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New Yorkers need better transit. Here’s the way to get there

Councilman Van Bramer

Councilman Van Bramer

The city should have a majority of seats on the MTA board

April 27, 2016 Opinion: By Jimmy Van Bramer

In 1968, the state took over New York City’s buses and subways and created the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. 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.

As a City Council member from western Queens and a regular subway commuter, I know in real time when the No. 7 train has a meltdown. My phone buzzes with tweets and texts about overcrowded platforms, stalled trains and poor communication from the MTA.

I press MTA officials at oversight hearings, organize rallies, and host town hall meetings that bring MTA leaders directly to riders. But we can and must do more. Unfortunately, because Albany controls the MTA, our city can’t hold it accountable for the quality of service it provides.

Earlier this month, I hosted a town hall where No. 7 train riders asked questions of MTA officials. New York City Transit President Ronnie Hakim had some good answers, but on many issues, she left us scratching our heads. Hakim didn’t seem to know much about cross-honoring MetroCards on the Long Island Rail Road when service is disrupted. One of her colleagues dismissed our claim that service is worse on Mondays after weekend track work, only to have riders cite specific delays and disruptions that the agency forgot.

Town Hall Meeting

Town Hall Meeting

A recent report by state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli showed the MTA used misleading math to calculate how long riders must wait for a train—and found that wait times are actually increasing. The MTA is even failing to meet its own goals.

The signal upgrades and track replacement needed to keep the century-old system from constant malfunction are decades away from completion. There isn’t even a timeline to bring modern signals—which allow countdown clocks and more frequent trains—to half of the subway system.

Even worse, the MTA is mismanaging its biggest, most expensive projects. The new Hudson Yards station is leaking because the MTA’s contractors cut corners. Across town, East Side Access—a bloated project designed to benefit suburban commuters, not New Yorkers stuck on the subway—is $6 billion over budget and 14 years behind schedule.

Albany’s latest budget provides only a portion of the cash required for the MTA to make much-needed upgrades, and in fact raises the MTA’s debt ceiling. By requiring the MTA to borrow billions of dollars instead of funding improvements outright, Albany is setting New Yorkers up for massive fare and toll increases down the line.

As straphangers get squeezed, Albany has little incentive to act. A recent Baruch College/NY1 poll found nearly half of New Yorkers think the city controls the MTA. Who can blame them? The MTA’s own numbers show that 94% of its annual ridership is within the five boroughs.


Ronnie Hakim

And yet, the city is only given four votes on the MTA’s 17-member board. Meanwhile, suburban counties, which include towns as far as Poughkeepsie and Montauk, control the same number of votes.

Adding insult to injury, Albany inaction has held three of the city’s board nominees in limbo since last June.

The city has increased its commitment to funding MTA capital improvements to $2.5 billion. Contrast that with Westchester, Nassau and Suffolk counties, which each have a full vote on the MTA board yet don’t contribute a cent to MTA upgrades from their budgets.

The city deserves a bigger say. I’m calling on the state to increase the city’s representation on the authority’s board, and have sponsored a City Council resolution to this effect. The city, after all, stands to gain the most from improved service—or suffer the harshest consequences if the system is neglected.

Now is the time. With the city’s future hanging in the balance, it makes no sense for Albany and the suburbs to call the shots for our subways and buses.

Jimmy Van Bramer, D-Queens, is the City Council majority leader.

This opinion piece first ran in Crain’s NY

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Click for Comments 
Pedro Vasldez Rivera Jr.

Don’t worry: With the implementation of communication based train control being operational starting next winter, there will be more 7 train service per hour, 24/7/365. Patience is a virtue.


And wait until the L and M trains shut down, things will only get worse. These people epitomize graft and corruption in government. I found it hilarious that they proposed a ‘don’t use your car day’ on a day that no trains were running. They have no intention of fixing things, it’s not a bug it’s a feature. Make sure government doesn’t work, then say “see government doesn’t work.”


The Hudson yards station was finished even before one of the new towers went up. Yet queens keeps getting skyscraper after skyscraper with no change to the infrastructure. Jimmy don’t you think it’s time to start talking about overdevelopment as well as our shoddy transit system? Are we surprised that trains are overcrowded and late now? What other result was expected?


Overdevelopment in flushing is the problem and that ship has sailed. The trains are packed before they even get to Sunnyside


I’m thinking that there aren’t ANY neighborhoods near ANY NYC transit line that aren’t already crowded and where there isn’t already a shortage of decent affordable housing. If there is, please let us know where it is.


Luckily, Albany and the counties surrounding NYC have a long history of willingly giving up their own power to do the right thing by the city, rather than just find ways to raid its coffers.


Jimmy then why do you sit idly by while thousands of luxury condos are built all with people who will be using the 7 train?????

There is no hope for the next 25 years, it will take that long to build a new tunnel to grand central or to tie it into the 2nd ave subway…

So people you have to think outside the box, learn to find jobs where you can work from home a few days a week or on 2nd 3rd shift, or reverse commute to say Jamaica in the morning

for example if your company has a lot of west cost customers offer to work from noon to 8 pm…..that will help a lot.

SuperWitty Smitty

I live in western Queens because I work in Manhattan. Most of us have no desire or intention of looking for work further out in Queens. Manhattan is a big draw and it’s where most of the “good” jobs are (interesting, exciting, and well-paying.) Sure, there are people who are happy to live and work in Queens and don’t even care what they do as long as they get a paycheck. They’re not the people who make New York an exciting and dynamic city. If you want to ride out to Jamaica every morning so you can avoid a crowded 7 train, go ahead. You’ll never convince most of us, especially with your attitude towards those who disagree with what you are suggesting.


ok fair enough so people have to stop complaining….it is what it is, for the next 20+ years…so if you have a really “good” job then its part of the deal, if you have a so-so job than reverse commuting would be a great alternative.

i see no other workable solutions anytime sooner..


What’s hypocritical about the MTA Board and Albany is they’re the first to cry that NYC is trying to dictate and inflict its will on them when it is and has always been the opposite. Down state secession is the way to go. This city supports this state and its financially insignificant upstate regions. What’s a strange irony in this state, even our criminal population supports the dead weight of upstate NY, 13 zip codes in NYC make up the vast majority of the prison population of the state prison system. These prisons are the only source of revenue for many of these small towns. Oh, spare us the tax BS in your response to this post most people I know personally and companies moved out of upstate due to the harsh and unbearable winters. Many make this decision to move as they’re removing the snow from their roof for the seventh time in a winter season before it collapses. It should be a summer and ski vacation spot. It’s beautiful but that is all its good for.


Have to agree. Raise fares on MNR and LIRR, which run great and benefit people who can afford extra fares. Use that money to make subway run respectably. But how are you possibly going to get Cuomo and the Republicans in the state house (his only true allies) to do so? What is your plan?

New Yorkers are sick of being Cuomo’s whipping boy on this and every issue. Why aren’t people like Van Bramer and DeBlasio doing anything to fight back?


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