Should The MTA Return To City Control? One R Train Rider (& City Council Candidate) Says Yes

The F train rumbles into the Smith-9th Street station. (Source: Emily Kay Bachman / Flickr)

Since the temporary closure of the Bay Ridge Avenue and 53rd Street R train stations, subway riders are incensed over what they call insufficient alternatives for passengers.

The 6-month closures in Bay Ridge and Sunset Park are part of a 30-station upgrade that includes Wi-Fi and digital info screens, which some are calling purely cosmetic. “We can all agree that our stations could use some TLC, but people would much rather have their trains run on time than they care about bells, whistles, and wifi,” said Justin Brannan, candidate for the 43rd City Council seat. Brannan called the recent closure of the Bay Ridge Avenue station insulting.

One resident even started a petition demanding extra bus and shuttle bus service from the MTA because, “Bay Ridge commuters already have enough issues with service on the R train (or, as we like to call it, the ‘Rarely’ train),” writes Andrew Gounardes.

Candidates from across the aisle seem to share this outrage — one Monday morning, GOP candidate Liam McCabe got in his car and offered R train passengers rides when shuttle service shut down.

In light of these R train issues, Brannan told BKLYNER that he’s reviving an evergreen political argument to return control of the NYC Subway system to the city itself, not the current state-controlled incarnation of the Metropolitan Transit Authority.

“So far, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority has focused its energy and limited resources mainly on expanding service for wealthy Manhattanites along 2nd Avenue and offering cosmetic fixes like station modernization work and countdown clocks. Meanwhile, fares increase but service on the R Train remains inadequate,” writes the city council candidate.

Under Brannan’s proposal, the two city-only transit systems — the MTA New York City Transit (NYCT) and MTA Bus Company — would split from the MTA’s other sub-agencies that serve Long Island, southeastern New York State, and Connecticut. The subway and bus system would be governed by a board of NYC residents and officials, and chaired by a Commissioner appointed by the Mayor.

Let’s take a brief moment to look back into the MTA’s rocky history. The Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) in its current form is a result of many mergers and buyouts. But in a nutshell, the original subway lines, the BMT and IRT, were privately owned, and the city built its own IND line. But in 1940, the city bought out the BMT and IRT to combine three competing lines into one system. After a series of mergers, name changes, and political maneuvering, New York State bought several transit services (including the bankrupt LIRR) and became the Metropolitan Transit Authority in 1968, according to MTA history.

But now, many are calling for city authorities to have a greater say in how the subway system doles out its funds and dictates its service.

“Politicians who represent counties four inches from Canada are being cavalier on underfunding transit because they’ve never ridden the subway before,” said Brannan. “To me, it’s common sense that the city would have more control and more oversight over a subterranean transportation system that only exists in the five boroughs.”

This is far from the first time an idea like this been proposed. John Rozankowski, a proponent of express service, suggested breaking up the MTA and returning governing back to the city. Sheepshead Bay columnist Allan Rosen proposed “appointing some transit users from the outer boroughs to the MTA Board.”

And more recently, Queens City Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer sponsored a resolution to increase New York City’s representation on the Metropolitan Transportation Authority board.

“Nearly 50 years later, riders suffer as the MTA struggles with aging trains, bloated projects and long delays for needed upgrades. Meanwhile, the balance of power at the MTA board rests with Albany and the suburbs, preventing the city from governing its own transit system. Albany’s leadership on the MTA is lacking. It’s time for the city to take control,” writes Van Bramer in Crain’s NY.

But is it really that simple? There are several pros and cons to this evergreen proposal, as documented by writers, technicians, and subway historians — and we’ll just touch on a couple to get the conversation rolling.

The first potential conflict is that it could create regional schisms between the various city and state transit systems (like the Metro-North and LIRR) all under the MTA’s umbrella, argues subway blogger Benjamin Kabak

The second major issue is funding. In Brannan’s proposal, the funding sources would stay as they are — that is, coming from the State and from riders in the form of fares, tolls, and taxes, since the MTA’s own numbers show that 94 percent of its annual ridership is within the five boroughs. But MTA funding has been a contentious topic between the city and state governments for years (check out this Gotham Gazette article for more info).

“If the people who were voting on funding transit were riding the R train every day, they would have a different take on transit funding,” said Brannan.

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?

Comment policy


  1. I don’t know if the answer is City control, but I agree the R train has become terrible. I’ve tried to take it at DeKalb Avenue at 4 pm and you can’t even get on a train. They are packed from front to back like cattle cars, and they run about every 15-20 minutes. Meanwhile the Q & B trains come in every couple of minutes and are empty for the most part. What is this all about?

    They are fixing 3 stations? Again, what kind of joke is this? Every R station in Brooklyn from 95th Street to DeKalb Avenue is decrepit and outdated. You can’t even read most of the station names on the tiles because they are so filthy. Parts of the platform on DeKalb Avenue are always roped off when it rains, because it rains in the station! They worked on 95th Street and 86th Street a few years ago, and when they were done, you couldn’t see any difference or improvements. Waste of money constantly.

    When they are done with 69th Street, 53rd Street and Prospect Avenue, will the R train run any better? NO

  2. ABSOLUTELY NOT!!! The City does not properly maintain the infrastructures currently under its jurisdiction e.g., roadways. The MTA may have its issues, but considering the number of passengers…in 2015 (latest data available), average weekday ridership was 5,650,610 passengers…NYCT is doing a damn good job. The system, with some subways lines over 100 years old, is operated and maintained by mass transit professionals. If NYC were in control, especially under its current leadership, we might as well go back to the horse and buggy days.

  3. hopefully the work at the prospect ave station will include a second stairway on the 95 st bound R. Trying to exit at peak times is dangerous. And many times ,it’s 2 for 1 at the express stops, 2 express trains fo 1 R. Let’s get the R train running properly and forget about the bells & whistles.

  4. Yes low-income & middle/working class people are had enough with the MTA for not removing homeless people off our city subways,bus stops & transit hubs across the city blame it on the Bloomberg & DeBlasio administrations for raising fares,worse service & more chaos/hostages. When ridership is decline in the 1970s & 1980s graffiti/crime era & 9/11 the 1% era in 2003 By higher fares 8 times & threatening to cut service in 2010 forcing more people going back into cars & riding bikes to work. This is why NYC transit & buses are turning over to the city.


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