New York Governor Andrew Cuomo will allocate an additional $1 billion toward the revitalization of public transit throughout the state, and ease environmental regulations and other red tape, which have hitherto impeded the effort.
Cuomo’s actions come in response to the mounting danger and inefficiency of New York’s public transportation. Only 63% of MTA subways have arrived on time in 2017. That figure represents a considerable drop since 2011 when 85% of subways arrived punctually.
The greater concern is the risk of derailment and other hazardous malfunctions; that risk is exacerbated by the age and disrepair of the subway infrastructure. Earlier this week, 34 people were injured when a train stopped too abruptly, causing two of its cars to derail.
According to Metropolitan Transportation Authority chairman Joe Lhota and interim executive director Ronnie Hakim, “an improperly secured piece of replacement rail that was stored on the tracks” created the issue. Apparently, storing repair materials between tracks is a common practice on railroads across the country.
Allegedly, the mishap was caused entirely by human error and is in no way the result of faulty infrastructure.
However, the incident was sufficient to spur Governor Cuomo to take action to improve the transit system. In addition to supplementing the state’s public transport repair budget, Cuomo issued an executive order proclaiming a state of emergency for the MTA.
“We know the system is decaying, and we know it’s happening rapidly,” Cuomo said.
Under the executive order, the MTA is no longer required to submit environmental impact reports. The order also lifts a number of regulations which hindered the MTA’s ability to promptly hire contractors.
Suspension of such regulations is common practice in states of emergency like winter storms, said Cuomo’s legal counsel.
The order will expire in 30 days but can be continuously renewed as long as the Governor deems the public transit system to be in crisis. Considering the extent of the disrepair that plagues the subways in New York City, the state of emergency could persist for months, or years.
The MTA’s current budget of $32.5 billion, half of which is spent in New York City, is used to repair outdated infrastructure, update computer integration, and replace or restore subway cars. The additional $1 billion accounts for a mere 3% increase in the MTA’s budget. Some wonder whether such a meager increase will have any substantial effect.
John Raskin, director of an advocacy group that represents users of New York’s public transportation, urges the governor to “produce a credible plan to fix the subway, and…put together the billions of dollars we will need to make it happen.”
Notice the “s” on the end of “billions.”
Because the MTA’s budget is used to serve the entire state of New York, only half of the $1 billion sum will actually be spent in New York City.
The removal of the red tape that slows repair progress may be more impactful than the order’s financial aspect. At the same time, permitting the MTA to proceed without considering environmental consequences could bear unforeseen consequences in the future.
But as integral as public transportation is to the lifestyle of the average New Yorker, most locals in the city will likely be more than willing to overlook those “unforeseen consequences” if Cuomo’s executive order allows riders to board clean and orderly subways that run reliably and safely.
“The Governor has stopped ignoring the problem, which is a vital first step,” Raskin said.
Indeed. There may be some bumps, breakdowns, and bottlenecks along the way, but at least the train toward a better New York public transport experience has left the station.