MTA Cheered and Jeered, But Mostly Jeered

Reactions were mixed to yesterday’s MTA fare hike approval. That is to say — with the exception of the New York Post — there was enough criticism to go around as to generally avoid repetition.

The Daily News, which has pounded the transit agency with its "Halt the Hike" series ("Even as the MTA is poised to stick straphangers with a fat fare hike, Chief Executive Lee Sander went shopping for a new necktie yesterday"), called the fare increase "the great train robbery of 2007," and characterized Sander and new Chairman H. Dale Hemmerdinger as puppets of Mayor Bloomberg and Governor Spitzer.

There was a time when MTA bosses were independent, standup people who represented the riders, even if only in losing battles with governors, Legislatures and mayors. Men like Dick Ravitch and Peter Kalikow come to mind.

At this point in their relatively young tenures, Hemmerdinger and Sander pale in comparison.

They are order takers, dictated to by Spitzer and Bloomberg, who have assumed full personal ownership of this fare hike.


New MetroCards should come bearing photographs of the governor and the mayor, like on wanted posters, including their records.

Also in the News, Gene Russianoff of the Straphangers Campaign, while critical of the hikes, says transit customers have reason for hope in the promises made by Spitzer and other pols, including Assembly Member Richard Brodsky, that more state aid is forthcoming. Russianoff also thinks further hikes will be politically infeasible for the next several years.

The Tri-State Transportation Campaign, for one, believes the hike will be used against the MTA come budget time, and sees it as a broader failure of the MTA and elected officials to advance a pro-transit agenda. Calling yesterday a "Sad Day for Transit Riders," TSTC’s Kate Slevin writes:

Overall, by approving the hike and the proposed fare and toll plan today, Governor Spitzer and the MTA missed out on a number of key opportunities. First, they missed an opportunity to win support from transit riders who feel the pressure of crowded trains, slow buses, and an increasingly expensive region. Second, they missed out on a chance to let vocal state legislators put their money where their mouth is and produce more state transit aid. Third, they missed an opportunity to connect the transit funding debate with the Traffic Mitigation Commission’s recommendations to be released in January. Fourth, the MTA failed, as it has in the past (see MTR #s 425, 401, 237, and others), to use the toll hike as an opportunity to bring its tolling structure and facilities into the 21st century with things like variable tolling and non-stop tolls.

Finally, the MTA and Governor Spitzer failed to connect the fare and toll proposal with their own efforts to promote sustainability. The MTA established a top-notch Sustainability Commission in September to help create an agency "master plan" to reduce the agency’s ecological footprint. But the agency’s toll proposal punishes most transit riders more than most drivers – under the plan EZ Pass users (which account for 75% of all crossings) will pay only 3.8% more while transit fares for most riders will increase more than that. Last time we checked, promoting transit use over driving is an vital part of "sustainability."

  • This is hopefully a prelude to a more substantive discussion of long term financing for mass transit at the city and state level. New funding sources are needed, whether they come from state or local taxes, new tolls or congestion pricing or other streams of revenue.

    In the meantime, everyone should use this as an excuse to bug their employers to get Transitchek as soon as possible. It will more than offset the increase to the Monthly card

  • Larry Littlefield

    (This is hopefully a prelude to a more substantive discussion of long term financing for mass transit at the city and state level.)

    Well, Bloomberg just came out in favor of more sacrifice in the short run in order to stop going deeper and deeper into debt to pay for ongoing normal replacement.

    I expect he anticipates having the new, more responsible policy take effect in 2010 after they finished borrowing massively for the current MTA Capital Plan — and he leaves office. At least he proposed that someone should have to pay today, rather than just letting things collapse tomorrow (the Brodsky/Silver/Bruno/Weiner/Pataki plan).

  • Joe Rappaport

    I have to say that I think the view that Brodsky et al were in favor of “letting things collapse tomorrow” is just way off base.

    For the first time in decades — and I believe I speak with a bit of knowledge on this, having fought fare hikes on the ground several times between 1985-2005 (for NYPIRG’s Straphangers Campaign, for TWU Local 100 and as a columnist for amNY) — the legislature actually was involved and ready to fight for more money to prevent a hike. (A hike that was, by the way, not actually necessary this moment, as a review of the MTA’s finances has shown.)

    In the past, a handful of legislators would join in a leafleting event or show up at the board and blabber on for a couple of minutes. There was never the kind of commitment shown here by Brodsky, Silver and even Bruno. It was unprecedented and, I believe, real.

    Would they have come through? I think they would have, but we won’t know now. It sure would have been hard for the legislature to have ducked their commitment to find more money if they had succeeded in delaying the hike, don’t you think?

    Beyond that, though, the MTA blew a great opportunity to figure out how to get more money from the city (other than for the misguided 7 line expansion) and from other players. And also to balance the burden so that riders aren’t always tapped first, rather than with other key parties.

    Now, without the threat of fare hike, it will be harder, not easier, to find the new funding sources that Glenn correctly suggests are needed.

  • Joe Rappaport

    “At least he proposed that someone should have to pay today, rather than just letting things collapse tomorrow (the Brodsky/Silver/Bruno/
    Weiner/Pataki plan).”

    By the way, Gene Russianoff and the NYPIRG Straphangers Campaign also opposed this fare hike and worked closely with Assembly Member Brodsky to delay it. Was their plan also to let things “collapse tomorrow?” I somehow doubt it, since it’s been the group’s consistent position — since it first burst on the scene in 1980 or so and certainly when I worked for it — to support a fully and fairly funded capital plan.

    The bottom line: Spitzer and Bloomberg (and the MTA itself) deserve the blame for an unwise fare hike that didn’t solve the MTA’s long-term funding. That was the Pataki-Giuliani-
    Conway-Kalikow (we could throw Dinkins in there, and Cuomo at times, though he did ok after 1986) approach. It apparently also is the Spitzer-Bloomberg-Sander approach.

  • Larry Littlefield

    (It sure would have been hard for the legislature to have ducked their commitment to find more money if they had succeeded in delaying the hike, don’t you think?)

    No, they could do anything they want to.

    (Now, without the threat of fare hike, it will be harder, not easier, to find the new funding sources that Glenn correctly suggests are needed.)

    There are no new funding sources. There is only higher fares, higher tolls/congestion pricing, higher taxes, and lower spending on other things — and borrowing more and letting things collapse tomorrow. The latter is the existing policy, which this small fare hike does not change.

    They never said they were going to come up with $2-3 billion more per year to fund ongoing capital expenditures. They said they would come up with $300 million just once to push the fare off a few months.

  • Joe Rappaport

    Thanks for the response, Larry. A couple of comments:

    1) “No, they [the legislature] could do anything they want to.”
    ——-
    Sure they could have. But there are two questions to ask, then:

    A) What was the likelihood they would have done nothing?
    B) What would have happened if they hadn’t taken action?

    In answer to question A, we obviously disagree on this. I believe that the legislature wasn’t bluffing or dissembling when its members said they’d find funding – since their stance was demonstrably different than in previous years, and that the spotlight of the Daily News and the public counts for something. You and others might not agree. I believe it was worth the try.

    As for question B, I have in front of me the MTA’s financial documents, which I’ve again reviewed. The MTA did not need a fare hike in 2008, and especially in early 2008, according to its own documents. (It will end the year with a surplus, even without a hike.) So why not wait for possible new revenues?

    (What are new revenues? They do include taxes, but typically taxes that are more equitable than a fare hike, which falls disproportionately on those who can least afford it. They also include congestion pricing, which would absolutely be a “new” revenue, since it does not exist in New York City currently.)

    If the cash didn’t come through, the MTA still “could do anything they wanted to,” by raising the fare in the spring, of course.

    Not addressed in your response: the role of the NYPIRG Straphangers Campaign. Since the group has existed since about 1980, and Gene Russianoff has lobbied for fair and adequate funding (both capital and operating) in Albany since then, you’d think that they might have actually had a clue about what they were doing in opposing the hike. I don’t think the Straphangers Campaign was hoodwinked or something. In fact, they led the battle with Assembly Member Brodsky, even as they oppose him on congestion pricing.

    2) “They never said they were going to come up with $2-3 billion more per year to fund ongoing capital expenditures. They said they would come up with $300 million just once to push the fare off a few months.”

    The perfect is the enemy of the good. The $300 million might have been annual funding –- not just a one-shot. Beyond that, passage of congestion pricing is now in even more danger, although some that money will go toward capital funding (though possibly for wasteful projects like the 7 line extension).

    Best wishes for a happy 2008.

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

Doomsday News: MTA Votes, Paterson Plays Chicken, Monserrate Indicted

|
Photo: The Daily Politics The MTA’s doomsday scenario came closer to fruition today, as agency board members took a step toward implementing planned fare hikes and service reductions while state lawmakers appeared mired in stalemate. Here are a few tidbits. Newsday filed this report on the MTA Finance Committee meeting (as live-blogged by Second Avenue […]

MTA Chief Links Congestion Pricing to Fare Hike… or Not

|
MTA Chief Lee Sander told CBS reporter Marcia Kramer on Wednesday that the passage of Mayor Bloomberg’s congestion pricing pilot project may help stave off a fare hike. "The straphanger in my judgment will have to play a role, but if Wall Street turns around and congestion pricing is passed then maybe we can give […]

MTA Budget Proposes Severe Service Cuts, Perpetual Fare Hikes

|
Elliot "Lee" Sander As expected, the proposed 2009 MTA budget is rife with grim news. In addition to various cutbacks at the administrative level, the budget and 2009-2012 financial plan — minus an infusion of aid from the city, state or federal government — will have a direct impact on transit customers in the form […]

NYC Bridge Tolls: The Solution That Won’t Go Away

|
Is 2010 the year of bridge tolls? Or will it be 2011 or 2012? If the editorial boards and political insiders are even half right, New York State appears to be back on the brink of an epic fiscal crisis. Lieutenant Governor Richard Ravitch said today that the state faces a deficit of $9 billion […]

Don’t Believe Team Cuomo’s Spin on the MTA “Lockbox”

|
This is rich. When Mayor Bill de Blasio told the Daily News he’s wary of upping the city’s contribution to the MTA capital program because Governor Andrew Cuomo has repeatedly raided dedicated transit funds, MTA Chair Tom Prendergast said don’t worry, you can trust the governor: “This is nothing more than rhetoric from a mayor who refuses to […]