On New Year's Day, about ten minutes after the Second Avenue Subway made its debut, trains ground to a stop following a sigh-inducing announcement of delays ahead. One train at 86th Street stopped for about fifteen minutes. "The first of many," one straphanger joked.
Train delays—thanks to a cocktail of aging infrastructure and crowded platforms—are the norm, not the exception. Twitter serves as proof of point any given Monday morning, and new MTA statistics indicate that conditions are getting worse, not better. A NY Times analysis of recently-release data shows that delays are hovering at around 70,000 per month, up from 28,000 per month in 2012.
More than a third of those delays are due to overcrowding, which caused 30,000 delays last November. Subway cars also traveled an average of 120,000 miles between breakdowns last November, compared to 200,000 miles in 2010. Last year, the MTA set a 75 percent on-time arrival goal for each train on the line. By November, 2 trains were arriving on time only 36.6 percent of the time; 6 trains 49.2 percent.
The MTA also keeps track of wait assessment, calculating how often the wait between trains is 25 percent longer than scheduled, or less. Waits were generally closer to target than on-time arrivals, though only six of the 24 lines exceeded their target wait times last year.
According to the MTA, on-time arrival, which measures travel time from terminus to terminus,
isn't the most accurate gauge of performance. If a delay happens late in the route, the authority argues, the overall arrival time could be impacted even if the majority of the trip ran smoothly. As for the car breakdown statistics, a spokesperson said that the MTA is staggering the rollout of new subway cars so that the majority of the fleet doesn't deteriorate all at once.
The MTA's performance review comes at a particularly frustrating time for transit advocates, who are headed to Albany this morning to protest a proposed cut to MTA funding in Governor Andrew Cuomo's Fiscal Year 2018 Executive Budget. For the first time since 2011, the Governor has proposed a $65 million cut in general fund contributions to the MTA—$244 million, down from about $310 million in years past.
"We are very focused on this one pot of funds because it was a specific promise that the Governor made to riders in 2011," Riders Alliance Director John Raskin told Gothamist. "He said, 'We're going to decrease the payroll tax in the suburbs and for some institutions, but don't worry, we'll make up for it.' And for six years he did. Now, for the first time, Governor Cuomo is threatening to break that promise."
Indeed, signing the MTA Tax Reduction into law in 2011, the governor promised to match lost tax revenue "dollar for dollar." But this year's draft budget states that it will "partially offset the revenue losses incurred by the MTA from payroll tax changes."
This particular pot of money, according to the draft budget, is set aside for transit operations. While the $29.5 billion Capital Plan covers large infrastructure projects like the new Second Avenue Subway, new train cars and new signaling systems, the operations budget, an estimated $15 billion, covers MTA staff salaries and the maintenance of existing infrastructure.
"The day-to-day things that are keeping the system afloat," said Riders Alliance organizer Masha Burina.
The current MTA budget also assumes full reimbursement from the general fund. According to the Daily News, which first reported on the proposed cut, the MTA expects $311 million in general funds annually.
But Morris Peters, a budget spokesman for the Governor's Office, said that the MTA is getting a net-total increase in state aid, thanks in part to increased tax revenue: $4.486 billion, up from $4.456 billion (an increase of $30 million). "Calling an increase a cut is absurd even by the advocates’ standards," he said.
MTA spokeswoman Beth DeFalco concurred. "The MTA is getting more money from the state this year, not less, and it's an unprecedented level of support," she said in a statement to Gothamist.
But Raskin countered that the State shouldn't rely on increased tax revenue, which fluctuates from year to year. "Some years tax revenue goes up and sometimes it goes down, and that's beyond the control of the Governor," Raskin said. "The pot of funds that Cuomo does have discretion over, he is planning to cut."
The funding dispute comes on the heels of a decision last month to keep the MTA single-ride fare at $2.75, while increasing the cost of unlimited cards. Transit advocates are testifying before the City Council today in favor of a half-price MetroCard option for riders living at or below the poverty line. Mayor de Blasio has said he can't afford the proposal.