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Opinion: MTA in crisis, while politicians play the blame game

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MTA service has worsened exponentially this summer and instead of collaborating to solve the problem, NY Governor Andrew Cuomo and NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio point fingers at each other.

The MTA, and the subway in particular, was never a model of efficiency. But the mounting problems the system has had in the past few months are far from just inefficient, now even the safety of riding the subway is in question. With derailments becoming an almost regular occurrence, that terrible episode where passengers were stuck on the F train for an hour with no air or power, and daily delays and disruptions, New Yorkers are fed up. But who is to blame? Many aren’t sure.

The reason for this is the cloudy nature of who runs the MTA, coupled with the political fight that has developed around this issue. Mayor Bill de Blasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo have never seen eye to eye, despite being members of the same party. Now they blame one another for the crisis while New Yorkers are caught in between.

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Most people would assume that New York City runs the MTA, and therefore blame de Blasio. However this assumption couldn’t be further from the truth. In reality, New York State has full control of the MTA. While Cuomo has used the cloudiness around this fact to his advantage to shift blame, there can be no mistake: he and his administration run the MTA and this crisis happened on their watch.

According to Cuomo however, de Blasio isn’t innocent in this either. Despite being run by the state, New York mayors have always had some degree of involvement, usually in the form of billions of dollars in funds in exchange for appointing a minority of the MTA board’s members. Cuomo has said de Blasio needs to contribute more funds to the MTA. In response, the mayor has said “it’s not an issue of more money right now. It’s an issue of management.”

Despite the mayor’s recent proposal of a tax on New York’s wealthiest to pay to fix the subway, de Blasio is absolutely correct. The MTA’s budget has increased by $3.4 billion since Cuomo took office. The problem isn’t lack of funds, its the fact the the MTA spends less than a quarter of it’s budget on track and signal maintenance. Updating the signals alone, which date back to the 1930’s, would make the biggest impact on alleviating the daily delays and disruptions.

As much as they have contributed to it, this problem was not caused solely by Cuomo and de Blasio. This crisis with New York City’s public transportation, particularly the subway, has been the culmination of decades of neglect. It begs a fundamental question: why does the state control the MTA?

It wasn’t always that way. The state has only controlled NYC’s public transportation since 1968. But since the creation of the MTA, politicians from upstate have had an disproportionate influence over the city’s transportation.

New York City should control the MTA, if not fully, then representation on the board should at least be proportional to population. As things stand now, de Blasio only selects a minority of the board, meanwhile his constituents make up a majority of the MTA’s riders. On a day to day basis the mayor has no actual responsibilities in the MTA. Albany has most of the say.

How can Albany and politicians from upstate, which is so politically, culturally, and economically different than the NY metro area, run the biggest public transit authority in the country when chances are most of their constituents aren’t even served by it? The MTA only reaches as far north as Poughkeepsie and Wassaic in Dutchess County. The board should be made up solely of members from counties the network serves, proportional to population. This way the majority of the daily commuters, those within the five boroughs, would have the majority say on running the system that runs their city and their livelihoods.

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Pietro Pisciotta

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