Three agencies are key players in NYC-area transportation. Unfortunately, they all have trouble paying for basic upkeep--let alone upgrading and expanding services.
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) is key to solving congestion problems because it controls the subway, local and regional buses, and commuter rail lines, as well as the Brooklyn-Battery and Queen-Midtown Tunnel and the 7 MTA bridges. The MTA needs enough money to cover the costs of both operating the system (about $14 billion a year) AND investing in system replacement and improvement. Operating costs are pretty much covered by fares and tolls plus money from a set of miscellaneous taxes dedicated to mass transit. (See CBC Report PDF p.3-6). The problem comes in how to pay for capital projects--which are especially important given the age of components like the subway system, the current volume of use (1.751 billion people rode the subway in 2014, making it the busiest in the U.S.), and the importance of extending capacity and services to reducing congestion.
The MTA's 5-year capital plan lays out what it will spend on (i) keeping existing facilities and equipment in a "state of good repair" (SOGR)--basically, what's necessary for safe, reliable service that keeps customers satisfied; (ii) system improvement/modernization, like Communications-Based Train Control technology (see an MTA video explaining CBTC); and (iii) network expansion that creates new lines and services. Unsurprisingly, people disagree about how MTA should prioritize as between SOGR and improvement of existing facilities vs. adding new facilities and services. And questions have been raised about high project costs. But what almost everyone agrees on is that there's been a big hole in MTA's capital funding.
The initially proposed 2015-2019 capital plan called for spending $32 billion over the next 5 years--but existing revenue sources would cover only about half that amount. A recent deal between the Governor and the Mayor promises state and city money to cover MTA capital funding. But there are two problems (CBC statement PDF): First, the amount of planned capital spending has been cut to $29 billion--which is much less than many experts think is needed (See ESTA fact sheet PDF), and which will force hard choices between SOGR and improvements vs. new lines and facilities. Second, no one is sure where the $10.5 billion promised by the state and the city is going to come from.
In a recent development, MTA announced that the decline in taxi ridership (see Topic 2) has meant a 10% decrease in revenue from the 50-cent per ride surcharge. This surcharge, which goes directly to MTA, does not apply to e-hail rides; those rides do pay sales tax, but MTA gets only a small fraction of that revenue. The total amount isn't large, compared to MTA's overall budget, but raises even more questions about where the money is going to come from to expand existing transit services and build new lines.
The State DOT (NYS-DOT) has authority over most of the heavily used highways, expressways and parkways, including the 6- and 8-lane routes. The City DOT (NYC-DOT) is responsible for most of the other streets and highways; the Brooklyn, Manhattan, Williamsburg, and Queensboro bridges plus hundreds of smaller bridges and tunnels; and the Staten Island Ferry. A combination of age, volume of traffic, and deferred maintenance has left a lot of roads and bridges in the metropolitan area in pretty bad shape. (See Topic 6.5: Roads & bridges).
Money to deal with these basic infrastructure problems is scarce. Much federal and state money for highways, bridges, and surface transportation comes from gas/diesel fuel taxes. More fuel-efficient vehicles, leveling-off of vehicle-miles traveled, and not raising gas tax rates for inflation has pretty much exhausted the federal Highway Trust Fund, and Congress can't agree on a reliable alternative funding plan. The NY Dedicated Highway and Bridge Trust isn't in much better shape, and other state and city funding sources are unstable over time. (These same problems affect money for MTA's bridges and tunnels, more than half of which are over 70 years old and need full-scale rehabilitation).
For details of highway and bridge funding problems, see Move NY Fair Plan, PDF, p.11-13, 14-15.
►The funding issues are complex and confusing, are there any questions you'd like answers to?
Additional funding information is likely to become available during the discussion. We will continuously update; if you know something we've missed, please contact us.