Five Ways to Stop MTA Service Cuts

Today, despite protests citywide, the MTA Board approved a package of drastic service cuts and an end to free student fares.

The funding package, which also includes a 10% pay cut for non-union employees, was passed to close a $383 million gap that suddenly appeared after the state cut aid to the MTA, revenue from the payroll tax came in under the state’s projections, and a state court upheld an arbitrator’s decision to award raises to unionized workers.

In a statement, the Tri-State Campaign outlined five actions that elected officials and the MTA can take to stop the cuts:

  • Increase City support to the MTA. The City’s contribution to the system has remained stagnant for years. And it is NYC residents, especially schoolchildren, who will be hurt the most under this plan.  (It’s worth noting that the costs of student fares have increasingly been borne by the MTA.)
  • Push for federal transit operating support in the jobs bill recently announced by President Obama. Preliminary reports put transportation expenditures in the bill at $48 billion. The House of Representatives is discussing the bill this afternoon and is considering allowing a small percentage of this money to be used for transit operations. The MTA has strongly opposed federal assistance for transit operations in the past, but the agency’s current situation proves that it is time to reconsider this policy. As the largest transit operator in the country, the MTA’s support would be powerful.
  • Find real cost savings. New MTA Chairman Jay Walder has promised to “take the place apart” to reduce costs, and has cited $500 million in overtime spending, a large rise in the cost of construction, and 5,000 administrative positions as unacceptable practices. The MTA must aggressively seek cost savings, and elected officials must support those efforts.
  • Consider innovative tolling methods. A 2007 Tri-State Transportation Campaign study found that variable tolling on the MTA crossings could raise new revenue, save drivers time, and help stop fare increases or service cuts.  Variable tolls charge more during congested times of day.  That analysis is available at
  • As a last resort, “flex” 10% of the agency’s federal stimulus money from capital projects to operations. This would amount to nearly $100 million and help stop the service cuts. This is an unsustainable stopgap measure that will only postpone the problem, and the Campaign does not generally support capital dollars being used for operations. However, this is a dire situation that may require emergency action.

Walder said today that the budget should be considered preliminary due to the speed with which it was put together  and that the agency would take another look at the package of service cuts in January. But clearly, without a new approach, the agency will pursue a plan that balances the budget on the backs of transit riders and schoolchildren.

“The riders don’t question that you need to take action to deal with the shortfall,” said William Henderson of the Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee. “Instead they question the choices you have made.”

Ultimately, however, a long-term funding solution must be enacted. Along with the operating deficit, the agency is facing a $10 billion shortfall in its 2010-2014 capital program. The impacts of not investing in transit is a history lesson not to be repeated.

The earliest the cuts would go into effect is June.


17 Comments on "Five Ways to Stop MTA Service Cuts"

  1. Clark Morris | December 16, 2009 at 5:21 pm |

    Why should the MTA be giving free rides to New York City school children? If the school board wants the students to have free subway passes, let the school board pay the MTA for them.

  2. Mr. Morris- the MTA and the school system both get funding from the same source- they tax payers. The difference is that the MTA board members get paid upward of $400K in salary a year, and they’re not taking any salary cuts to spare already struggling NYC workers and students fare hikes and service cuts.

    But hey- if you think NYC school children should pay the price for the MTA’s corruption and incompetence, there’s no point in trying to talk sense into you.

    No sane person should sympathize with those that run the MTA- they’re unaccountable aristocrats who don’t use the transit system and use our tax dollars to pay for their excessive lifestyles. The MTA was formed after the transit worker’s strike in the 1970’s to shield the Mayor and the city government who don’t want to be held accountable by voters for transit problems.

  3. Mr.Morris,
    Most USA public school systems include school buses as the method of transportation for our children to/from school …our MTA buses/subways are our children’s “school bus”. Think there are other ways to find the money.

  4. Mr. Morris, the same city that allots money to the MTA funds the Department of Education. They’re both organizations intended to service the New York City public, and student MetroCards are a part of that service. Either way, the money is coming from the same place–the public. So why should money be taken out of the Department of Education’s already overstretched budget to compensate for the MTA’s mismanagement of funds?

  5. I wanted to correct some misinformation in the comments above. First of all, by law the MTA board members serve without salary.

    Second, the city and state used to pay for student metrocards, but they don’t so much anymore.

    Third, how is it “the MTA’s mismanagement of funds” when the State Senate said they’d get $600 million from the payroll tax but they only wound up with $400 million? When the Governor cut the state contribution by $143 million because no state legislator would agree to cut any other program?

  6. I dont understand anything. We’re in a Recession and yet we continue to be put down more and more. I’m a Senior in my high school and I travel about 2 hours every morning and afternoon to and from school. There is no way that student metrocards should be cut off.
    Parents are all not as wealthy as lets say the “upper class.” And most adults are on welfare or recieve goverment checks. We’re taking away the little money that they recieve to pay for utilities and rent and food.
    Its going to turn into another Strike. Only this time it won’t be MTA on strike. It’s going to be the students and parents who have to suffer.
    It’s Ironic how the same year they up the prices on Metro Cards, they banned Student Metro Cards. It’s all just to get more money. It’s ridiculous.
    The percentage of New York City is already high on Homeless Citizens residing in Homeless Shelters. How can you possibly do good for yourself while paying more and more to get around? When will the hypercritsy end?

  7. The 10% flexing of federal stimulus funds has always been a Congressional contradiction – U.S. DOT did not award stimulus $ in the first round unless recipients showed direct allocation to projects ready to go – the money was pre-committed. Maybe it’s possible to cancel projects and throw some remaining funds into operations but I suspect the delays and contract issues with that would be costly and un-stimulating.

  8. Clark Morris | December 17, 2009 at 4:42 pm |

    In most jurisdictions, it is the school board that pays for the transportation, not the transit agency. While any subsidy comes from the same taxpayer, having the MTA provide the transportation free is in effect having them subsidize school board policies for which they have no say.

    In terms of other ways the MTA could save money, speeding service so that fewer trains and buses are required would be a good start. There are reports that the subway cars which are capable of at least 50 miles per hour are now restricted to less than 40 miles per hour. In the bus area, the city can do much by merely enforcing bus lanes (and preventing police cars from double parking on bus routes), double parking rules and parking bans in bus stops.

    Longer term, should New York have zone fares as New Jersey does and in Europe: London, Hamburg, Berlin and Munich? London does it with fare barriers on the Tubes while the other cities have open platforms with proof of payment required (fine is cost of a 3 month pass).

  9. Did anyone of our officials or news media take in consideration the billions of dollars yhe MTA is spending for the 2nd ave subway? This is non-renenvue and puis in in yhe whole. They should fire the whole board and replace it with competent individuals, This is not a city agency but is treated like one.

  10. We can dig ourselves out of this.

    Where we agree:

    1. The education budget should cover the cost of student transportation. Though, since the city educators will be buying MTA services in bulk, they should negotiate a significant discount. All in all, that likely means slightly higher property taxes as its the dominant source of education funding.

    2. Cost savings should be found in MTA operations. The unions will have to be active participants in this process. Brace yourselves. As for MTA administration, I have one word, OUTSOURCE. Well maybe two, please. Rolling stock and signal systems are being upgraded. Change is coming.

    3. Tolling methods should be in the mix. There is no logic to our current toll regime and it needs to be rationalized. The congestion pricing debate fractured the concept of “one city, free ride” and introduced New Yorkers to a fact the world all ready knew, Manhattan IS the central business district.

    Where we disagree:

    1. No Federal stimulus or job funds to cover up our inability to forecast tax receipts, properly staff, negotiate or operate. Capital funds are sorely needed – its been decades – maybe even a century – since some stations have been refurbished. And any new job funds are for NEW jobs not raises or wasteful administration. Sorry.

    2. City support should come from her citizens not out of some magic piggy bank or back door tax (ie real estate transaction surcharge). We are the heaviest users of the MTA, we have the most at stake, and we need to support the agency – with pride. The agency then has the obligation to make us proud (and I get why we’re all dubious of that outcome).

    My proposals:

    1. Initiate congestion pricing to fund capital debt service and provide new capital funds.

    2. Increase parking within the Manhattan CBD and region wide rental car taxes to provide operating subsidy.

    3. Create a special premium fare zone in Manhattan for operating stability first and capital second. $3.00 per ride for any trip ORIGINATING and terminating within the CBD. Utilize RFID fare cards technology for BOTH entry and exit in Manhattan from 86th street south.

    4. Spread the pain evenly, add an in-bound commuter terminal surcharge to enter the subway system from in Penn Station, Grand Central, PATH and the PA Bus Terminal during peak periods. Add to the account of those that have a monthly pass. Use these funds to cover a portion of operating as well as capital expenses related to ESA, ARC and other commuter related projects (Fulton).

    5. Establish stable revenue sources, ie – tax outdoor and transit advertising 5% and provide receipts to the transit agency. Perhaps target these funds – station state state of good repair, for instance.

    What else?

  11. Niko, check your facts before you post. MTA board members are unpaid. They are volunteers.

  12. Ray:
    There is already a lot of outsourcing at MTA using consultant firms. Some of those people are good, some are not. But you lose institutional memory…you need long timers who know how the systems work and how to get things done. A lot of the systems in the subway are so old that only the career people know how to fix them. Outsourcing can’t do it, which is why companies that outsource find themselves in steep decline a few years later. And they aren’t any cheaper – you pay a higher cash cost to make up for benefits.

    And when it comes to funding sources, lets not forget that all the people from NJ and CT no longer pay a commuter tax so they don’t pay the full cost of thier rides.

  13. Transit Analyst | December 22, 2009 at 5:19 pm |

    Many of the suggested solutions are problematic. Virtually all of them requiring taxpayers to pay more, something not to do in this economic climate. The only effective long-term solution is involving private enterprise in the system’s management and operation.

    Increase City support to the MTA.
    Increased City support is the same as raising taxes for City residents. Not an acceptable solution.

    Push for federal transit operating support in the jobs bill recently announced by President Obama.
    This would increase taxes across the entire United States. Also, history has shown that federal transit operating support has led to increased transit operating expenses (i.e., higher wages) without fixing the underlying structural financial issues.

    Find real cost savings.
    Always sounds good but rarely achievable, especially for a government-run organization. The only way this would work is if the operation were handed over to a private company and the private company were able to increase its profits based on squeezing out inefficiency.

    Consider innovative tolling methods.
    To the extent this provides additional transit funding it constitutes higher fees for motorists.

    Flex 10% of the agency’s federal stimulus money from capital projects to operations.
    Indeed a short term but unsustainable strategy.

  14. As to the question of flexing capital dollars, consider that this is a crisis of a temporary nature. Billions is flowing from DC to sustain many operating functions in states/cities. Why should transit be excluded ?

    There is an artificial distinction between the operating and capital budget anyway since the operating budget would be sustainable but for the debt service from the last three capital plans..

    Only the federal government can provide the emergency relief we need. We need it now. If we need to slow down construction on transit improvements that come on line in 10+ years to sustain todays service—we should.

  15. Clark Morris | December 23, 2009 at 5:06 pm |

    To Bob: New Jersey and Connecticut are paying for the commuter service to New York from the respective states even though New York State gets the income tax revenue. Their subway and bus use is probably a net profit because for the most part they fill spaces on trains and buses that would be running anyway.

    In regard to tolls, all tolls should go to street, road and bridge facility maintenance with the general funds currently allocated to these purposes being redirected to transit. Then we might be able to have a policy that streets, roads and other highway needs are only funded from vehicle associated taxes and fees with no money coming from general funds. This might require interesting techniques to get revenues from the bio-diesel and electric vehicle users.

  16. Three buses, the BX 34, the B 25, and the BX 10, are making a comeback, ,it seems, according to Pete Donohue’s article in The Daily News (Tuesday). It’s not an erection year so it’s difficult to see why these impotent buses have been resurrected.

  17. To Saroyan: The Bx 34 bus is very far from “impotent”. It serves the entire Woodlawn area and is our only means of getting to the #4 subway. We have already suffered severe service cuts and eliminating this bus would devastate our community. Obviously, you have never ridden on the #34 bus, or you would know that it very heavily used and often has standing room only. Woodlawn residents are New York City residents and have a right to access adequate transportation. Our tax dollars and fare pay for it.

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