Time for MTA to ‘give transit system back’ to NYC: Ruben Diaz Jr.

Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. calls for a city takeover of the transit system on Wednesday.
Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. calls for a city takeover of the transit system on Wednesday. Photo Credit: Marisol Diaz-Gordon

Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. called for the city to take control of its subways and buses in opposition to the looming MTA fare and toll hike.

Diaz Jr. joins City Council Speaker Corey Johnson in backing the idea as the MTA grapples with financial and service crises and as Gov. Andrew Cuomo seeks to exert more control over the authority as part of a larger reorganization.

“If you’re asking New Yorkers to pay more, then the New York City transit system should be given back to the city of New York, to City Hall,” Diaz Jr. said at a Bronx news conference Wednesday morning, echoing concerns from Cuomo that the current MTA governing structure obscures responsibility.

“If you want real responsibility, if you want to have real accountability — the same way that we did with mayoral control in the city of New York on education — then give the transit system back,” the borough president continued.

Many experts and officials support some form of reorganizing the MTA, which is staring down a widening budget gap over the next two years while experiencing a drop in service and ridership. At the same time, the MTA board is expected to vote on another fare and toll hike next week, with higher rates to go into effect in March.

A city takeover clashes with Cuomo, who effectively controls the state transit authority. He is pushing for clearer power through state legislative measures that would give him the majority of board seats and eliminate outside budget vetoes. Cuomo already appoints the plurality of MTA board seats, signs off on all the board’s appointees, selects the authority’s chairman and hires top leadership.

As with Johnson, Diaz Jr.’s call lacked details on how a city takeover of subways and local buses would work. Mayor Bill de Blasio cautioned last week that such a transfer of control would come with “tremendous transitional challenges” and has offered more support for keeping the MTA as it is. The mayor is getting behind Cuomo’s efforts to take more control, which de Blasio hopes will come with greater accountability, as long as the city has a voice on certain matters like spending.  

“I want to affirm that it’s very important that the state and the governor take responsibility for the MTA. That’s a good thing,” de Blasio said earlier this week. “That said, you still have to have some kind of checks and balances.”

The debate over control comes ahead of what is shaping up to be an ugly fight over funding the MTA, which will soon need money for its next five-year capital plan rumored to cost around $60 billion — roughly double the current capital plan. The added funds would go toward the authority’s Fast Forward plan to modernize subways, buses and accessibility.

Cuomo believes tolls from a new congestion pricing plan could raise around $1 billion a year, with that new revenue going toward capital construction. He’s called for the city and state to split whatever capital needs would remain — an idea de Blasio has denounced.

“If the MTA needs additional funding beyond [congestion pricing], my proposal is New York City, New York State split it 50/50,” Cuomo said during a radio appearance Wednesday.