New York Must Solve Transit Crisis While Also Looking to the Future

Julie Samuels, Executive Director

Last Wednesday morning started like many this summer at the Tech:NYC office, with our team Slack blowing up with reports of delayed subways and, consequentially, late starts. (Our Communications Director Sean’s commute was particularly awful.)

Even at its worst, New York City still has the best transit options in America — and that remains an advantage in the competition for top business talent, especially in tech. New York’s subways, buses, and ferries represent the pinnacle of American urban transit — even in disrepair — by a big margin. And to keep it that way, we need to keep building a better public transit system for 10 or even 20 years down the line, while we address its immediate problems.

Transportation systems and the resulting commutes are important to companies and especially tech companies. New York faces fierce competition for talent, which both traditional tech companies and every other company who increasingly relies on technology to do business desperately needs. Indeed, when a retailer here wants to hire a developer from a major software company in California, New York is often a powerful draw. Access to public transit is a big part of that.

The subway obviously needs critical repairs, while at the same time, our whole transit network needs creative upgrades and expansion. The good news is that state and city leaders recognize the importance of the system to New Yorkers’ lives and to our economy. We are encouraged that there’s finally a real debate about how to best fund necessary and long overdue upgrades to the overall system. And we’re optimistic that the MTA’s Genius Transit Challenge will unearth creative tech-forward solutions to the subway system’s woes.

We’re also excited about future-looking projects the city can undertake without the MTA —  especially the Brooklyn-Queens Connector. The “BQX” is a proposed streetcar system that would run along the waterfront in Brooklyn and Queens, starting in Astoria and ending in Sunset Park. It would connect underserved areas and give better transit to new tech hubs like the Brooklyn Navy Yard and Industry City.

Maybe most importantly, the BQX would be independent of the MTA and totally under control of New York City. This means NYC residents would be investing directly into the system, much like they do with the NYC Ferry, another transportation option many rely on to get to work or the beach. (Tech:NYC’s co-chair Fred Wilson also made a good case for it.)

We all know there are transit problems making us miserable. But we’re also reminded how much this system matters to us all, how remarkable it is, and how great it can be. And if New Yorkers and our political leaders sustain efforts to repair and renew this system, while continuing to strategically care for its future, it will continue to support our economy and our communities.