Andy Byford

Marla Diamond/WCBS 880

New Transit Boss Reveals Ambitious And Expensive Plan To Overhaul Subways

May 23, 2018 - 1:59 pm
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NEW YORK (WCBS 880) -- The city's new transit boss is unveiling his big plan to upgrade the city's quickly deteriorating subway signal system.

Andy Byford, president of New York City Transit, revealed the new proposed 10-year plan, called Fast Forward, will speed up changes to the system but would mean more night and weekend station closures. The previous plan to update the signal system was expected to take 50 years.

READ THE PLAN (pdf)

"I believe that New Yorkers want more than just a return to the reliability of yesteryear. The world’s greatest city needs world-class transit and this plan will deliver exactly that," Byford said.

Under the plan, in the first five years a new state-of-the-art signal system would come to Lexington Avenue's 4, 5, and 6 lines and Eighth Avenue's A, C and E lines. There would also be 650 new subway cars, more than 50 new accessible stations, state-of-good repair work at 150 stations, 1,200 cars equipped to work with modern signals, bus route redesigns and 2,800 new buses.

In the following five years,  more subway lines will get on the new signal system, more than 130 additional stations will be made accessible, state-of-good-repair work at more than 150 stations, over 3,000 new subway cars and 2,100 new buses.

The new signal system is called communications-based train control, or CBTC.

“Modern signaling – CBTC – the trains talk to each other. As this train speeds up, this one speeds up,” Byford said, “so you can get up to 20 percent more capacity on a line.”

By the end of the proposed 10-year plan, most everyday riders would be on trains with the modern signaling system.

"It will be hard for customers. Your bus stop might change. Your station might close for a period of time. The line you normally take might not be available on nights and weekends. But the inconvenience now will be much less than the damage done to our communities by a continued long, slow decline in transit," the plan states. "It will also be costly. But it will become much, much more expensive if we wait and fail to address the underlying issues affecting our system."

A price tag has not been revealed. Costing remains "under development."

But as WCBS 880’s Mike Smeltz reported, the New York Daily News reporting it could cost $37 billion overall.

That amount could only be paid for with a new state-approved revenue stream, possibly meaning a congestion pricing plan or a millionaires’ tax.

Mayor Bill de Blasio said Byford’s plan is a step in the right direction, but comes awfully late.

“The fact is a long time ago, the investments could have been made that would have averted the crisis we’re in now. I wish they had been. But no time like the present – so I do think that Mr. Byford’s put together a plan that actually talks about fixing the signals and getting the proper equipment, and downplays the kind of things that was getting way to much attention, like the lights on the bridges and all the stuff I think was extraneous,” de Blasio said.

While Gov. Andrew Cuomo has called congestion pricing “an idea whose time has come,” de Blasio has come out against it – instead supporting a millionaires’ tax to fund subway repairs. He dismissed retorts that such a tax would never pass in Albany, saying Democrats are likely to take over the state Senate and change everything.

“You have to acknowledge the chance – the strong chance of change in Albany. Five retirements of Republican senators in the space of two weeks, for God’s sakes, I mean, this is looking pretty clear right now,” he said. “If you have a different state Senate, that changes the entire balance of power and all the possibilities.”

De Blasio also reemphasized his contention that the ultimate responsibility for the MTA falls with the state and the governor.

“It’s now fully understood that the responsibility for the MTA resides in the State of New York – ultimately the governor. That’s good. That’s good for the future – whoever’s governor. We finally know who to hold responsible, just like, everyone, hold me responsible for our schools,” de Blasio said. “And that’s actually causing some of this change. It’s a good thing.”

Meanwhile, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson said he was pleased with the prospect of a much speedier timeframe for repairs.

“I do think that it is a great thing that Andy Byford believes that we can do it in 10 percent of the time than what was initially projected by the MTA just a few months ago,” he said.

WCBS 880 Johnson asked how much the city should pay toward the MTA repairs, if anything. Johnson he was not sure, but compared it to his past criteria for putting city money into the Emergency Subway Repair Action Plan.

“That openness depended on a variety of things – on a level of accountability; on a lockbox that the money would actually go to subway repairs and not to Metro-North; Long Island Rail Road, East Side access,” he said.

He said he wants to know more before being open to using city money for Byford’s plan.

“If we’re going to put in a significant amount of money, we have to be able to have a conversation about what that actually means. I can’t analyze that yet until I actually sit down with Andy Byford and the MTA,” Johnson said.

Byford has been on the job about 100 days and in that time he said earlier this week that he's come up with a "compelling, bold, imaginative corporate plan" to fix the the system.Byford said the work accomplished under the $800 million Subway Action Plan, which rolled out last summer, was "only the beginning."

Byford's new senior VP of subways Sally Librera acknowledged at committee meetings this week that April was a rough month in terms of performance.

"We had some significant incidents that impacted service, it happened at particularly impactful parts of the system at particularly impactful parts of the day," she said.

Major incidents -- described as ones that disrupt at least 50 trains -- were up 10 percent over a year ago.