Budget watchdog praises subway’s efficiency

The Citizens Budget Commission found the New York subway system to be among the best in the country. Photo by Christina Santucci
By Philip Newman

The Citizens Budget Commission says the New York City subway system was among the nation’s most efficient, but MTA buses and commuter trains get lower marks.

The CBC said the report was an effort by the agency to encourage cost controls at the financially distressed Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

Officials said the data in the report is from 2009, before the MTA’s current cost-cutting campaign, which included $525 million in 2010. The Long Island Rail Road data are skewed by unfunded legacy pension costs dating back a number of years.

“The CBC report will be helpful as we continue attacking inefficiency at the MTA with $4 billion in cumulative savings expected by 2014,” the MTA said.“It also highlights the importance of addressing labor and pension costs as well as continued capital investment to reduce operating costs,” the report said.

A nonprofit civic organization, the CBC said its study found the New York subway system to be among the best in the country.

“Among the 10 largest subway systems in the United States, the MTA has the lowest cost per passenger trip (63 cents), the second lowest cost per passenger mile and second lowest cost per hour of service. It is third in cost per active vehicle,” the organization said.

New York’s subway is far larger than any other such transit system nationwide, with more than 6.4 million passenger trips daily. Next is the Washington, D.C., system, which has more than 800,000 passengers trips daily.

The report called the MTA’s bus operations inefficient. Among the 10 largest urban bus systems, the New York City Transit bus operations rank last in three of five cost indicators: cost per mile of service, cost per hour of service and cost per active vehicle.

“The MTA Bus Company [formerly seven privately owned bus companies] ranks seventh or below in all five indicators, the other two being cost per passenger trip and cost per passenger mile,” the CBC said.

The report acknowledged that the inefficiency of MTA buses might be attributed in part to “poor road conditions causing greater maintenance and traffic congestion, causing slower and more expensive operations.”

Only three bus systems nationwide operated at less than 10 miles per hour: New York City TA (7.8 mph), MTA Bus Co. (8.6 mph) and Chicago Transit (9.8 mph). The CBC said the Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North commuter railways “also are relatively inefficient.”

Among the 10 largest commuter railroads in the nation, the Long Island Rail Road was at or near the bottom on three of five indicators (last on cost per passenger mile, ninth on cost per active vehicle, eighth on cost per mile of service) and below the median on the other two (seventh on cost per passenger trip and sixth on cost per hour of service).

Metro-North was in the bottom half of the group on all five indicators: eighth on cost per active vehicle, seventh on cost per hour of service and sixth on the other three indicators (cost per mile of service, cost per passenger trip and cost per passenger mile).

The Citizens Budget Commission was founded in 1932 as an organization devoted to influencing constructive change in the finances and services of New York state and New York City governments.

Reach contributing writer Philip Newman by e-mail at timesledgernews@cnglocal.com or phone at 718-260-4536.

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