MTA Budget Proposes Severe Service Cuts, Perpetual Fare Hikes

sander1.jpgElliot "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 of service reductions and fare increases. From today’s press announcement:

"The
budget presented today fulfills the MTA’s responsibility to put forward
a balanced budget for the coming year,” said Elliot G. Sander, MTA
Executive Director and Chief Executive Officer. "While we attempted to
identify the least harmful cuts possible, they will be painful and no
one at the MTA is eager to implement them. Even in a period of
austerity, continued investment in the MTA’s critical operating and
capital needs must be a top priority for elected officials in Albany,
New York City and Washington. That is why Governor Paterson appointed
the Ravitch Commission, and we will work hard to ensure that its
recommendations are implemented to restore financial stability to the
MTA. It powers our economy and we cannot allow the system to move
backward at this critical moment."

"The
proposed budget presents the MTA Board with extremely tough choices
that we must grapple with over the next month," said Chairman H. Dale
Hemmerdinger. "We have an obligation to pass a balanced budget, but we
all hope that service cuts and extreme fare increases can be avoided.
We will be closely watching the Ravitch Commission and will support its
efforts in any way we can, both on the operating budget and also on the
critical capital program, which cannot be forgotten."

Before
any gap-closing measures are implemented or prior-year carryover is
included, the MTA’s budget deficits are projected to reach $1.441
billion in 2009, $2.394 billion in 2010, $2.647 billion in 2011, and
$2.972 billion in 2012.

Further details are to be worked out "in the coming months," but the plan calls for a 23 percent increase in toll and fare revenue, with regular alternate-year increases to begin in 2011.

Also on the table:

  • Paratransit fares will increase to twice the regular base fare, "as allowable by law and consistent with other bus agencies"
  • Express bus fares will increase from $5 to $7.50
  • Long Island Bus fares will increase by 20 percent "over and above the general proposed fare increase in the absence of additional support from Nassau County"

At the same time, the MTA has proposed the following cuts in NYC Transit service.

Subways:

  • Route modifications – shorten G, operate N via Manhattan Bridge late nights, eliminate W and extend Q to Astoria, operate M to Broad rush hours, eliminate Z, add J local service.
  • Increased headways and loading guidelines during non-rush hours – headways increase from 8 to 10 minutes on ADEFGJMNQR on Saturdays and the ADEFGNQR on Sundays; headways increase from 20 to 30 minutes from 2 a.m. to 5 a.m.
  • Reduced station booth and station customer assistant staffing; elimination of enhanced station area track cleaning program.

Buses:

  • Reduce or eliminate low ridership services, especially during weekends or late night, and services that largely duplicate subway service. (Specifics have appeared in the News and Post.)

Commuter rail lines would be affected as well, with reductions in staffing, cleaning and maintenance.

Today’s announcement is posted on the MTA web site, where the full budget is "soon" to appear. A final decision on the proposed budget will be made on December 17, after the much-anticipated Ravitch Commission report, and the state executive budget, are released.

City Room has more from this morning’s MTA board meeting.

File photo: Brad Aaron

  • So, while our transit system falls apart, and the four million or so people who use it pay more and get less, and the planet gets warmer, the East River bridges will remain free to encourage driving with no HOV restrictions and congestion pricing will remain in moth balls?

    Brilliant.

  • OK, I’m waiting for the populist grandstanding from our electeds about how a fare hike is an unfair tax on working class New Yorkers. Come on, Congressman Weiner, we’re ready to hear it.

    Speaking as a regular transit rider, if fare hikes are needed, so be it. You want things, you have to pay for them. But the idea that I should be paying more while drivers from Marine Park and Gerritsen Beach and Sheepshead Bay continue to be able to drive to work for free over the East River bridges is what pisses me off.

  • I think the proposed changes to the N would mean that Lower Manhattan N/R stations (below Canal) would have no service at all overnight.

  • These are just my preliminary thoughts on this, but here are the bare bones of what our policy demands:

    NO SERVICE CUTBACKS
    – Cutting service would be disastrous for a number of reasons. First, people need to be able to rely on consistent and convenient transit service in order to forgo car ownership and use. Cutting back on service increases uncertainty and keeps people reliant on personal autos. In the short term, we can expect increased auto traffic, decreased quality of life in an immediately immiserating fashion for thousands of commuters, and greater public contempt for the MTA. Long term, we would be undermining our goal of sustainable transportation.

    EFFICIENCY
    – The MTA does need to look inward for some belt tightening and eliminate inefficiencies. The TWA also needs to look inward and recognize that some cuts will need to be made where jobs have become redundant, obsolete or otherwise unproductive. But the rights of workers in useful and productive positions must be protected.
    – Modernization of signalling and computerized fleet management to improve system efficiency.

    CAPITAL FUNDING
    – Now is the time for an ambitious capital program. We should absolutely NOT be looking to cut back projects, but to expand the system aggressively. NYC does not exist in a vacuum. The entire US economy is facing a crisis to rival, perhaps even surpass, the Great Depression. We need bold leadership from Washington and the new Democratic president and congressional majorities will soon be in a position to make it happen. I propose a national infrastructure stimulus plan more ambitious than the WPA of FDR’s time. Something on the order of $1.0 – 1.5 trillion over 2-3 years.
    – MTA should be drawing up proposals for this stimulus funding NOW, so that we are positioned to take part in funds immediately upon passage of the bill.

    FIXING THE OPERATIONAL AND LEGACY DEFICIT
    – I propose a package of funding mechanisms, all DEDICATED TO FUNDING TRANSIT:
    – Tolling the East and Harlem River crossings on par with existing tolled crossings. This will more accurately price the externalities of personal auto and truck travel and reduce congestion and pollution. Secondly it would raise a significant source of revenue for transit operations.
    – Bring back the Commuter tax, only now to be DEDICATED to MTA funding. This tax should be progressively scaled.
    – Moderate increase in fares of pay-per-ride and shorter term metro cards; no increase in monthly unlimited ride cards. Recent increase have fallen largely on regular riders and residents. Tourists and visitors are also capable of sharing some higher costs.

    Lastly, I think it is very important to recognize the role Mayor Bloomberg played in our current fiscal crisis. Lack of adequate planning and responsible policy during the greatest building boom this city has seen in our lifetimes, culminating in a $1.1 billion discretionary tax rebate last year while the recession’s shadow was already creeping over us should not be forgotten. Bloomberg has gotten a total pass from the press on this so far, and he doesn’t deserve it.

    Comments? Email me at info@garyreilly.org. Looking to work with others to form an alliance of transit advocates and elected officials to head off service cuts. This cannot be allowed to happen; the stakes are enormous.

  • Larry Littlefield

    The MTA is once again underestimating the devasting effect of past decisions. This is NOT worst case.

    It expects a 50% decrease in real estate transfer tax revenues from the peak. NYC investment sales have been doing much better than most places. In other markets — even places such as SF, LA, Bos — they have fallen to near zero.

    The MTA has variable rate debt. Interest rates could explode as the federal deficit does. (In the early 1990s I got a two-year Treasury note for 9.5%. The federal deficit is going much higher than it was then).

    Required pension contributions are going to soar as a result of investment losses.

    As others lose insurance, the health care industry is going to jack up charges even faster to those who still have it, mostly public employees and retirees.

    If the economy goes into deflation — with falling prices but nost of us having falling wages and tax revenues going down — the 2000 pension deal nonetheless guarantees an inflation adjustment of at least 1% per year.

    The state could cut operating assistance again. Would that surprise you?

    The good news — lower construction costs — won’t help once the MTA capital program shuts down, after it overpaid massively in the construction boom.

  • J

    Mike- The R still runs to those Lower Manhattan stations overnight.

  • J

    Actually, it looks like you’re right, Mike. I imagine they’d extend R service into Manhattan to cover those stations.

  • Instead of changing the R to run up to Canal Street overnight, wouldn’t it be easier just to run the N on the R line from Canal to Atlantic Avenue? You’re only adding five stops vs. a bunch if you ran the R up to Canal.

    But I guess the point of the way it’s described is that this way you close all those M/R/W stations (City Hall, Wall, Whitehall, Court, Lawrence) overnight because there are plenty of alternatives in that Lower Manhattan/Downtown Brooklyn area.

  • Jaywalker

    Umm, the N uses the Montague St Tunnel late nights and weekends, under normal circumstances, assuming no diversions due to track work.

  • Niccolo Machiavelli

    Gary Reilly puts forth an ambitious agenda though I’m not holding my breath for a commuter tax. I think at some point there is an obligation to show why the suburban and rural Assemblypeople and Senators are going to support such a tax. Their issue is Property Tax relief from the State. So is there just a political shell game where they would trade property tax relief for a commuter tax? And, just how could that be made to benefit the MTA?

    More viable is an exchange of land use reform in the suburbs for property tax relief. The suburbs that commit to transit oriented development and other service consolidations could receive state funds relieving their property taxes. Likewise city neighborhoods would drop their ill considered down-zoning strategies and encourage transit oriented development densities in exchange for other state commitments and the MTA could be guaranteed markets in both the burbs and outer boroughs that can be served efficiently.

    For that sort of strategy though, hungry young political wannabes would have to get off of their down-zoning NIMBY bandwagon and admit how anti-transit down-zoning really is. Its easy to point at someone else in the TWU (not TWA) or the suburbs and ask them to pay, but if you are looking for cheap votes by pandering to the NIMBY anti-developers you owe someone an explanation as to how that is going to effect mortgage recording taxes and transit operational efficiency.

  • paulb

    I think it’s time to revisit the Kheel plan.

  • N.M.,

    There is a certain density required to make transit viable, but not every urban, walkable neighborhood needs to be built to Manhattan scale, or even downtown Brooklyn scale.

    I believe it’s good to have a mix of densities that support public transit and local businesses and thus, walkable communities. To say that it is an either/or situation distorts reality.

    I live in Carroll Gardens, which for me is the “just right” neighborhood in Goldilocks terms. Not too big, not too small. We are served by the F and the G, as well as buses. Good luck taking the bus up Smith Street though, it is a heavily trafficked stop-and-go ride. For most people it is the F line, which is currently crowded. We have considerable development going on along the length of this line, from Boerum Hill through Windsor Terrace/Sunset Park and plans for tremendous development in Coney Island.

    Frankly I think the “NIMBY” calling is silly. Not everyone wants to live in Manhattan. If we were talking about some public utility, such as a new transit line in the area, or a power plant, or some other public use, that local people oppose for selfish reason (i.e. an actual “not in my back yard” situation) I could see your point. But we’re not. We’re talking about housing density. And beyond the level necessary to support transit use, I think it’s better to have a variety in our neighborhood options.

    We have a difference of opinion. My opinion is not uninformed; I studied land use and housing policy in law school. I spent a considerable amount of time working on affordable housing policy and smart growth advocacy through the Rutgers Environmental Law Clinic. I studied urban economics and public economics as an undergrad. And I believe a range of densities and neighborhood variety create a more vibrant city. I’m happy (and proud) to volunteer my time on neighborhood preservation AND transit advocacy. The two are not mutually exclusive concepts.

    Cheers.

    Gary

  • Tod

    Niccolo – great point about the critical property tax issue in suburbs. In the northeast the combination of small jurisdictions and strong home rule is made an inefficient mess outside of cities. It worked for a long time as more people moved in and kept money pumping, but now the costs of services are outpacing the ability to cram in new low-density, single-use development.

    The next transcendental step in regional planning policy will have to encourage suburban consolidation of services, de-emphasizing of property taxes for funding essential services (e.g. schools), and smart growth – the sticks – along with state and federal incentives to do so (the carrots).

    Gary – In regards to urban density, it’s also worth pointing out that the built form to density relationship allows a lot of flexibility. Paris proper is about as dense as Manhattan even though buildings are almost never taller than 7 stories. Density does not have to equate to high-rises.

  • Tod,

    I’ve had the good fortune to visit Paris on three occasions, and in 2000 stayed at a friend’s flat in the 16th arrondissement (sp?). I loved the neighborhood structure there as well as the architecture and it was a short walk to the RR. IIRC all the buildings were 6 stories.

    Your point about fragmentation is a good one; in NJ where I was raised and studied, there are 566 municipalities, each with it’s own policies. It is a mess that has made regional planning highly difficult.

    I think we need more regional planning, including a compact re-established among NY,NJ and CT for transportation infrastructure. The political boundaries don’t reflect geographic/demographic reality, and we really could be coordinating better.

  • Niccolo Machiavelli

    Gary,

    I live very close to you. Regarding the F, it is pretty far down the food chain on most crowded lines, lower 1/4 I think, look it up if you like, I think around 70% loaded. The G sucks but then again…its not the Franklin St. Shuttle. I can agree that our neighborhood is about right. Then why down-zone it? The neighbors have fought a jihad against a six story building right above a subway stop on a previously rat-infested lot, perhaps yours. That building is stopped right now thanks to the down-zoning effort. Maybe you don’t like it to be called NIMBY but NIMBY describes it pretty well. The down-zoning in that neighborhood though is only a small part of the overall problem as virtually every neighborhood, driven by the mad scientists who go to Community Board meetings (plenty of time on their hands), in the outer boroughs want fewer people in their neighborhoods as well. Fragmented decision making on land use will mean the end of all industry and much lower densities city wide and actually make land use and transportation planning in the city much like the mess it is in the burbs.

    Residential density is the most important indicator of transit efficiency. Young politicians can sometimes actually get elected pointing fingers at others inefficiencies (in your case TWU represented workers) while encouraging other inefficiencies. Sure you want more regional planning but you also want your neighborhood to have lower residential densities than currently permitted. Go figure.

    Density is our chief resource. Down-zoning clearly leads to lower land values, lower tax receipts per square foot, lower ridership and higher rents per square foot, no thanks. And, threatening Brooklyn with becoming Manhattan (horror of horrors) is really nonsense, have you been to Manhattan?

  • Please sign our petition to save the M8 crosstown bus!

    You can sign it at:
    http://www.savethem8.org

  • G

    Criminal! Let’s audit the MTA again, and find the cash they are hiding (again)!

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