 96th Street to the Grand Concourse rail line, connecting it to a new terminal at 149th Street and Third Avenue in the Bronx. It also proposes that the line (or the T) should veer westward at 125th Street, providing much-needed subway access access to East Harlem and Harlem and connecting to seven other subway lines in the process.

On top of the long-awaited Second Avenue expansion, the RPA has plenty of other consequential (albeit slightly less buzzworthy) suggestions. Those include extending the 7 train south from Hudson Yards and adding two stops at 23rd and 14th Streets in Chelsea; extending the Astoria Line to 21st Street and 20th Avenue; building a new Northern Line in Queens to serve Flushing and College Point; adding a new 5.7-mile Jewel Avenue line to serve “the transit deserts of Pomonok and Fresh Meadows in Central Queens” and extend the subway to the city’s eastern edge; extending 4 train service in Brooklyn down to Flatbush Avenue; and extending 2 and 5 service in the same borough down to Avenue Y. You can see a full map of the proposal below.

It’s worth pointing out that the recommendations put out by the RPA do not carry any legal weight or a mandate. That said, the organization is incredibly influential. Over the past 95 years, it has had a major hand in shaping the layout of New York City. From proposing the current location of the George Washington Bridge to pushing for the formation of the MTA, the RPA’s fingerprints are present in virtually ever corner of the region.

There’s a lot to take in from the plan (we’ll continue to write about takeaways in the coming weeks), and finding ways to implement many of its proposals will be a lengthy process. But while the powers that be work on bringing New York’s infrastructure into the 21st century, it’s certainly fun to imagine a version of the city where the subway system is reliable, accessible and all-inclusive.

Expanding Second Avenue subway beyond planned terminus key to system’s future

AM New York

If New York City and the surrounding areas want to continue growing, government must determine how to build a new subway extension in less than 100 years, according to the Regional Plan Association’s Fourth Regional Plan.

About a year after the opening of the Second Avenue subway’s first phase, the nonprofit association is publishing its plan Thursday, which includes proposals for eight new or extended subway lines to be built in the coming decades, as well as a unification of the region’s commuter rails — New Jersey Transit, Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North — under one system, called the Trans-Regional Express, or T-REX for short

The 95-year-old association publishes such a plan every several decades to set the tone for planning discussions over the future of the tristate area. Its new report, a massive 351-page document, spans all sorts of issues pressing the region.
The MTA runs one of the largest subway systems in the world, yet more than a third of all New Yorkers don’t live within walking distance of a subway or train station.

The plan association’s subway expansions — some new ideas, others old — focus on connecting several key transit deserts, specifically neighborhoods considered low-income but with high enough housing density to support the trains, including southeastern sections of the Bronx and Brooklyn as well as areas of central and northeast Queens.

These new subways would intend to cut down some of the longest commutes in the city and reach what are now more car-dependent areas of the outer boroughs.

“The thinking that if you stop the development from occurring you will stop the rents from increasing is a false argument,” said Tom Wright, association president, during a briefing with reporters earlier this week. “The point is you have to put protections in place for those people. On a regional basis, you have to increase supply.
“This is going to be one of the political challenges over the next five, ten years I think,” he continued. “It’s figuring out how to put protections in place so those communities feel like they can accept growth without being pushed out, and figure out how to make that growth happen in a balanced way.”

While the Second Avenue extension cost $4.5 billion, the plan association also recommends overhauling the construction process at nearly every level — from environmental review, to procurements to labor regulations — to save costs and make these projects more realistic.

The MTA declined to comment on the subject of subway extensions or new lines before the publication of the plan Thursday morning.
Here’s a breakdown of new service proposals by borough:

Manhattan

Second Avenue subway: Extend the Second Avenue line from 96th Street past its next planned terminus of 125th Street and Second Avenue, to Park Avenue and then westward along 125th Street to Broadway. The idea is that in the three miles of expansion, the subway would hit underserved sections of Harlem while connecting to seven subway lines at four stations.

7 Line extension: Extend the 7 train from its current terminus at 34th Street down to 14th Street and Eighth Avenue, where it would connect to the L, A, C and E lines.

Brooklyn

Utica Avenue extension: Build a new subway under Utica Avenue, from Eastern Parkway to Flatbush Avenue, extending 4 train service by four miles.

Nostrand Avenue line extension: Build out the Nostrand Avenue line 2.7 miles south to Avenue Z, connecting 2 and 5 trains farther into Flatlands, Midwood, Marine Park and Sheepshead Bay.

Queens

Northern Boulevard line: Create a new 3.7-mile subway line running from 36th Street and Northern Boulevard to Willets Point, where it could either continue east to serve north Flushing and Mitchell-Linden or turn north to pass under Flushing Bay to College Point.
Jewel Avenue line: Build a 5.7-mile Jewel Avenue line that would branch off the Queens Boulevard line to the transit deserts of Pomonok and Fresh Meadows in central Queens.

Astoria line extension: Add a 0.8-mile extension to hook service closer to the East River at 21st Street and 20th Avenue. A new yard would be constructed on the northern side of Ditmars Boulevard along 20th Street.

The Bronx

Second Avenue extension: In addition to an expansion out west, the plan association calls for a northern expansion to the Grand Concourse at 149th Street to connect to the 2, 4 and 5 trains.

Three more NYC ferries taken out of service for leaking

NY Post Com

We have gone after the NYC subway, Metro North and LIRR for a long time. The day we went after busses.

Three more of Mayor de Blasio’s ferries were taken out of service in the past 24 hours when alarms sounded because water was leaking into their bilges, the US Coast Guard said Monday.

The latest blow to the NYC Ferry service came just hours after The Post revealed on Sunday that three other boats in its fleet were already in dry dock for springing leaks and at least two others were repaired for the same problem.

Alarms went off on the Waves of Wonder and Sunset Crossing ferries late Sunday night and early Monday morning, according to USCG Chief Warrant Officer Allyson Conroy.

It was unclear if any passengers were on board at the time, Conroy said.

Ferry operator Hornblower told the Coast Guard it immediately took both boats out of service, along with a third vessel identified only by hull number H106, which Conroy said was sidelined “as a precaution.”

The three catamaran-style ferries were expected to arrive at the North River Shipyard in Nyack by Tuesday morning for inspection and/or repairs, Conroy added.

NYC Subway Fare Hikes On Way If New Funds Not Found

PATCH.COM

Straphangers could pay more for subway rides if the MTA doesn’t get more money to get the trains back on track. The transit authority may have to hike fares absent new, consistent revenue to fund needed repairs to the deteriorating subway system, according to a report state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli released Thursday.

DiNapoli’s office estimates the MTA will be paying an extra $300 million annually — the equivalent of a 4 percent fare increase — for subway maintenance after it finishes phase one of Chairman Joe Lhota’s Subway Action Plan in 2018.

The MTA hiked fares on the subways and its suburban commuter railroads 4 percent this year. It’s planning similar hikes in 2019 and 2021. But that pace may need to accelerate to cover growing maintenance costs and the MTA’s long-term capital plan, DiNapoli’s report says.

“In the absence of adequate funding, the system could fall into further disrepair and riders could face unplanned fare hikes,” DiNapoli said in a statement. “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.”

Mayor Bill de Blasio and Gov. Andrew Cuomo disagree on how to bolster the MTA’s coffers. Cuomo supports a “congestion pricing” plan to impose tolls on cars crossing the city’s East River bridges, while de Blasio wants to raise income taxes on the richest New Yorkers.

But MTA officials “categorically reject the idea of any unplanned fare increases,” Lhota said in a statement. A de Blasio spokesman agreed that “asking straphangers to foot the bill is unacceptable.”

“Funding subway repairs will not come on the backs of riders and the comptroller is fear-mongering by injecting unplanned fare increases into the public discourse,” Lhota said.

Lhota said he’s “extremely encouraged” by rising public support for congestion pricing. But de Blasio’s spokesman, Austin Finan, said the mayor’s so-called millionaire’s tax proposal is the “only” solution.

“While the State continues to sit on its hands, the Mayor has put forth a plan backed by the majority of New Yorkers that calls on millionaires and billionaires to chip in a little extra,” Finan said in a statement.

The subway system needs major fixes to prevent the city’s transit crisis from worsening, DiNapoli’s report says. About a third of all subway trains are more than 30 years old. On average, a train travels 112,000 miles before breaking down — the shortest distance since 2001, according to the report.

The MTA’s yet-to-be-released 2020-2024 Capital Program will fund major upgrades, including the seccond phases of the Second Avenue Subway and Lhota’s Subway Action Plan. But it’s uncertain that the plan will get needed federal funding, and the state has yet to identify how it’s paying for its share, DiNapoli’s report says.

“Without additional assistance from its traditional funding partners,” such as the city and the state, “the MTA will have to raise fares and tolls faster than already planned to maintain, modernize and expand the system,” the report says.

The MTA has long planned to increase fares every other year as its costs continue to rise. But this year’s hike proved controversial. The MTA Board decided to raise Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North Railroad fares while keeping the subway fare at $2.75, though the cost of weekly and monthly unlimited MetroCards increased.

This summer, MTA Board members pushed back on the idea of continuing biennial fare increases, saying the agency should look for other revenue sources, The New York Times reported

Armed man from St. Charles arrested after stopping Amtrak train in Nebraska

St Louis Today

OXFORD, Neb. • An armed man got into a locomotive on an Amtrak train passing through southwest Nebraska early Saturday and pulled the emergency brake while about 175 passengers were on board, authorities say.

Deputies from Furnas and Harlan counties responded to the incident in Oxford around 1:54 a.m. after being alerted that the eastbound California Zephyr was in emergency response mode, Furnas County Sheriff Kurt Kapperman said in a news release.

Amtrak staff detained Taylor M. Wilson, 25, of St. Charles, Mo., and turned him over to the Furnas County Sheriff’s Department, the release said.

Kapperman’s deputies found a loaded Smith and Wesson .38-caliber revolver on Wilson’s waistband and a speed loader for the weapon in his pocket. They also seized two bags containing three more speed loaders, a box of ammo for the revolver, a knife, tin snips, scissors and a ventilation mask, Kapperman said.

Wilson was traveling from Sacramento, Calif., to St. Louis, and somehow got into the second locomotive and stopped the train using the emergency brake, the release said.

It’s believed Amtrak engineers in control of the train were in the first locomotive, which was at the front of the train and can’t be accessed from the second locomotive directly behind it.

Deputies arrested Wilson on suspicion of felony criminal mischief and possession of a deadly weapon during the commission of a felony.

He was being held at the Furnas County jail on $25,000 bond.

Kapperman didn’t say how Wilson got the gun on board — whether he carried it on himself or retrieved it from a checked bag.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said that detail was unclear and that the exact circumstances are under investigation.
Amtrak only allows firearms in checked baggage, and only if they are unloaded. However, train passengers aren’t required to undergo the level of screening required of airline passengers. The difference reflects the vastness of Amtrak’s rail system and the “‘open’ and therefore porous transportation environment” it operates within, the company says on its website.

Wilson had a Missouri-issued conceal-carry permit in his wallet, a Furnas County deputy wrote in court documents.

Saturday’s incident delayed the train by a little more than an hour, Magliari said.

The eastbound train departed the Sacramento area Thursday morning, with its expected arrival in Chicago on Saturday afternoon. From Chicago, Amtrak trains connect to the St. Louis area.

Why don’t conductors realize subway announcements are impossible to hear?

Dear John: On Oct. 17, I was taking the F train from Brooklyn to Manhattan. Because of work on the tracks that day, the F became the D train, making the same stops.

The problem was with the voice on the platform giving people information about the changes.

Riders could not make out the information because it was not clear. Why don’t the people who work on the train go sit out on the platform to hear that the information is not clear? B.S.

Dear B.S.: For the train conductor (garble) to hear the announcements (garble), they’d actually have to get (garble) out of the train and walk a couple of (garble) steps. That would require more effort (garble) than a city employee (garble) is used to.

You should (garble) sign up for notifications at mymtaalerts.com, and you’ll know about changes (garble) that will affect your commute.

You (garble) will also find out (garble) about a lot of other (garble) problems you don’t care about, but (garble) that’s the price you pay. Oh, and it’s (garble) free.

Didn’t I just make you feel like you are in the subway? Now if I could just reproduce the smell, this would be (garble) perfect.

I asked the MTA what it was doing about the lousy sound system on most trains and in most stations.

I was told: “We’re not aware of anything the agency is doing” with regard to the quality of the announcements.

“There was a fair amount of material on customer experience and agency communications in [MTA Chairman Joe] Lhota’s action plan released earlier this year, but it did not address the quality of announcements on the trains.”

Well, (garble) that.

Dear John: Every day brings a new news story into focus — Harvey Weinstein, hurricanes, wildfires, North Korea, hacking, etc. — and it seems that Equifax is fading from coverage.

I am sure that company is pleased about that. Can you keep the spotlight on what it is doing to address the massive security breach? When will letters be sent to those whose personal information was hacked? Don’t let Equifax fade from scrutiny. T.A.

Dear T.A.: Everyone wants you to pay less attention to the possibility of nuclear war and concentrate on the possible destruction of your credit score.

Is that good enough?

I think this country is on information overload. When you worry about too many things at one time, you worry about nothing.

Dear John: Thanks for your recent article on problems with the Census Bureau data.

What is so wildly frustrating on employment data is that the Labor Department or the Federal Reserve could go to this little outfit down the street called the IRS and get the exact correct data in near real time.

Sadly, that would put a lot of seasonal adjusting economists out of work. R.L.M.

Dear R.L.M.: What about me?! Not only would those economists be put out of business, but I’d have a hard time filling my column if the government did the sensible thing and went to the IRS for raw data.

So let’s not go too crazy on simplifying the system.

redacted from NY POST

A Whole Lhota Excuses About High MTA Construction Costs

StreetsBlog

New York City’s sky-high subway construction costs are finally getting some much-needed attention from elected officials. But with pressure mounting to reform MTA capital construction practices and bring costs down, the agency is falling back on familiar excuses.

Leading the call for reform are City Council members Ydanis Rodriguez and Helen Rosenthal, who have pressed for a commission to investigate the causes of MTA construction costs that routinely outstrip comparable costs in peer cities by multiples. In response, MTA Chair Joe Lhota sent a letter earlier this month to Rodriguez and Rosenthal detailing some explanations and reassuring them that the agency is already working on reducing costs.

Is Lhota’s response adequate? In short, no — his explanations and proposed solutions both fall flat.

The fundamental issue at stake is that building subways in New York is several times costlier than in the rest of the world. The Second Avenue Subway and the 7 line extension to Hudson Yards cost around $1.5 billion per kilometer, and the LIRR’s East Side Access project (still in progress) is even costlier, about $4-5 billion. Meanwhile, the most expensive subway tunnel outside New York, London’s Crossrail, costs about $1 billion per kilometer, and the normal European range is $100-300 million. New York has a lot of explaining to do, and Lhota’s analysis doesn’t pass the smell test.

The biggest pushback I receive whenever I talk about New York’s high construction costs is always, “New York is special.” Much of Lhota’s response falls into that trap as well.

He talks about “fragile older buildings,” “aging and historic buildings,” and “the relative age of New York City’s utilities.” This does not explain why it costs more to dig in New York, on the Upper East Side, which was developed in the late 19th century, than in central London and Paris, in areas that urbanized in the late Middle Ages. It does not explain why the Second Avenue Subway costs 10 times as much as an under-construction line in Athens that brushes up against city walls built in antiquity.

Some of Lhota’s other explanations fall into the same “New York is special” category, on different dimensions: size and density. Lhota says that “high ridership imposes additional expense” because “our new stations need to be bigger.” But recently-built stations in Tokyo and London are bigger, and ones in Paris are almost as big. He says that New York has a high cost of land acquisition because its density is so high, but central London is more expensive than the Upper East Side could ever be.

Lhota does touch upon real issues confronting the MTA, but these are only partial explanations. He mentions, for instance, that 24/7 subway operations complicate track maintenance. This is indeed a cost driver that the city needs to find ways around. But it doesn’t explain the high cost of new subway lines, which are not built on active track.

For new tunnels, Lhota does offer one plausible factor: that the MTA needed to take particular care to avoid construction impact on Second Avenue by excavating the stations out of narrow holes. This is different than most subway construction today, which involves boring tunnels for the tracks while digging the stations out in the open (“cut-and-cover”).

To avoid street disruption, the Second Avenue Subway’s stations took much longer to build than if the MTA had used cut-and-cover. It’s a dubious tradeoff: while only about half the width of Second Avenue was taken at station sites, the disruptions lasted a lot longer than they would have otherwise. In the future, to reduce costs the MTA should use cut-and-cover to build stations.

But Lhota is not proposing cut-and-cover or other specific ways to save money. Instead, he is proposing more nebulous solutions. Some look like they could be useful, such as better investigation of underground utilities to reduce geotechnical surprises and curb cost overruns. But they don’t add up to making New York subway construction costs on par with Paris or any other European or Japanese city.

One of Lhota’s ideas might actually be counterproductive: “maximum use of ‘design-build’” procurement. While design-build has been credited with preventing overruns on projects like the Tappan Zee replacement bridge, the jury is still out.

The lowest tunneling costs in the world are in Spain. Madrid built subways around the turn of the millennium for $60 million per kilometer, and Madrid Metro’s then-CEO, Manuel Melis Maynar, wrote about how cities can maximize efficiency. He warned against design-build, arguing that contractors who were not involved in design would be more flexible and more willing to make small changes, which are inevitably necessary.

Unfortunately, the takeaway from Lhota’s letter is that MTA still seems indifferent to solving its capital cost problem. It is not plausible that the MTA is already doing everything it can to build efficiently — if that were the case, we would be seeing evidence of progress in the form of lower costs. While Lhota makes a handful of good points, they are buried beneath chaff that suggests the MTA’s leadership isn’t really interested in learning from the world’s best practices.