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Subway at 86th and Lexington, Mon. night at 10:22 pm

NEW YORK—The crude, terrorist explosion at the Port Authority Bus Terminal subway station on Monday reminded the city of its enormous dependence on buses, subways and trains.

In 2016, the MTA subway ridership exceeded 1.7 billion annually, with 5.6 million for the average weekday.

The low-tech bombing attempt sparked reports, including by Newsweek, evaluating the safety of New York’s public transportation. Subways and buses have also been the focus of recent reports on declining ridership, the need to improve services and to replace old, run-down infrastructure.

On Nov. 30, the Regional Plan Association, a non-profit urban research and advocacy group, issued the “Fourth Regional Plan.” As public transportation can define a city, and is an inherent component of commercial real estate, the organization’s leadership brings together corporate and community leaders. Scott Rechler, chairman and CEO of RXR Realty, chairs the RPA.

“The ‘Fourth Regional Plan’ looks out across a generation, and challenges our region’s leaders to think beyond politics, to take a long-range view that is sorely needed to be able to make the types of projects and investments that will help us retain our place as one of the most dynamic, inviting and successful regions in the world,” says Rechler.

The organization proposes restructuring the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to improve the transportation system and to build new transit projects.

RPA recommends that Governor Andrew Cuomo establish a Subway Reconstruction Public Benefit Corporation to overhaul and modernize the subway system within 15 years. The organization seeks greater transparency, accountability and efficiency and recommends the Port Authority de-politicize decision-making.

The report states the Port Authority should create independent entities to manage the operations of its airports, ports, bus terminals, the New Jersey PATH, bridges and tunnels. The Port Authority could then function as an infrastructure bank, financing the massive projects often required and undertaken.

In the plan’s section on modernizing the subways, RPA provides steps to improve the air quality and environment. In addition to making all stations ADA-accessible, (now only 82 of 472 station are accessible or partly accessible), the report outlines ways to reduce crowding, heat and noise in stations; add steel and plastic walls that separate the tracks from the platforms; and open the stations to light and air.

The report says local property owners benefitting from subway lines should partially pay for the subway improvements. Similar to the planned funding for the BQX railway, RPA says a value-capture mechanism, a property-tax surcharge for commercial land owners and new residents, could generate the revenue needed for the subways. In Business Improvement Districts, resources could help improve and maintain underground subway areas. Advertising on the platform screen doors could pay for their construction and maintenance.

In a more controversial proposal, the report recommends ending the subway’s 24/7 service on weekdays, eliciting vociferous public disapproval as reported in AMNewYork. Even MTA Chairman Joe Lhota opposed this idea calling it “draconian” and “inappropriate for ‘the city that never sleeps,’” according to the Wall Street Journal.

However, RPA has both influence and a finger on the city’s pulse. In its “Third Regional Plan,” the organization had recommended the extension of the Second Avenue subway and the building of a business district in the far west side of Manhattan–what is now Hudson Yards.

Just a few days prior to the release of the “Fourth Regional Plan,” on Nov. 27, New York City comptroller, Scott Stringer, issued a report, “The Other Transit Crisis: How to Improve NYC’s Bus System.” GlobeSt.com spoke with both the MTA and the New York Department of Transportation to revisit some of the grievances and questions in the comptroller’s report and will share their responses in tomorrow’s look at rethinking NYC’s public transportation.

Betsy Kim

Betsy Kim is the bureau chief, East Coast, and New York City reporter for Real Estate Forum and GlobeSt.com. As a lawyer and journalist, Betsy has worked as the director of editorial and content for LexisNexis Lawyers.com, a TV/multi-media journalist for NBC and CBS affiliated TV stations in the Midwest, and an associate producer at Court TV.

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