OP-ED: Problems with New York MTA Threatened Fare Increases and Major Service Cuts

Oct. 2, 2020
Should service cuts come to fruition, the authority would be required to undertake a complex outreach effort and a possibly more complex asset management process for any idled fleet vehicles.

New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) Chairman Pat Foye continues to use his own doomsday forecasts in attempt to scare commuters, taxpayers and funding agencies. His two most recent threats include, first, up to a 40 percent reduction in New York City Transit bus, subway and Staten Island Railway along with up to a 50 percent cut in Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North Railroad service. The second is fare increases above and beyond the previously scheduled four percent in 2021. This was part of the $51 billion 2020 - 2024 Five Year Capital Plan funding assumptions, Unless the MTA receives $12 billion more in emergency stimulus funding from Washington,D.C., he has threatened that they could become reality.

Any significant service cuts or fare hikes as threatened by the MTA require a public hearing process. As a recipient of Federal Transit Administration (FTA) funding, the MTA has to be in compliance with federal Title IV and other Civil Rights requirements. Service cuts can't have an adverse impact on minority, low income and physically disabled communities. The process would require a series of public hearings in all five boroughs of NYC along with the surrounding MTA service areas that include Nassau, Suffolk, Westchester, Putnam, Rockland and Dutchess counties. It would take the MTA several months from start to finish for conclusion of the process. It would surely be subject to FTA along with other NYC, New York state and other local levels of government review.

If MTA is serious about a major service reductions, it would also have to update its FTA bus, subway and commuter rail fleet management plans. FTA would want to insure that the MTA still has the financial resources to maintain all of these assets, so they reach the intended useful life requirement. This is a legal requirement as part of all grant contracts for federally-funded assets.

If these service cuts were to take place, hundreds and up to several thousand bus, subway and commuter rail cars might no longer be needed for passenger service. New York City Transit has a fleet of 6,400 subway cars. NYC Transit, Manhattan and Bronx Surface Operating Authority and MTA Bus have a combined fleet of 5,710 buses. Long Island Rail Road has a fleet of 1,151 rail cars. Metro North has a fleet of 1,268 rail cars and Staten Island Railway has a fleet of 61 subway style cars. Most of the NYC Transit subway and a significant number of bus and commuter rail fleets have been paid for by FTA grants. Any federally funded fleet equipment no longer needed as a result of major service reductions and has not reached useful life requirements would need FTA permission to be temporarily mothballed in a safe secure location. The useful life clock for this equipment would be frozen. The equipment would still have to be maintained. The useful life clock would start up once the equipment is put back into transit service.

The alternative would be transfer of equipment no longer needed to another transit agency so it remains in transit service. This transaction would require zero dollar FTA grant amendments between the MTA and new transit agency recipient for transfer of the federally-funded equipment in question. Both transit agencies would also have to update the required Semi-Annual Certification where federally-funded equipment worth more than $5,000 must be accounted for, must be maintained and must remain in transit service. This process from start to finish takes several months.

A third alternative, based upon straight line depreciation, is to determine current value of the equipment in question. After this is determined, the MTA would have to pay back the FTA for the federal share of the remaining value. At this point, the MTA would own 100 percent of the vehicles no longer needed for revenue service. The MTA would be free to sell this equipment no longer needed and keep the proceeds.

The MTA Board has a legal and fiduciary responsibility to protect the interests of both commuters and taxpayers. Has Chairman Foye shared any of this information with the MTA Board? Ditto for our local, town, county, city, state and federal elected officials. Has MTA Chairman Foye had any formal discussions with his FTA Region 2 Office in the Customs House (just across the street from his offices at 2 Broadway in downtown Manhattan) or FTA Washington on all these issues to seek federal guidance necessary to resolve these issues before proceeding?


Larry Penner is a transportation advocate, historian and writer who previously worked for the Federal Transit Administration Region 2 New York Office. This included the development, review, approval and oversight for billions in capital projects and programs for the MTA, NYC Transit, Long Island Rail Road, Metro-North Railroad, MTA Bus, NYC DOT, NJ Transit, along with 30 other transit agencies in New York and New Jersey. 

About the Author

Larry Penner

Larry Penner is a transportation advocate, historian and writer who previously served as a former director for the Federal Transit Administration Region 2 New York Office of Operations and Program Management. This included the development, review, approval and oversight for billions in capital projects and programs for New Jersey Transit, New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority, NYC Transit bus, subway and Staten Island Railway, Long Island and Metro North railroads, MTA Bus, NYCDOT Staten Island Ferry along with 30 other transit agencies in New York and New Jersey.