There's Still Time: What's Next For the MTA

Just how broad are the MTA's planned service cuts and fare hikes? The documents describing them, distributed at the board meeting, are 384 pages long.

Just how broad are the MTA's planned service cuts and fare hikes? The documents describing them, distributed at the board meeting, are 384 pages long.

Today the MTA Board passed broad service cuts and steep fare increases that will gouge deep ruts in the region’s economic health and quality of life. Albany desperately needs to act, and there is still time.

Now that the MTA has passed its doomsday budget, the agency must begin preparing the system for higher fares and service cuts in time for May 31, when the new fares will take effect. But if Gov. Paterson and the State Legislature can agree on a rescue plan before then, service cuts and fare increases will be canceled or rolled back.

In statements, the Empire State Transportation Alliance and the Keep New York Moving coalition called on state elected leaders to continue working, and Gov. Paterson said he was committed to rescuing transit riders.

So what form could an eventual rescue plan take? Several possibilities suggest themselves:

With the April 1 deadline for New York’s state budget fast approaching, state legislators could tackle the MTA problem at the same time. However, there’s a real danger that the Legislature will pass a short-term fix, like the State Senate majority’s plan, that restores service cuts but doesn’t fund the MTA’s long-term capital program.

Passage of a comprehensive plan in the State Senate may require Republican votes, as suggested by Gov. Paterson earlier this month. Many, including the New York Times editorial board, have singled out NYC Republicans like Sen. Andrew Lanza as potential coalition members. Long Island Bus riders face fare increases of 75%, making it imperative that Long Island legislators like Sen. Dean Skelos step in. The Straphangers Campaign’s Gene Russianoff and others have suggested that tying MTA funding to increased NYSDOT road and bridge funding, as has been done in the past, could win support from upstate legislators.

There are many paths elected officials can take, but only two possible futures. In one, state elected officials get behind a comprehensive, long-term plan that addresses the MTA’s operating and capital budgets and allows for continued investment in the region’s transportation network. In the other, they pass a half-solution or do nothing at all, and the system steadily deteroriates.

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