As the latest round of fare hike hearings — the fourth in five years — continues around the region, turnout is low but rants against the MTA board are still at a high boil. As usual, the elected officials who allocate resources to the transit system are shielded from public accountability.
But today, on a busy sidewalk next to a bus stop getting more crowded as rush hour approached, transit advocates and elected officials directed their ire not at the MTA board, but at the source of the authority’s funding woes: Albany. The coalition included State Senator Gustavo Rivera, City Council Member Jumaane Williams, Transportation Alternatives, the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, the Riders Alliance and the Straphangers Campaign.
Speakers were quick to praise Governor Cuomo and the MTA for the rapid response to Hurricane Sandy, but looked ahead to the MTA’s shaky financial future. The fare hike looming next year is only the latest in a cascade of rising fares and service cuts that have struck transit riders, as the MTA has faced a brutal combination of legislative budget raids and escalating debt payments.
“Crisis response does not a healthy transit system make,” said Transportation Alternatives Executive Director Paul Steely White. “We cannot keep coming back to the riders time and again while other contributions to the budget diminish.”
“We have to make sure that in the long term we commit ourselves as a state to putting the type of money that is necessary to maintain” the transit system, said Rivera. “We need that public transportation system to be funded fully and to be funded by the dedicated public transit taxes that are supposed to go to the system.” In recent years, Albany has swiped more than $200 million from the MTA’s dedicated taxes to plug holes in the state budget.
Until Albany decides to take action, the burden will continue to fall to riders. Hearings for the latest round of fare hikes are scheduled to continue in Manhattan and the Bronx tonight, and Queens and Westchester County on Thursday.