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NYC lawmakers push for independent review of MTA's capital costs

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Council members Ydanis Rodrigues and Helen Rosenthal are spearheading the call

City Council members Ydanis Rodriguez and Helen Rosenthal are spearheading an effort to form an independent commission to study the spending habits of the MTA.

Rodriguez and Rosenthal’s independent commission would be tasked with studying the MTA’s capital construction costs, which cover major projects like East Side Access or the Second Avenue Subway. The latter project cost $2.7 billion per mile to build, compared to a similar project in Paris that cost $370 million per mile. The commission would also be tasked with recommending ways to make the agency more efficient in its spending.

Rodriguez and Rosenthal have been calling for MTA chairman Joe Lhota to such a commission since August, to no avail. “This isn’t about cutting costs for the sake of cutting costs,” Rosenthal said in a statement. “It’s about making sure we’re able to meet the transportation needs of New Yorkers in the 21st century.”

She continued, “Without meaningful cost reform, it will be impossible for New York to meet the current crisis in service—let alone achieve critical long term goals like making the system fully accessible or expanding service into transit deserts.”

The MTA’s mishandling of its capital budget isn’t the only way the agency seems to be overspending. In a review of the MTA’s operational budget, Pedestrian Observations blogger Alon Levy explained on Curbed why the system is so expensive to operate: Track maintenance is so costly owing in part to the subway’s 24-hour schedule. Because trains are always running, it significantly impacts the speed with which workers can operate, inflating costs.

The MTA also incurs major fees through its operational fees. “As a high-income city, New York naturally has to pay high wages,” writes Levy. “New York City Transit’s total labor cost, including benefits, is about $140,000 per year per worker, compared with $108,000 in Chicago and Los Angeles.”