StreetsPAC's Testimony to City Council on Improving New York City's Subways

StreetsPAC submitted the following testimony today to the New York City Council's Committee on Transportation, which is holding an oversight hearing on improving the city's subway system:

It’s impossible to overstate how important the subways are to New Yorkers. As we underscored in the Transportation and Equity Agenda we released in partnership with seven other leading advocacy organizations last month, mobility is opportunity in New York City, and nothing moves more New Yorkers more quickly and efficiently than the subway. It’s the mechanized circulatory system that keeps the city alive.

But as everyone here today knows all too well, the system is suffering badly. Breakdowns, outages, signal malfunctions and track problems occur daily, inconveniencing hundreds of thousands of people at a time. Commutes have turned into crapshoots. Weekend subway trips have become odysseys. Nothing short of our global competitiveness is at stake.

The great shame in this is that it’s all fixable, if only for want of political will and the willingness to invest properly in our most critical infrastructure. It’s time to implement the Move New York Fair Plan, which will not only provide a large, bondable revenue stream for the MTA, but tackle crippling congestion, to boot. And it’s time to get our capital construction costs, among the highest in the world, under control.

It’s time to get serious – really serious – about upgrading the critical signal systems that run the subways. The Subway Action Plan outlined last month by MTA Chairman Lhota is a badly needed step in the right direction, but it’s just a step. It must be followed by a giant leap forward on implementing communications-based train control, a process that has floundered for too many years. It will take money, and it will take will.

It’s time to implement a new, 21st century payment system, one that will allow a New Yorker to transfer seamlessly from a ferry to a subway to a Citi Bike, all for a single fare. Using a phone, or a contactless fob.

It’s time to make the subway system fully accessible to all New Yorkers. The fact that only a fraction of the system’s stations have elevators, and that far too many of them are not working at any given time, is patently unacceptable. We put a man on the moon nearly half a century ago, but we can’t keep an escalator running for more than a few weeks at a time. Platform doors, which should be rolling out across the system by now, aren’t even in the conversation. Again, it’s money, and will.

Let’s use the shutdown of the L line in 2019 as a testing ground for new methods and technologies. Experiment. Learn. Refine. Improve.

And then, of course, there’s our struggling bus system, whose falling ridership and interminably slow routes make our subway look flawless by comparison. But that’s a discussion for another day and hearing.

Our future as a city will only be as good as our transit system. We need to put politics aside and fix our subway problems, now. We commend the City Council for shining a spotlight on the problems, and for its willingness to lead in identifying solutions that will get New York City back on track.

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