image of who controls the nyc subway system

Who controls the NYC subway system? Depends who you ask. But there is a real answer…

Question: So last night my buddy and I got caught on a B train that sat still for an hour. We got into an argument about why the subway system is so messed up. He said the problems go back to Bill de Blasio getting elected mayor after Michael Bloomberg. I said, no, it’s Andrew Cuomo’s fault, that the governor runs the subway, not the mayor. Once and for all, who controls the NYC subway system? (There’s a beer riding on your answer.)

— Betting a Brew in Brighton Beach

Dear Betting:

Actually, the subway system is controlled by a bunch of people on West 53rd Street in Manhattan. The New York City Transit Power Control Center is housed in an odd-looking block-long facade with little to indicate what’s going on inside.

That would be a scene that looks like NASA Mission Control circa 1965. The complex houses a huge electrified* map of the subway from Far Rockaway to Wakefield, hundreds of feet long, where dozens of technicians monitor the power flow through the system. Red and green lights flash on and off. Video monitors flicker. A problem here, and the power gets rerouted over there. A red light here soon cascades into red lights all the way back to Brighton Beach.

So much for actually controlling the system. I suspect your question has more to do with who’s the Big Boss of the subway, not just who’s keeping the lights on.

To find out where the buck or, in your case the B train stops, let us take a ride through the bureaucracy.

The city’s subway, buses and the Staten Island Railway are operated by the New York City Transit Authority, which has been headed for the last year by Andy Byford, who used to run the transit system in Toronto. But he’s not really the Big Boss. He’s more an upper-middle-management boss.

The NYCTA, in turn, is a unit of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, a $16 billion-a-year mammoth that oversees not just the city’s system, but also Metro-North, Long Island Rail Road, bridges and tunnels wholly within the city, and a separate MTA Bus Company that runs some bus lines in the Bronx, Queens and Brooklyn along with the express buses between those boroughs and Manhattan. There is also an MTA Capital Construction Company, which, as the name suggests, is responsible for building everything MTA needs, from the vast East Side Access project below Grand Central Terminal to the Second Avenue subway to the double-tracking of the LIRR out to Ronkonkoma.

The MTA is governed by a 17-member board. The mayor gets four picks for the board; the rest go to other jurisdictions and interest groups. The current acting chairman of the MTA board is Fernando Ferrer, the former Bronx borough president. But he’s not the Big Boss, either.

Ferrer was picked to head the MTA late last year by — get ready, here’s your answer — Governor Andrew Cuomo.

Here’s his address, if you want to complain about your subway ride:
The Honorable Andrew M. Cuomo
Governor of New York State
NYS State Capitol Building
Albany, NY 12224

Now, about that beer….

*Note: Not electronic. That’s a big part of the subway system’s problem. There very little digital about it, and some of the control equipment dates back to the 1930s!

David Crook is a veteran journalist and author of The Complete Wall Street Journal Real-Estate Investing and Homeowner’s Guidebooks. Do you have a question about anything real estate-related in NYC? Write him at For verification purposes, please include your name and a phone number; neither will be published. Note: Nothing in this column should be considered professional legal advice. If you have a legal issue, consult an attorney.

Hey, why not like StreetEasy on Facebook and follow @streeteasy on Instagram?