In August, Mayor Bloomberg released his crowd-pleasing plan to "reform mass transit" as part of his third-term election push. The plan is full of good ideas that just about every New Yorker can support. Things like express train service to Coney Island, free cross-town buses, and countdown clocks in the subway would improve the commutes of millions of daily transit riders.
The only problem? The Mayor doesn't control any of that.
What the Mayor does control is the city's capital budget. The capital budget is huge--$60 billion dollars over ten years. It includes a wide range of different city capital needs, like school construction and rehabilitation, expansion and repair of the sewer and water systems, and housing preservation and development. It also includes money for mass transit, but not nearly enough.
The Mayor's capital budget allocates a measly $60 million a year toward mass transit. This equals about one percent of the MTA's capital budget, which is much less than the city has allocated to the MTA in the past. Historically, the city's contributions equaled about ten percent of the MTA's capital budget.
The MTA has said that it needs about $100 million every year from the city to support the transit system's program of rehabilitation and expansion. Why is the Mayor shortchanging the city's mass transit system? If the Mayor is keen to improve mass transit in New York City, he should begin by making a larger commitment from the city's huge capital budget.
From 2005-2009, the city was contributing much more to the MTA. But that money went towards the #7 line extension, a project that will be a huge boon for real estate developer Related Companies. The #7 line will be extended to the Hudson Yards on Manhattan's far west side, where Related Companies has plans to build office and condo towers. (This is the same Related Companies that refuses to pay living wages at the Kingsbridge Armory redevelopment in the Bronx). Meanwhile, communities in the outer boroughs continue to deal with rapid population increases and inadequate levels of service.
I've argued before that Albany and the federal government need to step up to the plate to fund long-term investments in the city's mass transit system. For New York City to meet its full potential, we need to expand and improve our current levels of mass transit service. The federal government has prioritized highway and road projects over transit projects, and the Mayor, as well as the state's Congressional delegation, need to lobby Congress for a more significant contribution to New York City's mass transit system. After all, New York is the center of the largest metropolitan economy in the country and mass transit is the backbone of that economy. But the Mayor also needs to get his priorities in order. The city will be devoting $8.9 billion to roads and bridges over the next ten years, but less than one-tenth that amount to transit. In a city where most people don't drive, these priorities seem out of whack.
We need a larger commitment from all levels of government for mass transit in New York City. There is only so much Mayor Bloomberg can do about Albany and DC. The city's capital budget, however, is under his direct control.