Opinion: Most MTA riders come from New York City. The board should reflect that.
Two lawmakers from Queens and Brooklyn have sponsored a bill that would add representatives from each of the five boroughs to the MTA board. Queens Assemblymember Aravella Simotas and Brooklyn State Sen. Andrew Gounardes introduced legislation to enable every borough president to appoint one board member each on Jan. 24, a few days after Queens Councilmember Costa Constantinides suggested the plan.
As admirable as this idea is, it’s not new. Former Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz had the same idea more than 10 years ago – I heard him make such a proposal at a meeting at Borough Hall. As far as I’m concerned, it was one of his best ideas, but it was never acted upon by the powers that be.
The majority of MTA commuters come from New York City and the surrounding counties, with an emphasis on the city itself. MetroNorth had a commuter ridership to and from Manhattan of 42.1 million in 2018, less than half of the railroad’s total ridership of 86.5 million.
As for the Long Island Rail Road, in 2018 it had 50.8 million commuters and 38.9 non-commuting passengers.
Subway ridership dwarfed both of them, with 1.680 billion riders in 2018. Many of the Long Island Rail Road commuters undoubtedly came from Queens, since the eastern portion of that borough has very little subway service.
As the agency is formulated now, Mayor Bill de Blasio gets just four of the board’s 14 votes. The state has six appointees; and Nassau, Suffolk and Westchester counties each get one vote.
There are 17 subway lines that wind their way through Brooklyn, and several of them, such as the L and the G, have most of their route in the borough. Fewer lines are in Queens, but again, at least one, the No. 7 train, runs most of its route in Queens.
And, as we’ve mentioned, large numbers of LIRR riders start their rides in eastern Queens. While I couldn’t find specific figures for Queens LIRR riders per se, according to a qns.com story from 2018, MetroNorth and the LIRR combined served 1.4 million riders who live in areas within Queens, Brooklyn and the Bronx who don’t have adequate subway or bus service.
While the city’s four representatives theoretically are there to advocate for Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx and Staten Island as well as Manhattan, in practice, because Manhattan has the busiest stations, problems in Manhattan will get more attention. We know this from history. Remember the Lindsay-era snowstorm in which Manhattan streets were dug out early, but Queens streets were still unplowed a week later? The same principle could apply here.
If a water main break stops service on the 42nd Street Shuttle at the same time as flooding on Broad Channel incapacitates the connection to the Rockaway line, the 42nd Street Shuttle problem will almost certainly get more attention. Similarly, if elevators or escalators are out at Court Street-Borough Hall at the same time that a track fire disrupts service at 72nd Street and Broadway, you know where the MTA’s attention will be.
However, if there are Brooklyn and Queens representatives on the board, they will make local problems in their respective boroughs a priority, guaranteeing that they will at least get onto the agenda at board meetings.
Kings County, with a population of 2,582,830 people, and Queens County, with a population of 2,278,906, have bigger populations than Nassau County, with 1,358,343 people, or Westchester, with 967,612 people. Yet, Nassau and Westchester have their own representatives on the MTA board, while Brooklyn and Queens don’t. This situation needs to change. Hopefully, the aforementioned bill in the legislature will pass.
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