Op-ed | Governor’s budget throws financial lifeline to MTA

Grand Central Madison Opening
Governor Kathy Hochul pictured with MTA Chair and CEO Janno Lieber.
File photo by Paul Frangipane

I’ve written in this space before about the dire state of the MTA’s finances and our situation remains precarious. But this month the Authority was thrown a major lifeline by Governor Hochul in her 2023 Executive Budget. 

The Governor’s proposal takes a balanced approach to funding transit – a major issue being faced by transit operators nationwide in the wake of the pandemic. Her plan allocates significant new money for the MTA, to be generated by: 

  • $400 million in cost savings to be identified by the MTA – without cutting service,
  • a slight increase to the Payroll Mobility Tax – applicable only to the top 5% largest businesses in the region,
  • an incremental 5.5% fare and toll increase,
  • realignment of some outdated cost-sharing arrangements with the City of New York, 
  • a near term, one-time infusion to deal with this year’s deficit, 
  • and, longer-term, a new and predictable source of funding – future casino revenues.

If adopted by the Legislature, these measures will help stave off the agency’s $2.6 billion deficit, so we can continue providing the quality bus, subway, and commuter rail service millions of New Yorkers rely on every day. The last thing we want to do is start cutting service or making layoffs – which is what would happen if these MTA solutions are not part of the State Budget. While it’s true that changing work patterns have reduced overall use of transit, it still needs to be available and reliable at all times. Governor Hochul understands this, and it shows in her budget.

There’s going to be a lot of discussion in Albany and beyond about the specifics of this proposal. But the bottom line is that, for New Yorkers, public transportation is like air and water – we need it to survive. Some elected leaders are even calling for more service – which I appreciate – but first we need to prioritize preserving existing service from cuts.  

And lately that service has been pretty great. January was among the best months on record for the subways, with weekday on-time performance (OTP) of 85% – the best in 10 years – and weekend OTP at 87.2%. The Long Island Rail Road had its best January ever with 97.7% OTP, while Metro-North was even stronger at 98.3%. And we have unprecedented customer satisfaction with Access-A-Ride Paratransit service. 

To top it off, we’re just days away from opening full LIRR service to Grand Central Madison, which – combined with the recent completion of the Third Track Project – is going to enable a 41% systemwide increase in service. We’ve broken ground on Metro-North Penn Station Access, the project to add four new railroad stations in the Bronx and extend service to what will hopefully be a completely transformed Penn Station. And more than 70 ADA accessibility projects are underway right now – more than ever before. The MTA is firing on all cylinders. 

But none of this can happen unless our operating budget is made whole. Governor Hochul’s proposal does that. It’s more than just an investment in essential transit – it’s an investment in New Yorkers and our way of life. At our density – double Chicago and Boston and nine times Sunbelt cities like Houston and Phoenix– we can’t function without strong mass transit, and we wouldn’t be leading nationally when it comes to reducing greenhouse gas emissions either.

New York isn’t New York without the MTA, so we’re doing everything we can to preserve and improve it.

Janno Lieber is MTA chair and CEO.