MTA ignores state mandate to compare sky-high costs with expenses of transit systems in other countries

Clayton Guse, New York Daily News
·3 min read

The MTA is behind schedule on a state-mandated report meant to encourage transit leaders to make sure they are properly spending the public’s money.

Concerned that the MTA’s costs are too high, legislators in 2019 ordered the agency to produce an annual report comparing its operating expenses to those of similar transit agencies around the world.

Lawmakers pushed the requirement after approving of New York City’s congestion pricing program, which will toll motorists who drive in Manhattan south of 61st St. The program will fund billions in MTA construction when it launches next year — and elected officials sought to ensure the money is well-spent.

The report must detail “the authority’s performance in comparison with other national and international peer agencies” when it comes to daily operating expenses.

But transit officials have been in no hurry to complete the report, which is required to be sent to the governor and members of the state Legislature and posted to the MTA’s website.

MTA leaders didn’t publish the report last January, claiming the law’s language gave them an extra year to put it together. And as this year’s deadline came and went, the report was still nowhere to be found.

“Laws are not passed to be treated as suggestions,” said Sen. Leroy Comrie (D-Queens), who sponsored the legislation. “My colleagues and I hope that the MTA’s delay in producing this report is merely a pandemic-related oversight rather than an indicator of patterned behavior.”

MTA spokesman Ken Lovett said the agency was still “in the process of finalizing the report as we continue to respond to the immediate crisis of the pandemic.”

But legislators have not moved to change the deadline spelled out in the law.

MTA officials have for years been criticized for sky-high construction and operating costs. The preliminary results of a study launched last year by New York University’s Marron Institute found the MTA spends significantly more per mile of new subway track than any other transit agency on the planet.

Advocates of the analysis say it could give the public insight into how the MTA’s daily costs stack up against those of more modern transit systems in cities like London and Tokyo.

It could also give taxpayers faith the $8 billion in COVID-19 relief the MTA received from Congress last year is being used efficiently, said Colin Wright, an advocacy associate at TransitCenter.

“Given the immense strain on the MTA’s budget due to COVID-19, construction and operational efficiencies are more important than ever,” said Wright.

“The law is unambiguous,” he said. “The MTA is required to report these figures. This is an opportunity to level with the public along these lines.”

Lovett defended the MTA’s costs, claiming the agency has found $3 billion in savings in recent years and expects to cut another $601 million in costs during 2021.

MTA officials have not yet provided a detailed breakdown of where those savings will come from.