New York City Should Take Over Control of Subways From State, Andrew Yang Says

New York City mayoral hopeful Andrew Yang wants the city to take over control of the Subway rapid transit system from the state.

Some of the most common complaints New Yorkers share about their city are related to the aging public transportation system — delayed trains, inefficiencies, rundown stations and its overall gritty feel. While city residents can blame many city problems on the mayor, the Subway issues actually fall at the feet of state leaders, who have controlled the transit system since 1968. Yang wants that to change, as a number of other local leaders have previously advocated.

"I think it's difficult for New Yorkers to be able to hold their leaders accountable when, like right now, you look up and say 'Well, you know, this is an Albany responsibility,'" Yang told Newsweek in a recent interview. The Democratic mayoral candidate said it "would be a major step in the right direction" for New York City to take control of the Subway system going forward.

Andrew Yang
New York City mayoral candidate Andrew Yang speaks at a press conference on January 14 in New York City. Michael M. Santiago/Getty

"We need to invest the proper resources that people will feel safe and secure on the subway. We have to make it so that the subway, itself, is reliable. And then we need to get New York back to a point where folks are visiting for business or tourism because those things will end up increasing ridership on the subway," Yang said.

Yang is not the first person to call for bringing the public transportation system under the city's control, and the idea has previously faced pushback from Albany. In the spring of 2019, New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson put forward a "Big Apple Transit" system plan that would be overseen by the mayor instead of the state-run Metropolitan Transportation Authority. But New York Governor Andrew Cuomo quickly criticized the plan.

"Why hasn't a mayor taken it over? There are about 10 billion reasons. That's the $10 billion the state gives to the MTA, primarily New York City Transit Authority between operating and capital," Cuomo said in a March 2019 interview with WAMC radio.

"If New York City took it over, they take it over. They don't get the $10 billion in state funding," he said. However, Cuomo noted that the city could simply cancel the lease it had with the state for decades—although then it would face the threat of the massive funding shortfall.

The COVID-19 pandemic has taken its toll on the Subway system since then, causing serious strains on its budget. Prior to the pandemic, the public transit system had seen an average of 5.5 million weekly riders. That number had fallen dramatically to just about a third as of December, and the situation was even worse amid the height of the pandemic last spring as the city remained in a stringent lockdown. The MTA is now facing a $12 billion budget shortfall through the end of 2021.

While the Subway is one transportation issue that is unlikely to be fixed in the nearterm, Yang also wants to encourage more biking in the city. He told Newsweek that he spent nearly two decades in the city without a car and he wants that to be the norm for most New Yorkers.

"I want it so that when someone moves to New York City, they think, 'Great! I don't need to own a car.' One aspect of that is going to be making the city as bike-friendly as it possibly can be," Yang said.