The NYC Transit Mess

When Governor Cuomo and the state legislature passed last year’s budget, they formed a committee to address the growing crisis in the NYC metro area transportation systems. That committee was chaired by my longtime friend Kathy Wylde, who runs and has run the NYC Partnership for many years. Anyone who knows Kathy knows she is all business and does not mince words. The world could use more people like Kathy, particularly in public service.

The committee released their report this week and you can read it here. The NY Times also covered the release of the report here.

The bottom line is that the MTA which controls much of the transit and tunnel and bridge infrastructure for the NYC metro area transit system needs between $45bn and $60bn over the 2020-2024 five year capital planning window. That compares to $33bn over the prior five year period from 2015-2019.

How does the city and state and region come with up to $60bn? Well, one of the ideas is to implement congestion pricing in the “central business district” in Manhattan. That is an idea that has been proposed a number of times over the years, most notably by Mayor Bloomberg during his tenure. It is a good idea and long overdue. A dense urban environment should have excellent mass transit and incentives to use it and should have disincentives to drive cars. Taxing cars in Manhattan and using the revenues to maintain and improve our subways seems like an obvious thing to do.

Congestion pricing in the central business district in Manhattan should produce upwards of $1bn a year in new revenues. If a surcharge was applied to “for hire vehicles” (taxis, Uber, Lyft, etc) in the same central business district, another $400mm a year could be generated.

If you bonded the $1bn, that could produce $15bn. If you bonded the for hire vehicle surcharge, that could produce another $9bn. Those are big numbers and would go a long way to funding the 2020-2024 capital plans.

But as Bliss McCrum, who taught me much about venture capital and recently passed away, would say “don’t put good money after bad without first making some changes.”

And the changes Bliss was talking about was the team, the operating model, and the strategy.

So the other recommendations from the committee should be taken seriously before fully funding the 2020-2024 plan. Breaking up the MTA is at the top of the list. It is a monstrous bureaucracy which is wasteful and badly mismanaged. If it were a privately held company, it would have been bankrupt and reorganized long ago. We should treat it as bankrupt and reorganize it now.

There is very little that can’t be fixed by good management, a business minded operating model, and a responsible investment plan. Unfortunately government is not rich with any of those. But our transportation systems should be and those in government can and should make that a priority. Nothing less than the future of our city is at stake.