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Crucial—and unfunded—subway fixes could save New Yorkers millions of hours per year: study

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The NYCT’s Fast Forward plan to modernize signals would benefit all New Yorkers, but requires funding

Fast Forward would prioritize fixes to the subway’s aging signal system and dire accessibility upgrades.

Public transit advocacy group TransitCenter has released a study proving the hardly controversial point that New Yorkers would save millions of hours annually if the New York City Transit Authority’s Fast Forward plan were fully funded and implemented.

The stakes are highest for straphangers commuting into Manhattan from the outer boroughs, the study finds: For instance, commuters taking the train from Jackson Heights to West 4th Street could save 26 minutes daily, or 110 hours annually, with the signal fixes Fast Forward prioritizes. The signal fixes would also mean New Yorkers with hourly wages are arriving at work on time, and therefore not receiving docked pay.

The Fast Forward plan, introduced by NYCT President Andy Byford in May 2018, would significantly speed up the agency’s timeline for replacing the system’s aging signals with new ones. The agency previously estimated that a signal overhaul could take 50 years, but under Byford’s plan the city’s most crowded subway lines would be converted to a more effective system within ten years.

The major issue with the Fast Forward plan remains its lack of funding: The project, which will also include necessary accessibility upgrades, is projected to cost $40 billion. Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state legislature have yet to commit to funding the venture, but Cuomo has previously expressed support for funding Fast Forward through congestion pricing.

The city and state has moved to put one small piece of congestion pricing into action: A $2.50 fee on yellow cab rides and a $2.75 fee on green cab rides and other for-hire vehicles below 96th Street. The fee is poised to go into effect after a State Supreme Court judge ruled that the surcharge does not demonstrate irreparable injury to the business of for-hire vehicles. The fee was initially poised to go into effect on January 1, but has been held up by the lawsuit.

The New York Taxi Workers Alliance brought the lawsuit in late December against the Taxi and Limousine Commission and Governor Cuomo in an attempt to have the fee dismissed on the basis that it would deter people from using for-hire vehicles and be “an additional crushing burden on a workforce already facing financial despair,” according to NYTWA Executive Director Bhairavi Desai.

It’s estimated that the surcharge will generate $400 million annually, which is a start but far short of the total amount needed to fully fund Fast Forward. TransitCenter points out that while resistance to congestion pricing is often framed in terms of its impact on car commuters who live outside of Manhattan, the subway upgrades funded by congestion pricing will benefit far more commuters who take the train to work.

“The MTA has a basic responsibility to provide fast and reliable service,” State Senator Brad Hoylman said. “Based on the signal malfunctions, chronic delays, and sluggish trains that straphangers experience on a daily basis, it’s clear that they are failing to fulfill this obligation. Albany can no longer stand by as our subways fall into a total state of disrepair,. We need Fast Forward, and we need it funded through congestion pricing and other sources of revenue before it’s too late.”