No governor with an eye on the White House would possibly let the country’s greatest mass transit network collapse on his watch, right? Well, you must not know Andrew Cuomo, to whom the city-dwelling car driver ranks slightly below an on-time budget and “no new taxes” as things of the most paramount importance. As for the rest of us, however, those forced into aluminum cans in a sweltering heatwave, soon to be idled beneath the East River on account of fictional “train traffic ahead of us,” we could truly go to hell (or the MTA’s steamy approximation of it).
On Monday, the MTA revealed its mitigation efforts for what Cuomo has dubbed a “summer of hell,” as Amtrak begins eight weeks of emergency repairs and closings in the maze of tracks beneath Penn Station. The plans include accommodations for the 9,600 daily Long Island Rail Road commuters that will be impacted by the track closures, including ferry service from the suburbs, longer LIRR cars, and cross-honoring with the subway, but do nothing to help alleviate any of the daily disruptions that plague the soon-to-be even more crowded subways.
Instead, Cuomo’s MTA insists, you can try to get your boss to change your work schedule. Or, better yet, the governor announced, you can drive into Manhattan.
In an order released by the governor to seemingly complement the Penn Station mitigation efforts, Cuomo instructed the MTA to finish all major bridge and tunnel projects before the beginning of the Penn shutdowns to better accommodate drivers who may be inconvenienced by the loss of mass transit service. Trucks would even be getting a discount on tolls that subway and train riders would not. The replies to Cuomo’s announcement, at least on Twitter, were pointed.
fix the subway, idiot
— matt lubchansky (@Lubchansky) June 12, 2017
FIX THE SUBWAY. pic.twitter.com/VheXNUdq8A
— AGGRO HYGGE 2019 (@7nanigans) June 12, 2017
Controlling the MTA, which has responsibility over the majority of New York City’s bridges and tunnels as well as its subways, has given Cuomo an opportunity to shower drivers with love. Since taking office in 2011, Cuomo has consistently steered money intended for the subways toward road projects instead, favoring the 28 percent of New York City commuters who use a car or truck to get to work over the 55 percent of commuters who use the subway. Besides the millions he has poured into upstate road projects to preserve some sort of “parity” between upstate and downstate transit (which, based solely on population distribution, should not be considered even), Cuomo directly took money from the subways, trains, and buses of the MTA to pay for these new $500 million tollbooth setups, which he has now diligently instructed the MTA to speed up work on (at what cost, one may ask).
As Stephen Miller reported for the Voice back in December, revenue that would have normally gone from the tolls to help pay for the upkeep of the subways was directed toward Cuomo’s cashless tolling plazas, as was $11.3 million in new spending for a blue-and-yellow tiling pattern at the entrance to tunnels, reflecting a color scheme favored by Cuomo.
The MTA’s tolls are supposed to help fund the city’s mass transit by charging fees to those who absolutely have to drive into the city, which has been a congestion nightmare for much of the past century. Cuomo, however, believes those tolls should be used to make drivers’ lives easier, which has caused much of the problem for how funding has been allocated under his governorship. As the Independent Budget Office points out in a report issued this morning, the share of capital money being spent on signal modernization and repairs has fallen by 6 percent over the past three capital plans (the last two of which were Cuomo’s), even as the system’s 100-year-old signals have been singled out as the root cause of the system’s deterioration. As MTA workers have noted, repairs and modernizations on those signals have stalled out as the MTA tries to spread the work among a small cluster of workers, instead of hiring more.
Perhaps even more sinister than those cuts, Cuomo believes that New York City still isn’t paying its fair share for the cost of the subway system, or not enough to merit him spending any more money on additional fixes. In response to Mayor Bill de Blasio’s empty threat last week that he’d do something to help fix the subways (unfortunately, he cannot), the governor’s spokeswoman reiterated Cuomo’s belief that New York City isn’t paying enough to fund the system.
“The best way the mayor could help is by paying his fair share of capital and operating expenses — that would directly improve service for riders,” Cuomo spokeswoman Dani Lever told the Daily News.
So not only is Cuomo admitting here that service isn’t being improved because of a lack of funding (funding that, let’s remember, he constantly cuts), but he’s claiming that New Yorkers aren’t paying their “fair share.” That’s simply not true. New Yorkers pay for half of the MTA’s budget through MetroCard swipes alone, and the city kicks in another $4.8 billion in indirect fees like taxes, meaning that 68 percent of the MTA’s entire operating budget comes from the city itself.
What that money is being spent on should no longer be a mystery to any New Yorkers, who are currently experiencing yet another morning of transit madness. Your money, your MetroCard swipe, went to pay to make drivers’ lives easier, and there’s only one person to blame: Governor Andrew Cuomo. He might have termed this a “summer of hell,” but have no faith that the situation on the subways will subside come cooler temperatures. Hell is now year-round.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on June 13, 2017