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Commentary By Nicole Gelinas

De Blasio Is Right to Say No to an MTA Bailout

Cities, Cities Infrastructure & Transportation, New York City

Gov. Cuomo recently said that the subway was getting better, “if you were looking very carefully.” It’s too early to declare victory yet. But even if things are getting better, that’s not a reason for Mayor de Blasio to surrender to the ​state-run MTA’s bizarre demand to pay more for the privilege of basic service.

“Even as the MTA struggles to fix itself, it still wants more money from the city.”

First, the good news: The MTA, under chairman of three months Joe Lhota, has finally devised a relevant way to alert riders of delays. Previously, the MTA reported whether a train was late across its entire run. But that doesn’t matter much to you unless you run a railyard.

Effective last week, the MTA now reports how long a person has to wait at any platform, and how long he spends on a particular train. If your train was supposed come at 9 a.m. at Smith and 9th Street, and it didn’t come until 9:08, and the train doesn’t make up for the delay along the way, that’s an extra eight minutes in “journey time.”

The MTA will also report on whether it has provided its intended service. If the MTA was supposed to send out 27 trains on the L line and only sent 24, it will report the shortfall.

That’s good, and give Lhota credit for delivering on a promise he made when first appointed.

But the new data don’t show compelling evidence that the MTA has turned itself around.

This July, passengers endured 54 “major disruptions” — that is, crises that impacted at least 50 trains. Last July, the number was 68. That’s good, too, but it also depends what line you’re on: People on the most crowded 4 and 5 trains saw an extra “major disruption” this July, and people on the F saw no improvement.

As for the train that never came: Last July, the MTA provided 95.6 percent of scheduled trains. This July, it provided 94.9 percent. That means your train is a little more crowded. And it also varied by line: The 4 and 5 trains saw a big slip, and the F was unchanged.

“It’s too bad the MTA scrimped on maintenance for so long and now has to hire 2,700 new workers in a hurry — and can’t find the money to do it.”

Even as the MTA struggles to fix itself, it still wants more money from the city. Remember, back in July, Lhota proposed an emergency plan to improve track, signal and train maintenance, and to clean up trash more quickly to avoid fires.

He said this, plus equipment investments, would cost $836 million, and wanted the city to pay half. De Blasio said no.

At the MTA’s board meeting last week, Lhota hinted that if the city doesn’t come through, he’ll scale back the plan. That’s absurd.

If the MTA were asking the city for money for strategic investments, like a new train line, that would be one thing. But it’s asking the city for money just to do its basic job: run trains sort of on time most of the time.

The MTA already gets billions from the city every year. In addition to fares, it takes in $5.5 billion in taxes, the vast majority of which are from Gotham.

Yes, it’s too bad the MTA scrimped on maintenance for so long and now has to hire 2,700 new workers in a hurry — and can’t find the money to do it. But that’s the MTA’s fault, not the city’s. Cuomo shouldn’t have needed de Blasio peering over his shoulder to know the MTA should take 15 minutes to respond to a broken signal, not 45.

Plus, as MTA officials revealed, these new workers will be permanent union staffers. So if de Blasio ponies up now, the MTA will be back asking for more next year.

The mayor is right not to give in to a cash call that could be repeated whenever the MTA finds itself in trouble. ​For now, Lhota can cut costs elsewhere, as several board members suggested last week. If that doesn’t work, the state legislature — not the city — will have to devise a bailout, as it did back in 2009.

The city should put more of its record surplus money aside for the MTA. But that should be for long-term investments, like faster modernization of signal systems and a faster rollout of the full Second Avenue Subway.

The city is already making $2.5 billion in such investments over five years. If the MTA proves it can do this work more efficiently, the city could do more, too.

But asking the city for more money now is like taking your $2.75 for a subway ride — and then barring you from getting off until you pay an extra $1.

This piece originally appeared in the New York Post


Nicole Gelinas is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and contributing editor at City Journal. Follow her on Twitter here.

This piece originally appeared in New York Post