Fund the Gap: The MTA needs a fully funded 5 year capital plan

As anyone who rides public transportation around New York City knows, it's not getting less crowed and more on time. The MTA capital budget covers upgrades to stations, signals and track work, resilience measures for the next big storms, and new subway and bus lines and service expansion to reduce some of the crowding from record ridership that just keeps growing. Unfortunately for all riders, the MTA capital budget is missing almost 50% of the funding necessary to do all these things for the next 5 years. That's a BIG gap (to the tune of $14-19 billion, depending on whose calculations you use) and a big problem (see some Dickensian infographics of what happens without adequate investment from the Why the MTA Capital Program matters report).

The MoveNY coalition (that NRDC is a member of) has a plan to raise significant annual revenues (more than $1 billion) that could fill the gap. Watch the great video explainer:

We need a fully funded 5 year capital plan for the MTA. Our extraordinary public transit system is vital and increasingly central to NYC's prosperity; the region can't afford not to invest in its transportation system.

  • 1 in 3 transit rides in the entire U.S. are on the MTA network (MTA ridership is as big as the next 16 largest U.S. systems combined).
  • Because of our incredible public transportation system NYC's GHG emissions per capita from transportation are the lowest of the 100 largest metro regions in the country (MTA Sustainability report Greening Mass Transit & Metro Regions, p. 8.)
  • To meet the critical goal of reducing GHG emissions in NYC 80% by 2050, we'll need to cut emissions from transportation by 7 million metric tons of CO2e. (One New York: The Plan for a Strong and Just City, p. 167.)

Just think of the huge societal benefits created by the more than 2.7 million daily riders of transportation that don't use the same roadways as cars and trucks; if they were all in cars, no one could get anywhere. We need everyone to work together to make sure there's a real plan to pay for the whole system for the next five years.

While the MoveNY plan has garnered extensive support, there's still pushback from people who don't want to pay for something they currently get for free, no surprise there. But when you look at the numbers, 85% of people who travel into Manhattan (below 60th street) already pay through subway, commuter rail and bus fares, and existing tolls on bridges and tunnels. Only 15% of people are getting a free ride, and to do so they cause safety and air quality problems as they "fare shop".

MoveNY is a strong and viable proposal for how to provide the capital funding critical to keep NYC moving. (Of course most funding plans face substantial opposition; the only other sufficient, but politically impossible, funding source would be raising the state's gas tax and/or implementing a vehicle miles traveled fee, see the Citizen's Budget Commission report for all the numbers).

Last week New York City and the MTA were playing pass the capital budget buck. Mayor de Blasio proposed increasing the City's contribution to the MTA (to $125 million a year, plus a grant, from $100 million last year), which is what the MTA had asked NYC for last fall, but then the MTA, having gotten no traction from it's strong language on the capital budget gap (and the MTA CFO's mention that fares would go up 15% if the gap gets funded entirely through new debt) now wants more funding from NYC, to the tune of $1 billion a year. It's time to stop passing the buck and discuss a real plan for keeping NY moving.

About the Authors

Rich Schrader

Political Director, New York program

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