Helping Governor Cuomo Find Genius Solutions for Public Transit

Ross Sandler, Center for New York City Law Director

Past engineering geniuses built the great subways and railroads of New York City. On May 23, 2017 Governor Andrew Cuomo issued a call for new geniuses: the MTA Genius Transit Challenge with a prize of $1 million for the best genius ideas that will improve public transit. The three categories for genius input are modern signals to move trains faster through the tunnels, methods to buy new subway cars and fix the old ones faster, and an underground communication system worthy of the 21st century. I would add one additional category for genius thinking: financial resources for public transit.

The most important geniuses who built the public transit system were financial geniuses. One financial genius was Governor Nelson Rockefeller who, with MTA Chair William Ronan, in 1968 married the rich, surplus-heavy Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority to the cash-starved subway, buses and commuter lines. Huge and continuous cash flows have since been earned from auto drivers to the benefit of the more numerous public transit riders.

Another financial genius was Richard Ravitch who became MTA chair in 1979. He observed that balancing the MTA’s annual financial statement by cheating on maintenance was not good accounting. He insisted that “deferred” maintenance be added to annual expenses which enabled him to kick start the improvements seen today.

The third financial genius idea is already out there: the New York Move Fair Plan. The plan was originated by traffic expert Samuel I. Schwartz and expanded by the New York Move organization. It would make existing tolls cheaper throughout the boroughs, place electronic charging where traffic is worse and transit options are plentiful, add congestion fees for taxis, Ubers and other for-hire-vehicles in Manhattan’s Central Business District, make travel costs fairer, increase auto speeds and produce huge new sources of funds for the MTA.

Professor Roderick Hills of NYU Law in July 2017 produced a legal opinion that the City Council has most of the authority it needs to establish the New York Move Fair Plan. The remainder of the authority lies with the MTA, Governor Cuomo and the State legislature.

A genius financing scheme would assure huge improvements for public transit. Governor Cuomo is on the right track—just add one more category to the genius contest.

By: Ross Sandler

One thought on “Helping Governor Cuomo Find Genius Solutions for Public Transit

  1. First, I’d like to know where the one million dollars reward money is coming from. Second, the best idea is to install a real full-time chairperson who knows transit, is bright, and respects the passengers and labor unions. (One such is Jerrold Nadler, but unlikely he’d give up his House seat! He was excellent on mass transit when he was in the N.Y. State Assembly and chaired the standing committee which had legislative over-sight of the M.T.A.). Third, the restoration of up to $800,000,000 to the M.T.A. budget is merely restoring the money Mario fils took away previously from the M.T.A. budget to use for other State projects.

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