Curbed, June 2018

As questions over subway fixes loom, lawmakers demand funding

It’s been one year since Governor Cuomo declared a state of emergency on the subway

One week after a ceiling collapse in the Borough Hall subway station left one commuter with a concussion, and a year after Governor Andrew Cuomo declared a state of emergency for the NYC subway, elected officials and transit advocates gathered near Brooklyn Borough Hall on Thursday morning to connect the collapse to a lack of investment in the system and demand some kind of dedicated funding stream for the MTA.

“It’s not an act of God, what happened last week,” said Jaqi Cohen, the campaign coordinator for the Straphangers Campaign. “It’s a clear reality to all New Yorkers that it was a consequence of years of underinvestment and diverted funds from the MTA that led to this.”

The literal and figurative collapse of the subway system was compared to “taxation without representation” by Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, who said that “you can’t continue to tax New Yorkers and not hear from New Yorkers on how we’ll get the system to work.”

“There is no more important infrastructure project and no more important way we can spend our state dollars than revitalizing the MTA,” Assembly Member Bobby Carroll told reporters at a press conference near the Borough Hall station entrance on Joralemon Street. Without a dedicated funding source for the transit agency, Carroll said it will “look small and insignificant that a ceiling fell down in a subway station, because entire lines won’t be able to run.”

While the MTA has since said that there’s $43 million in the capital plan to fix the Borough Hall station, the governor’s previous efforts at station improvements were panned by Cohen. “Ultimately what commuters want is not a place to charge their phone or free Wi-Fi; it’s the guarantee that their train will arrive on time and their commute will be safe,” she said.

Of course, how the system would get fixed is the question that’s hung over the debate around the subway since the governor introduced a panel that backed congestion pricing and then failed to add the toll to the state budget. Carroll staunchly backed the idea of congestion pricing, calling it “the most progressive” idea on the table for funding the subway, but Assembly Member Jo Anne Simon sad that since there isn’t unanimous agreement among city representatives locally and in Albany on congestion pricing (Mayor de Blasio for instance has called it “regressive”), she’d be open to other ideas for funding the MTA.

There’s also the question of how much the improvements would actually cost. State senator Brian Kavanagh said the trio of state representatives at the press conference “have 200 other colleagues in the legislature” that need to be convinced of the importance of repairing the subway, and suggested the lack of a clear price tag from the MTA hurts the effort.

“The MTA has put forth proposals and a fairly detailed review of the capital needs without any indication of how we would fund that,” Kavanaugh said. “We were told some of the numbers on how much [Fast Forward] would cost were deleted.”

Due to the lack of a price tag and the upcoming election, Carroll suggested putting the issue in front of voters this fall before they actually go the polls. “The Corporation Committee in the Assembly and the Transportation Committee in the Senate should hold a joint hearing with the MTA to have them put on the table how much this plan costs, so in January we can pass this and not get mired in the budget and have horse trading that winds up hurting commuters,” he said.

Hearing or no hearing, Tri-State Transportation Campaign executive director Nick Sifuentes predicted legislators who didn’t act to fund a subway fix were doing so at their own risk.

“Millions of New Yorkers are going to become single issue voters who care about one thing: that we can get to our jobs and get home at the end of the evening, get to doctor’s appointments, to school, and to job interviews,” he said.