The grim tone of today’s MTA Board meeting was set with opening remarks by Board Chairman Dale Hemmerdinger who said solving the transit system’s financial crisis requires “several miracles.” A doomsday proclamation is not far-fetched. The proposed budget includes a 23% fare increase, nearly 6,000 layoffs, and deep service cuts to subway, bus, and commuter rail service — including total elimination of many bus routes and even two subway lines. (More details are at City Room; MTR will publish in-depth analyses of the 2009 proposed budget.)
Several of the 15 public speakers spoke about the urgent need to invest in transit to save and create jobs and to ease the economic burdens of subway and bus riders. Sonia Wilchard, an ACORN member and Long Island Bus rider, gave powerful testimony about her sole reliance on Nassau County bus service to get to her dialysis treatments and back in time to meet her daughter from school. She wondered how she could “be a good parent” while still making ends meet. Long Island Bus, which has consistently been underfunded by Nassau County Executive Thomas Suozzi and the MTA, could see fares jump by at least 43%, routes eliminated, and over 40 jobs cut. As Kate Slevin, executive director of Tri-State said in testimony, Long Island Bus riders could be hit the hardest as “the 8% of Nassau County households that don’t own a car and rely solely on transit service like Long Island Bus make $40,000, while those who own cars make nearly $100,000.”
Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer said the proposed budget was “handing out crumbs” to transit riders. Like many other speakers, he called for state and city elected officials to find other revenue sources to infuse the agency with assistance. Bob Yaro, President of Regional Plan Association, noted that 68% of the state’s population resides in the MTA region. He said disinvestment in our transit system would be a “body blow to the economy” of the entire state.
This morning, coalition members from the Empire State Transportation Alliance and Campaign for New York’s Future, including Tri-State, Straphangers Campaign, and RPA hand-delivered to the MTA Board meeting seven postcards covered with 4,000 signatures from subway riders asking elected officials to fund the transit system. The postcards were signed during events across NYC yesterday morning.
Many MTA board members expressed their anguish about raising fares, cutting service, and eliminating jobs. But, in the absence of new revenue and state and city aid, the MTA has few options other than raising fares and tolls and cutting service and jobs because transit operations and maintenance consumes 88% of the MTA’s operating budget. Such drastic measures are the only means the agency has to balance its budget by the end of the year, which is mandated by law.
Many board members said they looked forward to the Ravitch Commission’s recommendations. That report is expected to come out December 5 and recommend ways to fund the MTA’s operating and capital needs. MTA CEO Elliot Sander said the state had until March to find new revenue and save riders from the massive cuts and fare hikes proposed today.