Who Will Be New York’s Transit Champions?

Will any New York politicians stand up for transit?

A common thread ran through several MTA meetings held this week: there is not enough money to meet the financial needs of the MTA system, especially as ridership has increased. To deal with cost escalations in its current capital program, the MTA “deferred” planned station rehabilitations and other projects into the 2009-2014 program — which is largely unfunded. The agency also warned that a widening gap in its operating budget meant that a fare increase or service cuts could be necessary in 2009.

The discussion of how to fix the MTA’s finances will likely take months, but it’s clear that maintaining a viable system will require additional revenue, either in direct state and city aid or from new dedicated sources. The big question transit riders should start asking: Where are our champions in Albany and New York City?

The MTA’s financial problems have several underlying causes, including too much agency borrowing, declining revenue from dedicated taxes, increasing operating costs, and skyrocketing construction costs. But the root cause of the MTA’s fiscal crisis is lack of government support. (See MTR # 561 for a history of how government has neglected the agency.)

Since the demise of congestion pricing, there has been a leadership vacuum when it comes to raising revenue for our transit network. Unless politicians stand up for transit riders, we are likely to see the MTA system spiral downhill. Many vocal opponents of congestion pricing, such as Assemblymember Richard Brodsky, insist that they understand the importance of transit to New Yorkers’ quality of life and economic well-being. Perhaps they will fight in the next legislative session for more state aid to the MTA. As the Straphangers Campaign has pointed out, there have been fare hikes in back-to-back years only once in the subways’ 104-year history.

Who will make sure it doesn’t happen again?

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