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NYC’s epic subway meltdown could cost commuters $1.4B

The deterioration of subway service is costing people time and contributing to environmental pollution

Flickr/Jim Pennucci

The New York City subway’s epic meltdown of 2017 is doing more than pissing commuters off: it’s costing people money and a lot of it. In fact, a new analysis suggests that the deterioration of transit service could cost New Yorkers the unsightly sum of $1.4 billion this year alone.

Streetsblog NYC author Charles Komanoff has devised a formula that speculatively calculates just how much money is lost as a result of slow and stalled trains. The bulk of his calculations represent time lost among commuters but also factors in how drivers are affected, since poor subway service prompts more people to turn to ridesharing apps or private vehicles, making road conditions worse.

In order to put a price tag on subway slowdowns, Komanoff assumed that subways are now running 5 percent slower than they have in recent years and then tallied that against the 1.76 billion subway trips taken last year to get a gauge on how many extra minutes were wasted on commuting. According to his calculations, a 5 percent slowdown over one year equates to an extra 36 million hours of commute time, or a $600 million loss in earnings and productivity. Factor in the environmental costs of more drivers on the road, the decrease in subway ridership, and the cost of poor health as a result of increased pollution, and the cost rises even higher.

“So what’s it worth to fix the subway slowdowns,” asks Komanoff. “If the solutions are only operational, then New York City Transit and the MTA should be willing to spend as much as New Yorkers are losing—up to $1.4 billion a year,” he declares.

But things aren’t that simple for the agency. Despite committing $2.1 billion from its current capital plan to repair the system’s aging signals, which accounts for the bulk of subway delays, the MTA has failed to institute a plan that will ensure that signal replacement is executed quickly and more than half of the 14 projects slated to begin by the end of this year are already delayed. The only hope left is that something will come out of the MTA’s thorough review of subway delays and its six-point plan results in the slightest bit of service improvements.