Guest Op-Ed: A 21st Century Transit System Requires Bold Leadership, New Ideas

In 2012, I stood on the Assembly floor and warned my colleagues that raising the MTA’s debt limit by $7 billion to $37 billion was unsustainable and would lead to toll and fare hikes and service cuts.

Then again, in 2016, when the governor and legislature voted to allow the MTA to kick the can down the road further and issue up to $55 billion in debt, enabling this one agency to take on more debt than the entire state of New York, I said this move “strikes a fatal blow” to efforts to bring fiscal accountability to the MTA.

The problem with debt is that eventually you have to pay the bill. Now we are dealing with the consequences of allowing this transportation authority to grow too big, borrow too much and spend on megaprojects that were not priorities.

With bus service on the chopping block, unreliable service getting worse due to outdated subway signals, and toll and fare hikes on the horizon, things have gotten desperate.

However, before we collect another penny from fare-payers, we need to work with what we have. This includes putting an end to government’s wasteful spending such as the MTA’s mismanagement of the Long Island East Side Access tunnel, tens of millions of dollars spent on TV ads to promote Governor Cuomo’s failed Start-Up NY program, and corruption like the notorious “Buffalo Billion” that landed the governor’s associates in jail.

We must also demand a lockbox on all state transportation funding dedicated to the MTA to ensure money is not later raided as it has been in the past to fund “pet projects.” I co-sponsored the lockbox bill that passed the legislature twice but was vetoed by the governor in 2013 and the governor refuses to sign this year.

Revenue can also be generated by ending the state’s collection of bond fees from the MTA, allowing the revenue collected through the MTA police to go back to the MTA instead of to municipalities, and by cracking down on fare-beating which cost the MTA $215 million this year and will force the rest of us to make up the shortfall with the proposed fare hikes.

Most importantly, we must rethink our entire transportation network and develop a model that provides the necessary revenue to invest in infrastructure and upgrade our transit system to keep up with population and economic growth without treating everyday commuters like ATMs.

I believe Sam Schwartz’s Move NY plan is the best starting point to develop a system that will reduce traffic congestion on our streets, provide more transit options for commuters and bring toll equity to the region, greatly reducing the Verrazzano Bridge toll burden on the residents of Southwest Brooklyn and Staten Island.

As the state legislature returns to session in January, the future of our transportation system will dominate much of the conversation, as it should.

I plan to bring representatives from Move New York to Bay Ridge to present their plan and have an open dialogue with residents on how, if implemented, it can benefit the neighborhood and improve their quality of commute.

It’s important that commuters are part of the discussion so that whatever solution is ultimately decided on serves the people most affected. New Yorkers have been victimized for too long by misguided policies that don’t take their everyday lives into account.

Assemblymember Nicole Malliotakis represents portions of Bay Ridge and Staten Island.

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