We the People: The MTA money pit

While Mayor de Blasio and Governor Cuomo continue to feud, the infrastructure vital to the city’s health is going down the tubes … literally. The MTA plans to shut the Canarsie subway tunnel for 18 months which will cut off Williamsburg and Greenpoint from the rest of New York City. The R train never has enough trains running at rush hour, and our tunnels and stations are poorly maintained.

Does the MTA need a budget bigger than the City of New York just to keep the trains running? Subway and rail fares go up all the time but it is in a converse relationship to the quality of service delivered. The faceless MTA is a quasi-governmental public authority that is too abstract to be relevant, accountable or efficient.

More than 25 percent of the 76,445 MTA employees earned over $100,000 a year in 2015 and the average annual salary was up a comfortable 10 percent to $80,780 for them while average wages for American workers stagnated. The 21,352 in the “$100K” club are not all “fat cats.” Many are laborers and maintenance workers, and some are bus drivers.

Why the generosity? A recent report pointed to the ineptitude of MTA labor negotiators who hand out substantial raises with mandatory overtime provisions based on arcane work rules that give TWU and LIRR union workers salaries that outpace inflation, with the average LIRR salary of $106,103 rising 27 percent from 2013.

The MTA paid out “$849 million in overtime beyond a $4.78 billion payroll in 2015,” that didn’t include $2.8 billion a year for health and retirement benefit expenses. If Bernie Sanders is serious about ending income inequality, all he has to do is get more Americans to work for the MTA.

The reason for the generosity to the “little guy” is the fact that MTA contracts granted, bonds issued and sweet management positions created keep the members of the one percent connected to the MTA happy and the regular workers still have plenty to be happy about, too. Governor Cuomo must clean house at the MTA or take more drastic action.

Customers have been slammed with five fare hikes in the last eight years and the agency spends money freely. It predicts a $15 billion shortfall in its capital spending plan which is separate from its operating budget. The MTA collects $7 billion a year in fares from six million riders that covers less than 50 percent of its $14.6 billion operating budget.

The MTA also pays about $2.2 billion a year in interest on debt. Mayor de Blasio should kick more New York City money into this vital public transportation system instead of increasing the number of agencies and commissioners daily.

We need safe, clean and reliable public transportation which is reasonably financed and kept on a fiscally healthy path. With the ocean of red ink MTA management generates, a reasonable person might think that the MTA would have a prudent plan to try and do more with less, especially in its capital programs.

The MTA borrowed $34.1 billion to pay for its capital spending budget from 2004 to 2009 and announced it will need $32 billion for its next one from 2015 to 2019. Meanwhile, this same authority moved its headquarters to 2 Broadway in congested downtown Manhattan at a cost of millions and hired contractors who stole tens of millions in ridiculous overcharges that the authority’s “watchdogs” never picked up until too late. Why does the MTA pay the salary of an inspector general or management when the authority itself is too big and too complicated to know what it is doing.

The MTA is croaking about connecting its Fulton Center subway hub with its Port Authority “Oculus” station by a 350-foot underground passageway that cost $200 million or over $500,000 dollars a foot! This waste of precious revenue should have been spent on essential maintenance and not merely connecting two multi-billion dollar MTA boondoggles.

The money could have been spent on our 467 dirty and malodorous subway stations. Without aggressive action by the governor, there will be no efficient management of our vital subway and commuter transit systems. If the MTA itself is truly broken and cannot be managed, then it’s time to break it up and start over before it’s too late.

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