The MTA is Ushering in a New Era of Transit, But Many Questions Are Still Left Unanswered

In 2020, the MTA drew up a multi-year plan with major renovations coming for buses, trains, subways, tunnels, and bridges. With a budget of $54.8 billion and a four-year timeframe, the MTA is going to have to move mountains to finish the project on time and under budget.


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During the beginning months of the Coronavirus pandemic, many subway stations were close to deserted.

Servicing millions of commuters each day, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority oversees one of the largest transit systems on the planet. But for all of the positive qualities it can boast of, the MTA is simultaneously rife with flaws, including fare evasion, delays, poor maintenance, and many other problems that troubles both commuters and the government of New York State. 

The MTA has struggled with budget deficits and underfunding in critical areas throughout the Coronavirus pandemic. Expenses are now at an all-time high due to the multibillion dollar improvements, but revenue is far below pre-pandemic levels.

However, things are looking up for New York City commuters: a new plan put into place in early 2020 is set to completely revamp the transit system that has supported the greater New York metropolitan area since 1904. From now until 2024, we expect to see serious upgrades to buses and trains in all boroughs except Staten Island, as well as developments all the way up to Westchester County.

New York City is the heart of the northeastern United States, and the transit system helps keep this economic heart beating at all hours of the day and night. Many positive things can be said about the MTA, and it is a great resource for New Yorkers. It has 24-hour service to most parts of the city and makes sure that New York is “the city that never sleeps.” 

It is also the transit system with the most stations in any urban area in the world, with a whopping 424 stations in 5 boroughs. 

Lots of riders in New York City appreciate the subway to which they have grown accustomed. Marc Friedman ’23 said, “it takes me where I need to go, and subway rides are pretty fun.” Lots of Bronx Science students rely on the subway system to get to and from school each day, and it usually functions adequately enough to not be a major issue. 

However, many drawbacks come with a transit system of this size, and maintenance is constantly required. For the subway system to not come grinding to a halt, every aspect of the system needs to be in top shape and working in unison with one another. According to a recent article in The New York Times, signal issues are one of the top causes for delay, and that stems from outdated technology. When the foundation for the modern subway stems from a select few lines developed over 50 years ago, it makes sense why maintaining the subway system for commuters is an uphill battle for the MTA. Luckily for commuters, a new, more permanent plan is already in motion.

In 2020, $54.8 billion were allocated to the MTA, with well over $40 billion directed to our buses and subways. This is the biggest investment in MTA history, and some serious changes are expected to happen with this many resources. While things are going according to plan, there are still obstacles that need to be resolved before the project is completed. However, hopes are high, and the project will most likely wrap up in 2024, staying on schedule. 

The first major aspect of this plan is a wide-scale signal modernization campaign. By completing this upgrade, subways will be able to run more efficiently, and fewer problems relating to malfunctioning signals will arise. This signal modernization campaign will also include commuter train lines that are in dire need of improvement. When signals are kept up to date, trains can run at shorter intervals. This also means that delays will be less common. By upgrading outdated technology, residents in Westchester and other neighboring counties will have a better commute. 

Another aspect of the transit system that doesn’t get enough attention is the accessibility to disabled people. Only 109 subway stations — about a quarter of all stations in the city — are wheelchair accessible. Evidently, this is a major issue. Luckily, change is on the horizon. 

The $54 billion Capital Program includes more than $5.2 billion to be used to make 70 new stations ADA compliant. By making more stations compliant with the Americans With Disabilities Act, or ADA for short, the subway will become a more viable method of transport for all disabled people. Alongside this, an infrastructure bill signed by Biden in November 2021 set aside 1.75 billion dollars for accessibility renovations across the U.S., and New York will definitely see some of those funds in the next two years. These two programs in unison will heavily contribute to the riding experience for anyone who is disabled. 

Some major bus line renovations are also coming in the next few years. While subways receive the majority of the attention, buses are still a necessity for many New Yorkers who commute in subway “dead zones,” such as in central Queens or the Tremont section of the Bronx. Renovating these bus lines, or adding new ones, will help set the stage for more time and resource-consuming projects. While all of these projects seem great, it would be dishonest to gloss over the financial burdens plaguing the MTA. From illegal fare dodging to post-pandemic profit decreases, the MTA is struggling by every metric. In order to better gauge the state of the MTA, these issues need to be addressed. 

Right now, the MTA is facing a $2.5 billion budget deficit in 2025, the year subsequent to the completion of this major set of projects. To give a sense of how big that is, the MTA has an operating budget of about $20 billion. When more than 10% of the budget is bogged down by debt, it raises some serious questions. Now, this comes from many different sources, but one of the most direct and easy to address is that of fare evasion. With an estimated $500 million in losses by the end of the year, 20% of the deficit is caused by fare evasion. More policing was proposed to both stop fare evasion and bring back riders who believe that the subway is unsafe. As of now, we don’t have a clear picture of how this new program will fix these problems, so fare evasion and safety will continue to be an issue.

Another issue that greatly harmed the MTA and its renovation plans was the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s well known that public transit use sharply decreased during the pandemic, but ridership has yet to recover. As of 2022, ridership is only at about 60% of what it was in 2019, which evidently causes massive issues, both for day-to-day expenses and for the massive improvement projects all across the city.

One proposition involves raising fares for the bus and subway, but that may cause more issues down the road. Raising the fare to $3.25 or even $3.75 may seem like a good idea to some, but the consequences may outweigh the benefits. Fare evasion rates would almost certainly increase, and public transportation would be worse off than before. There would also be widespread backlash because while a $1.00 increase may seem like a small amount of money, it is actually a 36% increase to the base fare. 

Another solution would be to cut service, but this would be just as bad. When service is cut, or when the quality of service goes down in general, the ridership decreases further. This sends the transit system down a “death spiral” where budget cuts reduce ridership, and the cycle continues until the system completely collapses. 

The last feasible solution would be to lay off employees, but this would have a similar effect to cutting service. The quality of the subway and bus would deteriorate, and income would still take a hit. 

In order to improve the MTA, plans for a better system need to be established while keeping drawbacks in mind. There are good things ahead, but major obstacles stand between us and the biggest transit renovation in NYC history. Even with all of these drawbacks, the future of NYC transit looks bright. With a new mayor and MTA chairman, the government may find out-of-the-box solutions to these problems. Right now, the MTA is on the right track and may complete all of the intended developments without increasing the debt. 

In order to improve the MTA, plans for a better system need to be established while keeping drawbacks in mind. There are good things ahead, but major obstacles stand between us and the biggest transit renovation in NYC history.