Big Apple Transit? Seriously?


To the editor:

City Council Speaker and 2021 mayoral candidate Corey Johnson is correct that city hall can actually regain control of both the New York City Transit subway and bus systems and create his proposed “Big Apple Transit.”

All have long forgotten that buried within the 1953 master agreement between the city and NYC Transit is an escape clause. The city has the legal right to take back, at any time, any of its assets. This includes the subway and bus systems.

In 1953, the old city transportation board passed on control of the municipal subway system, including all its assets, under a master lease and operating agreement to the newly created New York City Transit Authority.

Regaining total control comes with a number of financial liabilities. City hall will have to negotiate with both the governor and state legislature over how much of the MTA’s $40 billion long-term debt and billions more in employee pensions, health insurance, and other benefits and liabilities come with the package. The city would also inherit a series of union contracts and work rule agreements.

You also have to develop a plan for turning over management for billions in hundreds of ongoing capital improvement projects that already are underway. Don’t forget current purchases for several thousand new subway cars and buses.

NYC Transit bus and subway are the largest transit operators in the nation with a fleet of 6,400 subway cars and 4,400 buses. MTA Bus, with a fleet of 1,300 buses, is one of the top 10 bus operators in the nation. It is the equivalent of attempting to manage a Fortune 500 corporation.

Does the city have the technical capacity to take on such an undertaking to support creation of the new “Big Apple Transit”?

Neither the city’s transportation department or any other city agency has any experience in management of either subways or buses.

Larry Penner

The author is a transportation historian, advocate and writer who previously worked for the Federal Transit Administration Region 2 New York office.

Larry Penner,