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Kavanagh, Lander, Colleagues Launch, Call for MTA Signal System Fixes


New Yorkers agree: Modernizing the signal system must be a top MTA priority. But the MTA actually cut $500 million from signal projects, and Chair Lhota’s subway rescue has not added $1 to signal modernization. At the current pace, a modern signal system will take 50 years. will reveal how signal failures affect New Yorkers daily commutes and build support to fix the signals.

November 21, 2017

-- A group of New York elected officials today launched, calling on Governor Cuomo and MTA Chairman Joe Lhota to fix-the-signals. According to the MTA's own, 20-year needs assessment, signal failure is the leading cause of subway delays. Research from the Regional Plan Association and the New York Times make clear that modernizing the signal system is essential to bring greater reliability, speed and capacity to the system.

Unfortunately, the subway rescue plan developed by MTA Chairman Joe Lhota does not include any additional funding for signal modernization. Even worse, as the New York Times revealed in their subway expose this weekend, the MTA has cut half-a-billion dollars from signal projects under Governor Cuomo.

To call attention to the drastic need to fix-the-signal, the elected officials -- including City Council Member Brad Lander, State Senators Liz Krueger and Kevin Parker, Assemblymember and Senator-Elect Brian Kavanagh, and Assembly Members Robert Carroll, Richard Gottfried, and Jo Anne Simon -- have joined together to urge the MTA to make modernizing the subway’s signal system their top long-term priority. Today, they are launching a new online tool, The #SignalFail website

  • Documents how signal failures are disrupting New Yorkers’ commutes, with weekly information not readily available on the MTA’s website (despite the launch of a new dashboard, the MTA fails to provide up-to-date accounting of the volume, frequency, or impact of signal failures).

  • Outlines a plan for how the MTA should implement communications-based train control (CBTC). With new revenue of about $800 million per year, the MTA could get modern, communications-based signals on all 22 NYC subway lines in half the proposed time. The #SignalFail website offers four options to find this funding.

  • Offers New Yorkers an opportunity to join the call to fix-the-signals, with an online petition and social media about signal failure (#SignalFail).

London has already installed a computerized signal network on four of its 10 main subway lines, with work is underway on four more. Paris has modernized many of its lines, and has plans to have their entire system completed over the next 15 years.

Of New York’s 22 lines, however, only 1 (the L train) has an advanced signal system. A second line (the 7 train) is underway; the targeted completion date of this year will not be met. At the MTA’s current pace, it would take over 50 years to modernize the entire system. And that’s if the money were in place. Replacing the signals is estimated to cost $20 billion. Right now, just $2 billion is allocated -- leaving an $18 billion shortfall.

Despite this gap, and the clear importance of fixing the signals, the MTA rescue plan offered by Chairman Lhota does not increase funding for signal modernization by $1. In fact, at the City Council's August 8th oversight hearing, MTA officials hedged on communications-based train controls, saying maybe a better idea for the subway signals will come along.

New York City’s subways don’t need wishful thinking. They need a concrete plan. With a commitment of $800 million per year, NYC's subways could get modern, communications-based signals on all 22 NYC subway lines over the next 25 years (half the time currently proposed). #SignalFail offers four ways that New York could pay for it: Congestion Pricing, a Millionaires’ Tax, reinstating New York’s commuter tax, or closing the carried interest loophole.

“This is Governor Cuomo’s signal failure,” said Council Member Brad Lander. “Instead of committing the funds for signal modernization, the MTA has actually eliminated half-a-billion dollars under his tenure. New Yorkers know that signal failures are the number one leading cause of delays. Modernizing the signals should be the MTA’s top long-term priority. London and Paris show us that it can be done. Hopefully will help get us back on the right track.”

“Every New Yorker knows that our subways are in crisis, and it’s no mystery that signal failures are one of the leading causes of delays. Yet the MTA continues to put vital signal repairs on the back-burner, instead prioritizing flashy improvements that barely scratch the surface of what is needed. Clearly it is going to take a loud and persistent effort from New Yorkers to make the MTA change its approach. I thank Council Member Lander and my elected colleagues for creating to give New Yorkers another tool in the fight for the subway system we deserve,” said State Senator Liz Krueger.

"For years MTA signal problems have caused major delays for New York City residents. These delays have made it harder for New Yorkers to commute and arrive to work, school and other appointments on time. I am proud to join my colleagues on the launch of As we work to apply pressure to both Governor Cuomo and MTA President, Joe Lhota to fix the signal issues on our train system, it is important that we are transparent about negotiations and progress. The site will provide real time updates for our constituents, as we continue to demand improvements to our subway system,” said State Senator Kevin Parker.

"Great subway and bus services are essential to all of our communities, so New Yorkers can go to school, do our jobs, and live our lives," said Assemblymember and Senator-Elect Brian Kavanagh. “While we have many MTA financial and operational issues to address, it's important that we focus significant attention on the outdated signal system, the source of a lot of the disruptions and delays that have frustrated all of us in recent months. It’s past time to allocate the necessary funds to bring the signal system up to date and I thank Councilmember Lander, our colleagues in government, and the transit advocates who are working to bring this issue to the forefront through the #SignalFail campaign.”

“Straphangers know we need additional funding to create a reliable and state of the art mass transit system. While 80% of survey takers selected a Millionaires Tax as their preferred option to support modernizing our mass transit system - a majority were also open to congestion pricing, further surcharges on taxi and ride-sharing apps, dedicating specific portions of the NYS personal income tax and having the Governor enact an efficiency tax force to overhaul the management of the MTA. These results prove that everyday New Yorkers are open to a multitude of ways to fix the MTA, but are of clear opinion that the status quo cannot be maintained. Upgrading the signal system is critical to a smoother commute for all New Yorkers and I commend Councilmember Lander for the creation of – an online transparency tool that will assist in showing how the outdated signal system is impacting riders across New York City,” said Assemblymember Robert Carroll.

Assembly Member Richard N. Gottfried said, “The MTA’s creaking signal systems are a major obstacle to a well-running subway. It’s long overdue to move it into the twenty-first century!”

"In a time of unprecedented subway delays and a stretch of recent transit disasters, it is critical that the MTA turns its focus to the ongoing issue of signal failures. We now know that the leading causes of delays are signals that have not been updated since the 1930's. We must do the right thing and make signal repairs a top priority and ensure a fair and sustainable funding source for the MTA in the 2018 state budget. I am joining Council Member Lander and my colleagues to launch to urge transit riders to join the call to fix the signals and to document how signal failures impact their commute," said Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon.

“We’re trying to run a modern transit system using 80-year-old signal technology, and it’s no wonder riders are so often stuck on delayed and broken trains. Signal failures are a significant source of subway delays, and outdated signals prevent us from addressing overcrowding by running more trains at the most popular times. Governor Cuomo needs to present a credible plan to modernize the MTA and to pass a fair and sustainable funding source to pay for it. Thanks to Council Member Brad Lander and his colleagues at all levels of government who are highlighting the problem of old and unreliable signals and presenting opportunities to replace them with new technology,” said Executive Director of the Riders Alliance, John Raskin.

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