Members of the New York City Council held a Metropolitan Transit Authority oversight hearing at City Hall to talk to MTA representatives about money, the allocation of said money and future projects.
Led by New York City Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, the panel spent hours questioning MTA Managing Director Ronnie Hakim along with two other MTA representatives (Doug Johnson and Tim Mulligan) about their operation and Chairman Joe Lhota’s call for an additional $400 million city funds directed to the agency.
“While less a concern for us, this is part of the reality subway riders face every day,” said Rodriguez during the hearing discussing his post-subway listening tour remarks. “Except for them the consequences are real: missed appointments, punishments at school or work, getting there late to pick up the kids and more. Riders rely on the subways to get where they need to go on time, and over the past few months, the subways have been failing them.”
Rodriguez mentioned that delays have increased from 28,000 per month in 2012 to more than 70,000 this year. On-time performance of trains (which measures how often trains arrive within five minutes of schedule) has dropped from over 85 percent in 2011 to just under 67 percent in 2016.
While Hakim and two representatives for the MTA were on hand to testify and take questions, Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito noted that she found it “disrespectful” that Lhota didn’t attend the hearing. She then verbally launched into the MTA reps, questioning why they were asking for more money from the city.
“I understand that the MTA is the creature of the state and therefore you respond to the governor, but to make it seem that the governor is so magnanimous and that this city is rejecting its responsibility…I’m not gonna accept that,” said Mark-Viverito.
MTA reps also disputed the claims made by both Viverito and Public Advocate Letitia James that most of the state tax money they receive comes from downstate.
“From New York State in the 2017 budget: 4.9 billion versus New York City: 1.9 billion….,” said Johnson.
“Do most of those [state] taxes come from New York City residents?” asked Mark-Viverito.
“…from New York City and other counties in New York State,” said Johnson.
“But does the majority of that come from New York City residents?” asked Mark-Viverito again. The MTA rep continued to state that most of the funding comes from the state without acknowledging that city residents pay both city and state taxes.
James called for “no more sweeps, no more diversions, no more exclusions” regarding MTA funds and asked for a “lock box” for money they receive.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration officials have claimed that the state has diverted approximately $456 million from the MTA to fund other projects. Officials recently claimed that between 2011 and 2015, the state government took $391.5 million from the MTA’s operating assistance account.
MTA officials have called for an $836 million investment in operating and capital support for a distressed subway system, but New York City Independent Budget Office Director George Sweeting’s testimony mentioned that the MTA is notorious for its spending patterns with capital plans. According to Sweeting, an IBO analysis of the MTA five-year capital plans from the past two decades showed that the actual work from those plans was performed when the plan’s period ended.
“For example, IBO found that by the end of 2014, the last year of the MTA’s most recently completed capital plan period, the authority had signed contracts to spend only $16 billion of the $22 billion in the 2010-2014 capital program—leaving more than a quarter of the funding uncommitted at the end of the plan period (excluding Hurricane Sandy projects),” said Sweeting. “The actual expenditure of funds, which follows commitments, takes even longer; only 37 percent of funds for the 2010-2014 plan were spent by the end of the plan period.”
Johnson told the panel that most of that cash was given to the MTA for capital projects resulting in a $165 million net loss since 2011.
But even among the many issues the city, the state and the MTA face together, one person in attendance (while sitting in a wheelchair) interrupted the hearing to ask why didn’t anyone on the panel mention access to the subway for disabled people.
“All these plans are meaningless if you can’t get on the trains,” she said.