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NYC transit system debt now larger than amount owed by a small country

The 18th Avenue subway stop for the D

The 18th Avenue subway stop for the D train in Bensonhurst on Wednesday, Feb. 4, 2015. Photo Credit: Linda Rosier

The debt the MTA has had to take over the years to maintain its transportation network is bigger than the amount owed by a small country.

There are thirty nations with at least $10 billion in debt that have a smaller bill than the MTA, which racked up $34.1 billion over the years, according to a survey from the Straphangers Campaign.

Those nations include war-torn Syria, with a $30.1 billion debt; Cuba, which owes $28.9 billion; and Costa Rica, which is $27.4 billion in the hole, according to a list compiled by The Economist magazine, as of Feb. 10.

Of course, the subways alone move more people through the city—more than 5 million a day—than some of these countries have people, like Costa Rica, a nation with 4.8 million.

But the debt the MTA builds matters to riders because each year the agency pays off a portion, $2.2 billion a year, or 17% of the MTA’s $13 billion annual budget to run the transportation network day after day, according to the Straphangers Campaign.

If debt payments go up, there could be pressure to raise fares, transit observers worry.

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

MTA spokesman Kevin Ortiz said the city’s economy depends on improvements paid for through the $32 billion capital plan, which transit officials have stressed is crucial to have fully funded.
MTA Debt $34.1

Syria $30.1

Cuba $28.9

Costa Rica $27.4

Serbia $26.3

Angola $25.5

Uruguay $24.8

Ethiopia $24.2

Chile $24.0

Ecuador $23.3

Dominican Republic $23.2

Jordan $22.9

Jamaica $22.3

Yemen $21.5

Kenya $22.0

Slovenia $19.6

Guatemala $19.2

Cyprus $19.1

Ghana $18.0

Lithuania $16.3

Panama $16.1

Algeria $15.7

El Salvador $14.8

Iceland $14.5

Bahrain $14.0

Cote d’Ivoire $13.3

Trinidad and Tobago $13.0

Latvia $13.0

Tanzania $12.5

Luxembourg $10.9

Bolivia $10.4


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