New York City is home to nearly 8.6 million people. The largest city in the United States. If you have ever been to NYC then maybe you have experience the wonder that is the subway. As a lifetime New Yorker, I can say that the subways are horrendous. Its dirty, slow, frustrating, stressful, and many more colorful words. I’ve only been living in NYC for 3 years, my experience has been that subways are getting worse. I’ve talked to other people who have lived here for longer and say that in the past 4 or 5 years they have seen a dramatic drop-off in subway service. I want to say that I’m no expert in transportation or subway systems. However, the problems with MTA start with the management and go all way down to the actual rails themselves.
In this post, I will offer up a solution to the problems occurring with the subway system. I will also offer a possible solution to the management of the MTA, particularly its budgeting and structure. I don’t have a fancy name for my plan or anything. I’ve also never put into words on a screen or paper. So here goes nothing:
For reference, I will be using the MTA’s own budget calculations. (Click here) These the official numbers of the operational budget. Other than that, I have to assume a few things because its hard to know without a survey of actual repairs how much its going to cost. I want to start with the physical repairs that I would have done.
The replacement of all lines with brand new track:
The most obvious change I would make is the replacement of all current track with a new modern track system. Now I have no idea of the costs or even the type of system best suited. However, I believe that updating the tracks that were technologically superior in the year 1900 is an important step to improvement. I also realize that this is the most costly and ambitious portion of my plan.
The new tracks would eliminate the delays cause by signal failures, derailments, and power losses. It is purely an infrastructure project because it keeps the mechanical malfunctions to a minimum. As for a time frame, my thinking takes into consideration the impact of taking subways off-line, the budget restrictions, and the ability to get it done within the time constraints. There are 25 subway lines. I would take two lines that would cause the least stress on the system if taken offline. Imagine 2 lines go offline, the company or companies putting in the track would have a maximum of 2 years to get the job done. Now I could be wrong about the time frame to get it done however, adjustments can be made. In my theoretical situation, it would be a 13 year project approximately. I’ll be honest, they can take off my 5 line first, no problem with me.
This leads to a problem, of course. The problem being how will the people that get stranded by their subway line being re-done get around? Its not simple but the city recently bought new buses. So those older buses will be pressed into service to replace the subway line. I would have the buses follow the schedule and locations as the subway did. The times would have to be adjusted for travel distance. Its only temporary and its better than nothing.
Budgeting the Repairs:
We have to assume that the repairs and track replacement is going to be very expensive. I want to say its probably going to cost over a billion dollars. However, I think there is some reasonable ways to raise that money without bankrupting: New York State, New York City, Citizens. The MTA had a total operating revenue of 8,608 million dollars in 2016. The MTA had total operating expenses of 9,238 million dollars in 2016. If you do some quick maths that means a deficit of 630 million dollars. Obviously, its going to be impossible to completely fund this ambitious plan without creating more debt. But consider that by 2021, the MTA will have 1,955 million dollars of deficit by 2021. (Page 16) The MTA is already going under. Here are 4 steps to help fix some of problems.
Replacement Funds/Repairs: “Adopt a Subway”
The MTA currently spends 1,618 million dollars on the repairs, maintenance and related supplies. (Page 16) We have to assume that a new track replacement will add double or triple the amount. So we have options. We could raise taxes or steal money from other programs. But I feel that the best solution is a combination of charity and advertisement. Lets begin with advertisement. My idea is that each of the 25 lines of subways would auctioned off for baseline amount. Ideally the total amount would equal the approximate cost of the replacement. Let’s say that for a company OR person to adopt a subway, they have to donate a minimum of 20 million dollars. What do they get for that 20 million? They would get exclusive advertisements in subway cars. Exclusive meaning that no other company would be allow to advertise unless they allow it. They would get naming rights. They would get corporate perks for employees who ride the subway. For example, if let’s say Citi Bank wanted to adopt the 7 line, they might bid 40 million because of other bidders. The 7 line would be re-named The Citi Bank 7 Line.
I said that people could also adopt a subway line. That is called charity because they willingly giving their money for the improvement of society. It would work differently in that advertisements would be sold traditionally by MTA standards. However, that person would have the subway line named after them. It would work the same way in an auction, with a minimum donation. I believe this is the most viable and least intrusive form of raising money to pay for my expensive track replacement.
One last thing to note would be that the company or person would have the option to either re-up each year or opt-out. Now if they opt-out then it would be put up for auction again.
Transition from Public to Half Public/Private MTA
The MTA has been a victim, similar to social security of being stolen from by government. The MTA is a New York State owned, federally funded operation. The Governor has more say than the Mayor of NYC. Which leads to a lot of political infighting, given that both are democrats. One of my solutions involves changing the structure of the MTA. The budget problems will be somewhat alleviated with the continuation of the “adopt a subway” initiative. However, we have to go further. On page 16, the total labor expenses for 2018 was 9,238 million dollars. This means that employees are costing MTA a lot of money. In any business, the employees will be the costliest item. However, we don’t want cut employees just make them more productive.
The MTA has a board of trustees which has a CEO. I would take this board of trustees and make it a non-profit government contractor. The mid level management and lower level employees would remain public. Eventually, the new profits from a more efficient and cost effective subway system would help create a trust that would pay the board. The trust would essentially invest the money to the point where it could maintain itself. Once the trust can payout the salaries and benefits to the board, it would be cut off from the MTA profits.
As for the public employees, I wouldn’t change too much. The only change that might occur would be less need for maintenance because the system won’t need as intense care. This could mean a switch from full time maintenance into temporary. However, heavy use will mean the need for maintenance will still be quite strong.
Depending on the “adopt a subway” success, the fares would stay at the $2.75 mark until significant progress is made. I would say that its fair to increase prices. In my personal view if a train typically takes an hour to get from point A to point B for 2.75, then if that same train took 30 minutes, I would be more than okay with an increase. The fare revenue for 2016 was 6,050 million dollars. I think the first increase would come in about year 7 of the project. Here is a chart of the increases and the revenue gained:
Year: Fare: Increase: Revenue added:
7 4.25 1.50 263,550 million dollars
10 5.00 0.75 131,775 million dollars
13 8.00 3.00 527,100 million dollars
*All figures are in dollars and cents, its a 13 year project*
These figures are based numbers of ridership (1.757 billion) from 2016 and a fare of 2.75 at the base. The fares would increase by an overall of 5.25 dollars. I think this is more than fair given that a new modern track subway would increase efficiency and effectiveness. I think that benefits to businesses would be substantial. The amount of tardiness due to bad transit is ridiculous. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been late due to a subway problem. I’m sure other New Yorkers have similar horror stories.
“Adopt A Station” – Give back to your community!
To piggy back on my previous idea of “adopt a subway”, I would also install the same thing for subway stations. Again if you have ever experienced a subway station, you know its just rats, homeless people and piss. Its horrible. Now stations would relatively cheaper. The money would be split into two purposes, paying the workers who clean and operate the booth. The second portion would go towards the MTA’s overall budget. If a company adopts a station, they would get exclusive advertisement rights, naming rights and some input on renovation design (If work is needed to be done). Of course, this is all optional and some MTA advertising money would be used to push a “give back to your community” twist.
I believe that my 13 year track replacement in combination with my “adopt a subway” and “adopt a station” initiatives would revitalize the MTA and the subway system. It would forever change how the subway is run. I think that separating the management (Board) from the public sector would help because politics gets very messy. I think the increase profits from the investment in the new track could actually make the MTA break even. With some help from companies and generous individuals it might even have surplus. The surplus (if it happens) would be used to improve the train cars, upgrade them.
I think that most New Yorkers are tired of the politics that keep the MTA from doing its job in running an effective and efficient subway system is the driving force behind my idea. You would have to be delusional to not see the problems with the current system. If you like my plan or if you have improvements I could make then feel free to let me know. If enough people get behind it, I would think sharing with the necessary people to start getting into action.
Thanks for reading!
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