It’s 8 p.m. on a Monday—a Monday that just so happens to be the first day of the Summer of Hell, a prolonged period of updates to the Long Island Railroad (LIRR) and Amtrak lines running into Penn Station. I’m at the Houston St. stop on the 1 line (very far away from where these updates are happening). I admit I’m a little buzzed. Not to mention, the stifling heat in this station feels a bit more like an oven’s broil setting than the usual mixture of steam room humidity and sauna temperatures.
The train monitor shows delays for the next two trains. A gray-haired man just rushed past me, mumbling something under his breath that I couldn’t make out. I wanted to ask how long he’d been waiting but, judging by how he bee lined for the exit, I assume he was down here awhile. Now, there’s an announcement, which I can barely hear because this train station, like all the others, has the acoustics of an elementary school auditorium. If I’m correct, it sounds like all downtown 1, 2, and 3 trains have stopped running. I can’t hear the reason but I’m sure it’s because of signal problems, a sick passenger, train traffic, or one of those other textbook bullshit excuses.
Now, I’m walking back up the stairs and searching my phone for the Uber icon. I’m literally 4 stops away from home, a journey that should take me no more than 15 minutes. But just like so many other times, the MTA’s unpredictability has forced me to get creative about getting home.
Don’t get me wrong—I like spontaneity. But not when it comes to my commute. The MTA is spontaneous in the worst fucking way. ‘Surprise! It’s going to take you an extra 30 minutes to get home, just for the hell of it.’ For 10 years, I’ve squished into crowded subway cars where I’ve been assaulted by strangers’ bad breath and accidental hand grabs, smelled tourists’ and homeless people’s rank body odor, gotten impromptu showers from the river of condensation dripping just above the car doors, and stepped aside while other complete strangers duked it out for palm space on the dirty poles. And how do you repay me, MTA?
By discontinuing service at rush hour. By making my train local 48 out of 52 weekends a year, like I don’t fucking have things to do on Saturday and Sunday. By sending trains out in the middle of summer with NO A/C! By continually raising the fare but doing very little to improve the service. Hell, I think it gets worse every time you ask for more money.
So, you tell me. What the fuck, huh? What’s going on? Wait, before you answer, I think I have a few ideas.
Show Me (or Them) The Money
Maybe I’m wrong for blaming you, MTA. Because the money you receive to keep the subway in dismal condition is controlled by Governor Andrew Cuomo. Sure, he came to the rescue just last month. He declared a state of emergency for your organization after the A train derailment at 125th. However, perhaps there would still be funds available if he hadn’t cut $65 million from the state money you receive each year. Or if he hadn’t repurposed the $1.2 billion for new subway cars for an AirTrain at LaGuardia Airport or the ‘Summer of Hell’ LIRR repairs.
It’s not like there isn’t money to go around. With the subway in shambles, I bet it really crushed your soul to see $4 billion go toward the Oculus, the Battery Park-based transit hub that doubles as a luxury mall. Granted, underground repairs needed to happen at some point, and given that the Oculus is connected to the World Trade Center memorial, it makes sense that it took priority. But $4 billion? The lead architect behind the project, Santiago Calatrava, was quoted in the New York Daily News as saying, “This is a gift to New Yorkers from our hearts.” No, no, he was paid $80 million to draft the designs, so it was really a gift to him. The state could muster up $80 million to pay 1 person but we’re still riding in graffiti-covered subway cars without air conditioning?
Now, we know that Cuomo is the gatekeeper of MTA funds, and supposedly, you guys should be rolling in the dough since the decrepit trains have been deemed a danger to New York public safety. But I think some of you are pointing fingers at Mayor Bill de Blasio. Believe me, he’s caused plenty of grief, but this one isn’t his fault.
At best, de Blasio is like a high-profile lobbyist for the MTA. He can appoint some of the board officials, and he can put the pressure on Cuomo to feed more money into the system. But, as evidenced by his public comments, de Blasio could use a little training in diplomacy. “I have said he [Cuomo] has to come forward with a plan to address what is now a crisis in terms of electrical breakdowns, signal breakdowns, constant delays, and then on top of that, when there is legitimate work being done on a line, an actual plan to handle the riders,” he told The New York Post last month.
He’s a little justified in passing the buck since he truly doesn’t have control over the funds. But hasn’t anyone ever told him not to bite the hand that feeds him? Plus, he’s seemed a little preoccupied with national and international affairs. And there’s that whole reelection thing.
Thanks to our mayor’s awful rapport with Cuomo, Joseph Lhota, de Blasio’s opponent from the 2013 race for mayor, was appointed chairman of the MTA. (The level of petty…) There’s a lot going on here, but none of it is getting the damn subway fixed.
Here’s Looking At You, MTA
You’re not off the hook just yet, MTA. It sucks that you had your funds cut in the new state budget but that doesn’t give you an excuse to mismanage the money you already have in your possession.
You do not run a profitable organization, and you know this. In 2015, the New York Daily News warned that you were headed toward financial ruin. Their words, not mine. It costs almost $15 billion just to keep the system running. Half of that money comes from the fares we pay. Much of the rest comes from our taxes. Essentially, even if we don’t ride the subway, we’re still paying for the service. And if we do ride, we’re paying twice over. So, you’ve got some ‘splaining to do.
In 2015, you spent $669 million on overtime. A word of advice as someone who was once responsible for managing payroll, it’s time to either create a tighter schedule for your workers or analyze their workload. If you’re spending 4% of your budget on unscheduled work, something’s not going according to plan.
And who could forget about your debt? You’re paying more than $2 billion in interest every year. (I’m not sure how you sleep at night.) The Post estimates that your debt totals more than $34 billion—a sum that was allegedly borrowed for repairs (bish, where?). The only parts of the system that are showing positive return are the bridges and tunnels.
To make matters worse, some of your board members recently admitted to mismanaging funds. They sacrificed mission critical repairs for the Second Avenue station (that benefits like 1% of the city, probably less). And let’s not forget the touch screen kiosks that no one uses. Or how Cuomo and your board members patted themselves on the back (with force) for getting cell service and Wi-Fi into every station in 2016. News flash: if there were more trains, we wouldn’t need fucking Wi-Fi and cell service underground. And you’re like 10 years late with that update anyway.
But news of your organization mishandling cash is not new. Reports of your financial train wreck have been circling the web since 2010. Yet, here we are with everything coming to a head this year.
We Need You To Fix This, For Real This Time
No more fucking around, MTA. We need you to fix this, and for real. A lot of people are depending on you. Across NYC, Long Island, Connecticut and other parts of New York, you’re serving more than 15 million people, according to stats reported by CNN. The subway alone sees 5.6 million riders on an average weekday. You provide just under 3 billion rides a year, but you can’t afford to keep operating at this speed if you don’t initiate the repairs the system needs to keep functioning.
I know that New Yorkers love to bitch about the subway and how bad it’s getting. But there’s real proof that it’s getting worse. There’s an average of 70,000 delays per month (which has more than doubled in 5 years’ time). A third of those delays are caused by overcrowding. Three-quarters of the subway lines have chronically late trains. It’s so bad that people are losing their jobs because of your service.
This shit is out of control, and IT HAS TO STOP!
If you go to any other metropolitan city around the world, you’ll quickly find that its subway system makes New York’s look like a piece of shit. Tokyo, London, Montreal, Paris, and Berlin are just a few of the cities that come to mind when I think of superior service. Timely arrivals, clean stations, and a lack of accidents are just a handful of the baseline expectations that they all seem to deliver without difficulty. Never once did I have to worry about being late or being injured. Imagine that.
8.5 million people live in New York City’s 5 boroughs, and almost 60 million people visit the city every year. Almost all of them use the subway. And in its current condition, you should be embarrassed that this is what you present to them. New York is one of the most beautiful, sprawling, creative, opportunity-filled, and prosperous places in the world. But the subway is not representative of that. It’s almost as if it were transported from 1970 to modern times without a single update.
MTA, you’ve got to get your shit together. And don’t even think about another fare hike unless you want a riot in Times Square. I think I speak for all New Yorkers when I say we’ve had enough. Forget the Summer of Hell—we’ve been through a decade of Hell and it stops now.