What to Know
New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli released annual report on the financial outlook of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority
The MTA has been slow to reverse the deterioration in service and its financial plan entails considerable risk, the report reveals
The report also found that service performance has fallen and that the hiring of additional maintenance workers lagged
A decline in subway ridership, increasing debt service, a lagging infrastructure plan and not hiring the necessary amount of workers are just some of the challenges highlighted in New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli’s annual report on the financial outlook of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
“Our regional transit system is in crisis. Service has deteriorated on the city’s subways and buses, the Long Island Railroad and Metro-North. Subway ridership has fallen notwithstanding the largest job expansion in New York City’s history,” DiNapoli said in a statement Thursday.
“Despite an infusion of $836 million in state and city funds, there has been little improvement so far in subway service. Riders are leaving the system in frustration and deserve better, especially considering the proposed increase in fares,” he added.
Despite planned fare and toll increases of 4 percent in 2019 and again in 2021, and another round of budget reductions, it will not cover the expected MTA projects operating budget gaps that total $262 million in 2020, $424 million in 2021 and $634 million in 2022.
New York City Transit has proposed a ten-year initiative with a cost of up to $40 billion to modernize the subway system, but the funding is not assured and has not been identified — a financial plan that entails considerable risk, the report reveals.
The MTA is seeking billions from the state and city to help fund its 2020-2024 five-year capital program, which could include the first five years of the subway modernization program. It is also seeking federal funding for extending the Second Avenue Subway, DiNapoli’s office says.
The Subway Action Plan, which is designed to improve subway service, has gotten off to a slow start, DiNapoli said, noting that with three months remaining in the 18-month program, the MTA has committed 58 percent of the $348.5 million in the capital funds made available, but must still commit $117 million for signal upgrades.
Additionally the hiring of more maintenance workers has also lagged. DiNapoli’s analysis notes that when the Subway Action Plan was first proposed in July 2017, the MTA planned to add 2,800 subway maintenance employees by the end of 2019. It now plans to add 1,249.
As of July 2018, the number of subway maintenance workers had increased by 927 employees.
When it comes to the debt accumulated by the MTA, DiNapoli’s analysis paints a grim picture.
The cumulative impact of the 2015-2019 and prior capital programs has placed a heavy burden on the MTA’s operating budget, according to the report, with debt service expecting to reach $3.3 billion by 2022, an increase of 26 percent in four years. But, by 2022, debt service is projected to consume 18.6 percent of total revenue and 36.5 percent of fare and toll revenue, DiNapoli’s analysis reveals.
“The largest risk to the operating budget may be the assumption that the current economic expansion will continue uninterrupted. The MTA also expects subway ridership to resume growing in 2019 after falling for three consecutive years,” the Comptroller’s Office says in a statement.
The analysis determined that subway and bus ridership in 2019 is projected to be 236 million rides lower than the MTA projected three years ago, which could result in $822 million revenue loss from 2016 through 2019.
Additionally, the report found that weekday subway on-time performance fell 87.7 percent in 2010 to 63.4 percent in 2017, according to the report. The LIRR had its worst on-time performance of 91.4 percent in 18 years in 2017, while this year its on-time performance has further deteriorated reaching 89.9 percent in August.
Likewise, Metro-North on-time performance has also fallen, from 97.8 percent in 2009 to 93.4 percent in 2017. Performance worsened in 2018 to 90.9 percent through August 2018.
The annual report also found that neither the LIRR nor Metro-North will meet the deadline to have the safety software of the Positive Train Control operating system-wide by the end of 2018, with both railroads expecting completion by December 2020.
DiNapoli’s office does say, however, that in response to the deterioration in service, “the MTA has begun corrective action plans to improve safety, reliability and service on the subways, buses and commuter railroads. While these efforts have not yet resulted in significant improvements, the MTA hopes riders will see the benefits in the coming months.”
In a statement, MTA Spokesman Jon Weistein says: “We know these issues and the struggles riders are facing well – it’s why the MTA has new leadership, dramatic modernization plans, short-term blueprints for improving service, aggressive cost-containment initiatives and why we’ve been pleading for sustainable, reliable sources of funding. These issue are well documented and it’s exactly why we’re focused on solutions, which is all we’re focused on every minute of every day.”