More is not always merrier: MTA struggles to keep influx of commuters satisfied

While the five boroughs have seen the highest subway ridership since the 1940s in the past year, New Yorkers are certainly minding the gap and the Metropolitan Transit Authority’s (MTA) shortcomings when it comes to service issues, overcrowding and potential fare hikes due to the Capital Program’s $15 billion deficit.

According to the numbers released by the MTA on Monday, April 20, some 5.6 million customers rode the subway on an average weekday and six million customers on an average weekend in 2014. Brooklynites were the most heavily reliant with 31,000 daily riders on weekdays. Overall ridership throughout the city increased 2.6 percent to 1.8 billion customers, the highest annual ridership in more than 65 years.

“People are taking the subway at levels we haven’t seen for generations,” said John Raskin, executive director of the Riders Alliance, a grassroots organization of subway and bus riders. “Our elected officials should be falling over each other to invest in better subway and bus service, to serve the eight million people who take the subway and bus every day.  Instead, there’s a debate about whether to invest even the basic funds required to prevent the subways from deteriorating further.”

The Tri-State Transportation Campaign (TSTC), a non-profit organization working towards more efficient mass-transit in the tristate area, agrees and fears that the ridership numbers could be worrisome if transit investments are neglected.

“The New York City subway system is one of the region’s most valuable assets, but with the delays and crowds that characterize the commutes of millions of daily riders, it is easy to underappreciate,” said TSTC Executive Director Veronica Vanterpool, calling the increase in ridership “a significant milestone celebrating the progress and popularity of the system over the decades, but potentially a harbinger of bad news if more investment is not made in the system.”

Riders agree. Brooklynite Gerard Sullivan, Jr. says that it’s the norm to stay weary of what the MTA tells commuters. “We go through it every day,” said Sullivan. “It’s become standard to go against everything the MTA tells us. It’s bad enough the fare keeps increasing. Who wants to watch someone miss their ride to work?”

CEO and Chairperson of the MTA Thomas Prendergast said that the corporation is “aggressively working to combat delays and improve maintenance.

“The renaissance of the New York City subway is a miracle for those who remember the decrepit system of the 1970s and the 1980s, but moving more than six million customers a day means even minor disruptions now can create major delays,” he said. “The ultimate solution requires investing in infrastructure upgrades such as Communications-Based Train Control signaling systems to accommodate every one of our growing number of customers.”

The proposed $32 billion 2015-2019 Capital Program, released in September, 2014, includes investments to “protect the safety and reliability of transit service, improve service quality and the customer experience, and expand the MTA network with new lines and connections,” according to the MTA.

The corporation says it hopes to bridge the $15.2 billion funding gap with more than $6 billion in federal funding, $6 billion in bonding, and $3 billion in funding from MTA sources.

“The MTA network is a $1 trillion asset,” said Prendergast. “It needs constant investment so it can serve everyone who relies on it now and can grow to serve more people in the future.”

In addition, Mayor Bill de Blasio has included specific plans and goals for the city’s transportation system in his One NYC initiative, a comprehensive plan that calls for a “sustainable and resilient city for all New Yorkers that addresses the profound social, economic, and environmental challenges ahead,” according to the Mayor’s office.

Part of the plan will focus on improving and expanding existing mass-transit services, developing a regional strategy, and promoting alternative transportation through full support of the MTA’s Capital Program.

“We at the Council Transportation Committee are incredibly excited that Mayor de Blasio has joined our call for a more efficient transit network,” said Councilmember Ydanis Rodriguez. “With a joint effort from the Council and the administration, we will achieve these ambitious goals and ensure that the MTA capital plan attains the funding it needs and our transit network is improved and expanded to the communities hungry for resources.”

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