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New York Runs Subways Well, Misses on Buses, Report Says

New York City Subway
Riders exit the Herald Square station of the New York subway. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg

April 6 (Bloomberg) -- New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the biggest U.S. mass-transit operator, runs one of the most efficient subways while its bus and rail services lag behind other cities, a report said.

The subway, with 660 miles (1,000 kilometers) of track, has the lowest cost per passenger trip, at $1.40, compared with nine other U.S. urban systems, according to the report, released today by the Citizens Budget Commission, a New York City fiscal watchdog. The MTA’s two bus systems rank in the bottom half in a majority of cost-efficiency measures, the report said.

Comparing expenses “with other large urban-transit agencies can point the way to areas in which the MTA is out of line with practices in other places and suggest priorities for new efficiency initiatives,” the report said.

The MTA has a $12.1 billion fiscal 2011 budget. It raised its projected 2012-14 deficit to $649 million from an earlier estimate of $233 million because it expects lower investment returns, its chief financial officer said in November.

Today’s report compared New York’s transit operator to those in Washington, San Francisco, Chicago, Boston, Atlanta and other cities. The calculations used 2009 data from the National Transit Database.

The Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority in Georgia’s capital has the lowest passenger cost per mile, at 32 cents, beating the MTA by 1 cent. The Chicago Transit Authority has the lowest cost per hour of service at $123.78, cheaper than the MTA’s $171.48.

Opportunity for Improvement

“Despite the relatively good performance of New York, opportunities for improvement exist,” the report said, citing Chicago as an example.

New York City Transit’s bus system is the largest fleet among the operators covered in the report, with more than 4,500 vehicles. They are the most expensive per mile of service and hour of service of the 10 systems compared.

The MTA’s two commuter rail systems, the Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North Railroad, the largest U.S. commuter lines, are “relatively inefficient,” the report said.

The two railroads have “exceptionally high” vehicle-maintenance costs and “are among the worst with respect to non-vehicle operations,” it said, even though the Long Island Rail Road has the youngest fleet among those studied, with cars averaging eight years old.

Providing bus, rail and subway services consumed about 90 percent, or $8 billion, of the MTA’s 2009 operating budget, the report said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Esmé E. Deprez in New York at edeprez@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Tannenbaum at mtannen@bloomberg.net

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