Is The MTA Unfair To The Outer Boroughs?

THE COMMUTE: Many have thought this for a long time. Finally, someone has made a convincing case that this is indeed true and not just a figment of our minds. That someone is John Rozankowski, PHD from the Bronx.

In his article on Source 101, in which he critiques a study by the Center for an Urban Future called “Behind the Curb” [PDF], already discussed by Sheepshead Bites, Dr. Rozankowski, however, adds a few comments of his own concluding that the answer is to break up the MTA.

He outlines five ways the MTA is shafting the outer boroughs:

  1. Poor Connectivity
  2. Mediocre Service
  3. Poor Station Maintenance
  4. No Expansion Plans
  5. 2010 Service Cuts.

From his article:

“In a study called
Behind the Curb

, the Center for an Urban Future provides convincing data demonstrating that while Manhattan lost 110,000 jobs since 2000, the outer boroughs have gained 67,000 new jobs mainly in healthcare, education and manufacturing. These gains would have been even more dramatic if travel between and within the boroughs was easier. Entrepreneurs are reluctant to take advantage of lower costs in setting up their businesses in the outer boroughs because of difficulties in attracting and retaining good workers. More often than not, the reason is a long and difficult commute.”

He goes on to explain how the Manhattan orientation of the subway system and the lack of interborough bus routes makes it difficult to travel between the boroughs, hence the heading “Poor Connectivity.”

Unless you live near a borough line, chances are you will need three or four buses, multiple fares and a lot of time to complete your interborough trip. Often it is easier to take an indirect train into Manhattan and then back out, transferring to one or two buses than to try to negotiate the entire trip by local buses. Behind the Curb criticizes the MTA’s Select Bus Service (SBS) program for only looking at existing routes and not routes that would improve interborough travel. I said the same thing here and here.

In section two of the study, “Mediocre Service,” Rozankowski criticizes the number of subway stops you have to stop at before entering Manhattan because of the MTA’s reluctance to provide express service on unused tracks, such as on the F line, which they were considering in 1993 but changed their minds because of budgetary constraints. (The G would have been extended to Church Avenue to make this happen. That has since been done; however, now an F express must await the completion of the rebuilding of the viaduct over the Gowanus Canal.) What he says about the Number 4 express pilot program in the Bronx is very interesting.

Under section three, “Poor Station Maintenance,” appears the following:

“Adding insult to injury, the MTA announced at the beginning of 2011 that it was ending its station rebuilding program and would now repair the remaining stations (Source: NY Daily News, 1/24/11). The timing couldn’t be better: just when all the stations in the wealthy areas that the MTA cares about have been rebuilt, it’s now only going to repair the rest!”

The fact that the difficult Atlantic/Pacific transfer (or as I call it, “The Panama Canal”) did not include a new escalator when the complex was rebuilt several years ago, after a 20 year delay — because rebuilding Manhattan stations were given the priority when money became scarce — also suggests an outerborough bias. Instead, a triple-width stairway exists where an escalator should be. There is no doubt in my mind that, had this station been in Manhattan, not only would there have been an escalator, but the delay in rebuilding also would have been shorter. Also, few people realize that there is another unused shorter passageway connecting the IRT and the Brighton line, which was originally planned to be rebuilt and reopened but was scrapped to save on costs.

Section four, “No Expansion Plans” and section five, “Service Cuts” are self-explanatory although these are more a function of a lack of funding than an unwillingness by the MTA… or maybe not. As a participant in the 2003 to 2006 New York Metropolitan Transit Council’s study of long range solutions to Southern Brooklyn’s transportation problems, the MTA would not even discuss the idea of subway expansion or installing light rail along the virtually unused Bay Ridge division’s LIRR tracks south of Avenue H, although we were talking 30 years into the future when the MTA’s funding situation could be better.

In my criticism of Operations Planning, I asked why it took so long to extend routes to the Gateway Mall in Spring Creek. I have also criticized them for considering operating costs and revenue as if they are not related.

However, in their latest plan to reroute a Queens route, Q37 to the Aqueduct Racino opening this September, they are projecting additional revenues to cover the increased operating expense of making a small one-half-mile diversion to the route. No back-up is provided on how those projections were made. Again, where is the transparency? (The discussion starts on Page 57. [PDF]) The MTA states that the casino will serve as “a large trip generating activity center” and is expected to generate “over 1,100 new jobs and more than $30 million in annual spending.” Yet their response is to only make a one-half mile diversion to an existing north-south route. They do not even give any consideration to the slowing down of service for the route’s current 6,500 weekday passengers that this diversion would cause.

A land use change of this magnitude deserves extensions of east-west Brooklyn routes over the Queens border to serve it, new east-west routes from Queens, and perhaps even a new north-south route and new SBS routes. The MTA’s response to this new outer-borough development is totally inadequate.

Personally I don’t know if Rozankowski’s conclusion to return control of the subways and buses to the city is the solution. It certainly is a big leap from sections one through five. Perhaps part of the answer is to appoint some transit users from the outer boroughs to the MTA Board.

Was the New York City Transit Authority More Responsive Prior to the MTA Takeover?

What first got me interested in buses was when I learned at five years old that you could transfer between the B46 and the B12, but you needed to pay an extra fare to use the B46 and B35. It just seemed illogical to me. At age 15, I learned the reason was that there was no reason, other than it was something that should have been changed 25 years earlier when the city took control of most of the bus routes in Brooklyn from private operation, under the Board of Transportation. In fact the policy to allow universal bus transfers still was not changed for about another 25 years until MetroCard came into being, and today more than two buses still require multiple fares unless you can afford an unlimited ride card.

Fifty years is quite a long time to make an obvious change to the mass transit system. Yet there are bus routes still operating today that should have been rerouted in 1940, operating in the same inefficient manner and discouraging ridership. Clearly changes need to be made, and if the answer is not to break up the MTA, at least they must be required to better consider the needs of the riding public instead of a singular goal of reducing their deficit. But how?

What do you think? Has the time come to break up the MTA and give control of the city’s transit back to the city, and if this is done, do you think there will be a higher regard for the outer boroughs?

The Commute is a weekly feature highlighting news and information about the city’s mass transit system and transportation infrastructure. It is written by Allan Rosen, a Manhattan Beach resident and former Director of MTA/NYC Transit Bus Planning (1981).