Just as the controversy over last year’s fare hikes finally died down, the MTA released a proposal on Wednesday, July 28th that would once again raise fares and cut services in order to close its 2005 $436 million budget gap.
The proposals will go before the authority’s board sometime in September and must be finalized by the end of December.
The MTA has proposed a $6 increase to the 30-day unlimited MetroCard, bringing its price to $76. A 7-day unlimited card is proposed to cost $24, up $3. Under the new plan, express bus rides would go from $4 to $6.
For drivers the news isn’t good either. MTA officials are proposing raising tolls by 50 cents on major crossings like the Queens-Midtown Tunnel and the Triborough Bridge, while smaller bridge tolls would be raised by 25 cents.
Added to the proposal’s fare hikes are service cuts. Queens riders will no longer be able to take the G train past Court Square to Forest Hills at any time. Currently the G train terminates at Court Square on weekdays, and continues to Forest Hills, 71st Avenue on weekends and nights. Under the new proposal Court Square will be the permanent terminus. Off-peak bus service would be cut citywide to an estimated average of seven more passengers on each bus, and two extra minutes of wait time in between buses.
The budget deficits are mainly due to rising debt costs, Paul Fleuranges, MTA spokesman, said. He added that debt from the five-year capital improvement plan, plus costs associated with pension plans are causing a structural imbalance.
City Councilman and Chairman of the Transportation Committee John Liu is furious about the proposed budget. “For them to talk about a fare hike a mere 15 months after they enacted the largest fare hike in history is symptomatic of an agency out of control.”
Liu pointed to the revelation last year that the MTA had two sets of books as further proof that the agency was unable to deal with its own finances. “It’s a combination of not being truthful and continuing on these pipe dreams of spending on new projects when they can’t get the normal stuff done,” he said.
He is also upset at what he sees as the MTA’s clear partiality for Manhattan residents and suburban commuters over outer borough residents. He pointed to the proposed tunnel connection from lower Manhattan to the Long Island Rail Road and the proposed Second Avenue train as capital projects which the MTA cannot pay for and which for the most part benefits suburban commuters and Manhattanites.
Meanwhile express bus fares, overwhelmingly used by outer borough residents, many of them in Queens, will see a 50 percent fare hike.
“The lower Manhattan-LIRR link will cost $6 billion,” Liu said. That’s billion with a ‘b’,” he emphasized. The express bus fare hike will only save $10 million. “It’s clear the MTA is out of touch with outer borough residents,” Liu concluded.
Liu plans to fight the plan by putting pressure on the MTA through public hearings and protests.
Michael Hernandez, field organizer with the Straphangers Campaign, is not happy about the new budget either. “We’re very concerned. There are a lot of service cuts being proposed.”
Hernandez and the Straphangers think it’s time for Governor Pataki and Mayor Bloomberg to step up and help close the $436-million budget gap. He said the state and the city need to find the money to help get the MTA back in fiscal health or we’ll see a public transport system with poor service at a high cost.
Hernandez pointed out that 80 percent of public transportation ridership is in New York City. In spite of that New York City only gets 60 percent of the state’s transit money. The state gives disproportionately to the Long Island Rail Road and MetroNorth, which have 5 percent of state ridership but receive 23 percent of the state’s transit aid.
He also pointed out that New York City riders pay 65 percent of the MTA’s operating costs. In other cities like Chicago, Los Angeles and Miami riders pay around 30 percent, and local governments pick up a greater percentage of the costs.
Hernandez said that the possible imbalance of fare hikes and capital improvement projects across boroughs was definitely a concern to the Straphangers. His group is currently in the process of mapping which communities are benefitting and which are being harmed by the capital improvement plan and the proposed budget.
Additional service cuts will come in the number of cleaning personnel available to both subway and bus services. The G and some L trains will use just one operator per train. Forty-nine full-time booths, and all 115 part-time booths will be replaced by automated card machines. There will still be at least one booth open at each station at all times.
The budget projections from the MTA only get worse into the future. Deficits will reach the trillions of dollars by 2008. If current budget gap closing actions such as fare increases and service cuts do not happen this year, a trillion-dollar-plus budget deficit will be reached by next year.
Proposed cuts for January 2006 are just as significant. Riders travelling during late night hours would see the most dramatic cuts. Subway service between the hours of 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. would be reduced from 20 minutes between trains to 30 minutes. Late night bus service would be cut completely. These cuts will not be discussed until the 2006 hearings next year.
“The MTA over the last 30 years or so has improved service greatly,” Hernandez said. He emphasized that the MTA should focus on upkeep of the existing improvements before investing in expansion projects like the East Side Access project for the LIRR that will benefit relatively small numbers of suburban commuters.
“We don’t want to start building East Side Access if we’re going to have 30-minute evening service,” Hernandez said.