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 http://www.tstc.org/press/2007/081607_MTA_tolls.pdf.
- 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.