During a long-ranging investigation, The New York Times interviewed more than 300 people and poured over thousands of documents to sketch out the history of neglect, abuse and mismanagement that fostered the New York City subway's current state of crisis in what's probably the most comprehensive explanation of the woes plaguing the MTA.
Century-old tunnels and track routes are crubling, but the Times found that the MTA’s budget for subway aintenance has barely grown, in inflation adjusted terms, since 1992.
Signal problems and equipment failures are occurring twice as frequently as they did a decade ago – a sign of just how rapidly the transit system is deteriorating.
What’s worse, is that hundreds of mechanic positions have been cut even as the century-old system groaned under the damage caused by Superstorm Sandy. Meanwhile, compensation for managers has ballooned to nearly $300,000 a year.
Daily ridership has doubled in the past decade to 5.7 million people. Yet, New York City is the only city in the world with fewer miles of track than it had during World War II.
Given the unconscionable state of neglect paid to its budget, it should come as no surprise that New York City’s subway system has the worst performance of any major urban transportation system in the world. Only 65% of weekday trains make it to their destination on time.
The Times claims that the deplorable state of the city’s transit system is the result of negligence by both Republican and Democratic politicians, including former Gov. George Pataki, former mayor Rudolph Giuliani, as well as Mayor Bill De Blasio and Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
Over the past two decades, politicians have diverted a whopping $1.5 billion in tax revenue from the MTA to other political priorities. Politicians are also largely responsible for pressing the agency to spend money on opulent station makeovers, like the new Fulton Street station, that do little to improve service. Politicians also locked the MTA into an unfavorable agreement with creditors that secured a needed short-term cash infusion but left it saddled with $5 billion in interest payments.
Perhaps most egregiously, Gov. Cuomo recently forced the MTA to send $5 million to three upstate ski resorts that were struggling with a warm winter.
The MTA has also suffered from high turnover in its senior ranks, as dozens of high-level officials have taken advantage of a lucrative revolving door whereby they leave jobs at the MTA for high-up jobs at contractors that do business with the MTA.
Seemingly at every turn, politicians have failed to act on a series of chances to turn things around. They ignored decades of warnings from state and city comptrollers about MTA funding. They failed to pass a congestion pricing plan in 2008. Thy chose not to give mass transit much of the proceeds from bank settlements after the financial crisis. And they brushed off findings from official commission reports pointing out the system’s defects.
All of this has amounted to a shocking development: The number of subway riders declined slightly last year, even as the population of NYC has continued to expand rapidly.
Problems worsened under Cuomo as the governor tried to micromanage decision making at the agency, a move that only worsened its problems. For example, a few months ago, the MTA cut $500 million from the signal-repair budget to fund other projects that are more important to Cuomo. For context, signal malfunctions are the biggest contributing factor in train delays.
But perhaps the most fundamental flaw in how the MTA is managed is the fact that many of its most high-level decisions are made by a committee of bureaucrats and politicians, the Times reported.
“A camel is a horse designed by committee, and the MTA is a train service run by committee,” a Cuomo spokeswoman said.