ON TRACK: Joe Borelli — A Staten Island Republican — Demands Congress Save Transit

Don't you want to know how all this stuff works? File photo: MTA
Don't you want to know how all this stuff works? File photo: MTA

In the midst of pandemic relief negotiations in Congress, we asked Council Member Joe Borelli, a leading city Republican and a member of President Trump’s re-election campaign, to explain to members of his party why transit is so important to our nation.

Joe Borelli. Photo: NYC Council
Joe Borelli. Photo: NYC Council

Why should someone from Louisiana care whether New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority is able to function? Louisianans should care about whether we are able to convey millions of people into and out of Manhattan for the same reason they should care about whether we are able to convey millions of gallons of freshwater from the Colorado River to 25 million people in Southern California — because the United States cannot function without it.

Processes like these are a constant, they hum along in the background and people like you and I only hear about them when something goes terribly wrong. We take for granted all of the technological and logistical marvels that we’ve harnessed and mastered over time to make America a better place for all of us.

The MTA is one such marvel.

With the exception of the last seven months, the subway in New York City moves 5.5 million people and commuter rail lines bring in 1 million people from outside of New York City every day. To emphasize the magnitude, that’s more commuters moved each day on public transit in New York than the entire populations of 28 states. The total number of commuters utilizing the top three commuter rail lines in the country — the Long Island Rail Road, MetroNorth, and NJTransit’s commuter rail line — ferrying people into and out of New York City greater than the total number of commuters using the next 30 most utilized commuter rail lines in the country.

When a major asset flounders, shockwaves affect parts of the country and the economy both near and far. The public, institutional investors, Wall Street firms, and the Federal Reserve own about $50 billion in MTA bonds. From 2011 to 2018, the MTA spent billions in 47 out of 50 states. Subway car shells are built by Nebraskans at a plant in Lincoln, buses and vehicle parts come from Indiana, uniforms from South Carolina, and printers from Arkansas.

The MTA employs 70,000 people — that’s more than the total number of state employees on the payroll in 44 out of 50 states.

Certainly, it would be hard to find a person in this city who would be willing to say that the MTA has been perfectly managed — no institution of its size is — but it would be just as difficult to find a New Yorker willing to let it burn.

Though it would be convenient, we cannot afford to care only about those issues which directly affect our individual communities, and that’s not what the United States are for. As Americans, we share in both success and struggle together. When Hurricane Harvey decimated the Gulf Coast, New Yorkers were proud of their representatives for authorizing $50 billion in taxpayer dollars to bring Texans, Alabamans, Floridians, Mississippians, and Louisianans the support that they required when they required it.

The worst among us may delay or withhold money to sate partisan or regional biases, but Americans have never aimed to exemplify the worst — we strive to exemplify the best.

Joe Borelli represents Staten Island in the City Council. Follow him on Twitter at @joeborellinyc.