30 Reasons for Public Transit Fans to Worry About New York

The MTA’s debt puts the national debt of many countries to shame.

MTA personnel investigate a subway train derailment in Queens in 2014. (AP Photo/Metropolitan Transportation Authority)

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There’s a reason this crowdfunding campaign is trying to raise $30 billion to fix Boston transit. Maintaining a huge public transportation system isn’t cheap.

Even with fares inching higher and higher, the debt load of New York’s Metropolitan Transit Authority — which boasts 790 total miles of train tracks — comes in at $34 billion. That’s enough to put the national debt of at least 30 other nations to shame.

New York Public Interest Research Group’s Straphangers Campaign draws this comparison in a new report using 2014 year-end MTA data and The Economist’s global debt clock.

(Click on graphic to enlarge; credit: New York Public Interest Research Group)

The MTA’s debt has been accumulating since 1982, and the agency has reportedly spent $105 billion total during that time, implementing or overhauling new stations, tracks and cars. The recently proposed 2015-2019 Capital Program calls for an additional $32 billion in investment.

MTA Chairman and CEO Thomas F. Prendergast said in a statement, “The MTA Capital Program is our single most important effort to ensure we can keep the New York metropolitan region moving, so people can get where they need to go, businesses can thrive and the quality of life here can continue to improve. The MTA network is a $1 trillion asset, and it needs constant investment so it can serve everyone who relies on it now and can grow to serve more people in the future.”

The Straphangers report raises concern over continued fare increases pending approval of the capital program proposal.

“While MTA bonds are sometimes backed by streams of real revenue, most times these borrowings have only come with a promise to raise fares if needed to pay bond holders,” the report notes.

“Heavy reliance on borrowing to fix transit is crushing riders like a packed subway car at rush hour,” Gene Russianoff, attorney for the Straphangers Campaign, said in a statement.

MTA voted earlier this year to raise one-way train and bus fares by 25 cents, to $2.75, and to raise the cost of a monthly MetroCard pass by $4.50, to $116.50. These changes will be implemented March 22nd.

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Marielle Mondon is an editor and freelance journalist in Philadelphia. Her work has appeared in Philadelphia City Paper, Wild Magazine, and PolicyMic. She previously reported on communities in Northern Manhattan while earning an M.S. in journalism from Columbia University.

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Tags: new york citypublic transportationtransit agencies

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