Cuomo pushes for N.Y. MTA reorganization, congestion pricing

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Calling the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority “a disgrace for this state," New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo urged the Legislature to approve a series of steps to revamp the agency.

Speaking before a crowd at a Manhattan lunch meeting of the Association for a Better New York on Thursday, Cuomo said he would ask state lawmakers to approve tolls to drive into downtown Manhattan to provide a steady stream of funding for the MTA.
“The MTA has been plagued by organizational dysfunction and disinvestment for decades and we need better management and more money to turn it around,” Cuomo said. “Congestion pricing is the only logical and realistic option to fund the MTA's capital needs and one person must have the authority to make decisions, hire and fire, and reorganize. Let the Legislature cast their vote on the real choice — congestion pricing or 30% fare and toll increases. It's A or B because there is no C. If the public understands the critical choice their elected officials are making, congestion pricing will prevail."

Under congestion pricing, a toll would be charged on cars and trucks entering the Manhattan Central Business District below 60th Street to raise an estimated $15 billion for the MTA's capital plan. The Fix NYC Panel, an advisory group appointed by the governor in 2017, has proposed variable rates to raise money while giving drivers an incentive to avoid the area during rush hours. The plan would be implemented with electronic tolling.

The governor has clashed with Mayor Bill de Blasio over financing plans for the MTA, one of the largest municipal bond issuers, with about $39 billion in debt. The mayor advocates a tax on millionaires to pay for subway fixes.

Cuomo’s proposals include:

Reorganize the MTA board: The MTA board is made up of 23 members; however, it gives no single person a clear majority of nominees. The governor selects the chairman and five other members, which does not provide a majority. Of the remaining members, the mayor selects four and the regional county executives outside of New York City select seven. Furthermore, the MTA board itself does not control the agency's capital plan. Even after board passage, the governor, Senate leader, and Assembly speaker are each able to veto all or part of the plan for the MTA at their discretion, and the mayor is able to veto all portions of the plan for the MTA impacting the city at his discretion. An overhauled bureaucracy and singular responsibility would lead to crucial reforms, Cuomo said.

Pass congestion pricing: The MTA needs a reliable funding stream to support its transformation. Cuomo says the only real choice is between congestion pricing or a nearly 30% toll and fare increase and further deterioration. Congestion pricing would have to be passed by the State Legislature. The governor is urging legislators to make the decision between congestion pricing, increasing existing bridge and tunnel tolls and fares for MTA riders, or allowing further deterioration of the century-old system.
OK a congestion pricing lockbox: Create a lockbox of congestion pricing revenue dedicated to MTA capital only.

Reorganize the MTA internally: Each MTA subdivision — including NYCTA, MTA Bridges and Tunnels, LIRR and Metro-North — has its own back office operations, including personnel, advertising, engineering, legal, accounting, and is made up of thousands of employees. The governor says this redundancy is wasteful and ineffective and is calling for streamlining and better coordination.

Audit the MTA capital plan: According to the working group, the MTA's five-year capital plan estimates range from $40 billion to $80 billion. The governor is calling for a forensic audit to determine the true cost of a capital plan.

Implement design-build for all projects: Design-build, which combines the design and construction services into single contracts, reduces the bureaucracy and costs of major infrastructure projects and shifts the responsibility to the private sector. The state uses design-build for all major projects. MTA construction projects rarely come in on time and they don't use design-build; the state doesn't do a major project that's not design-build, Cuomo said.

Stop fare evasion: The New York City Transit Authority has seen a recent explosion in fare evasion on the subway. In recent years, the number of toll evaders has doubled, costing the MTA a total of $215 million a year, an increase of $110 million in 2015.
In his remarks, Cuomo said congestion pricing would have minimal impact on commuters from outer boroughs. He cited data showing only a fraction of New Yorkers commute by car into the Central Business District, and 25% of commuters who would pay a congestion pricing fee would be from out of state.

“The onus is now on every single Senator and Assembly Member. The status quo is broken, and there is only one fix: a sustainable, fair funding source for our subways and buses,” the Tri-State Transportation Campaign said in a statement. “The time for grandstanding is over; the time for kicking the can down the road is over; the time for pretending this isn’t an urgent crisis that demands an immediate response is over.”

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