5:43 pm Mar. 28, 2012
M.T.A. chairman Joe Lhota joined Governor Andrew Cuomo on a conference call today to formally announce that the M.T.A. would buy 300 new subways cars, costing a total of $600 million, from Bombardier Transit Corporation in Plattsburgh. The cars will replace the aging vehicles currently running on the C line.
That's good news for C-train riders, who are currently stuck with the oldest, grimiest, most ill-lit cars in the system. And it's good news for Plattsburgh, where Bombardier is located—the order will allow the company to retain 300 jobs.
"We are one state and this shows how different regions of our state can support each other," said the governor. "We will continue to rebuild New York's vital infrastructure, creating jobs for hard-working New Yorkers and generating economic growth in all corners of the state."
The cars will come online in late 2016. This is great news.
The catch is that by a little more than a year later, the M.T.A..'s debt service is expected to exceed $3 billion, 64 percent higher than in 2011, according to a recent comptroller's report.
In a rare moment of agreement, the Republican State Senate, and the decidedly un-Republican bike advocacy group, Transportation Alternatives, both warned recently against the risks associated with the M.T.A.'s enormous debt burden.
Before agreeing to raise the M.T.A.'s bonding cap by $7 billion, the State Senate pointed out that "allowing a staggering $42 billion bonding debt level is of great concern, especially at the same time the M.T.A. has many unresolved issues in its financial plan."
Following the Senate's acquiescence, Transportation Alternatives executive director Paul Steely White echoed their concerns.
"Today’s plan doubles down on the State’s dangerous commitment to funding transit through debt," said White, in an email blast to the press. "Governor Cuomo and the State Legislature must invest in transit through secure and sustainable sources of revenue.”
Actually, the two groups are coming from very different places, even as they appear to make the same point. The Senate Republicans are using the bond cap, and the issue of debt in general, to argue that the M.T.A. spends too much money. Transportation Alternatives, and like-minded mass-transit advocates, are essentially arguing that the borrowing is a fig leaf that allows Albany to look as if it's doing wonderful things for transportation while avoiding making tough choices about putting in place sustainable revenue sources.
All of which is to say that the governor and the legislature will still have a day of reckoning on transportation. It's just not going to arrive for a while.