Subway Train at Wall Street Station


State Comptroller: MTA In Financial Crisis, Faces Service Cuts

October 12, 2018 - 7:33 am

NEW YORK (WCBS 880) -- The MTA is facing a huge money crunch and that could mean cuts next year despite a fare hike.

Falling ridership, plus higher borrowing and benefits costs equals a financial crisis for transit, according to a report by State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli.

"Our regional transit system is in crisis. Service has deteriorated on the city's subways and buses, the Long Island Railroad and Metro-North. Subway ridership has fallen notwithstanding the largest job expansion in New York City's history," DiNapoli said in a statement. "Despite an infusion of $836 million in state and city funds, there has been little improvement so far in subway service. Riders are leaving the system in frustration and deserve better, especially considering the proposed increase in fares."

Despite planned fare and toll increases of 4 percent in 2019 and again in 2021, and another round of budget reductions, the MTA projects operating budget gaps that total $262 million in 2020, $424 million in 2021 and $634 million in 2022, DiNapoli said. The MTA is asking the state to authorize new sources of funding to close the gaps, but those resources are not assured.

The three-year decline in subway ridership has had a significant impact on the MTA's operating budget. Subway and bus ridership in 2019 is projected to be 236 million rides lower than the MTA projected three years ago, which could result in a cumulative revenue loss of $822 million from 2016 through 2019.

DiNapoli's report also found:

Subway weekday on-time performance fell from 87.7 percent in 2010 to 63.4 percent in 2017, the lowest since at least 1991. While the weekday average rose slightly to 65.3 percent through August 2018, the weekend average continued to decline because of repair work.

LIRR had its worst on-time performance (91.4 percent) in 18 years in 2017. In 2018, on-time performance has further deteriorated, averaging 89.9 percent through August. Preliminary data for September 2018 shows some improvement, but it was still lower than one year earlier.

While LIRR delays attributed to Amtrak have declined by 51 percent through August, the number attributed to the LIRR itself have increased by 22 percent.

Metro-North on-time performance has also fallen, from 97.8 percent in 2009 to 93.4 percent in 2017. Performance has worsened in 2018 to 90.9 percent through August 2018.

Neither the LIRR nor Metro-North will meet the deadline to have Positive Train Control operating system-wide by the end of 2018, although both have made substantial progress. Both railroads expect completion by December 2020.

Annual subway ridership has declined for two consecutive years and had fallen by 2.8 percent through July 2018. (Weekday ridership fell in 2017 for the first time since 2009 and is expected to drop again this year, the first two-year decline since 1992.) The MTA believes the decline results from poor service, service disruptions from repair work, fare evasion, and increased competition from for-hire vehicles, such as Uber and Lyft.

The average distance that subway cars travel before breaking down was 121,000 miles last year, a small improvement over 2016, but well below the record of 178,000 miles reached in 2005. Almost one-third of the MTA's subway cars are more than 30 years old.

The operating budget cost of East Side Access is estimated at $652 million through 2022 without any offsetting passenger revenue during this period. The cost of operating East Side Access in 2022 ($246 million) accounts for more than one-third of the MTA's budget gap in that year.

The average subway and bus fare has risen 53 percent since 2007, nearly three times faster than the rate of inflation. Fares and tolls are scheduled to rise 4 percent in 2019 and again in 2021.

Debt outstanding is projected to increase by $7 billion between 2017 and 2022 to reach $41.9 billion excluding the impact of the 2020-2024 capital program.

When the Subway Action Plan was first proposed in July 2017, the MTA had planned to add 2,800 subway maintenance workers by the end of 2019, but it now plans to add just 1,249. As of July 2018, the total number of subway maintenance workers had increased by 927 employees.