The Metropolitan Transportation Authority this week announced it has closed its enormous budget gap, but a hike in MetroCard fees, bridge and tunnel cash tolls and continued station agent layoffs were part of the equation.
In releasing its preliminary Fiscal Year 2011 budget on Wednesday, the agency detailed a four-year financial plan that reflects what it deemed “unprecedented” cost-cutting initiatives aimed at the $900 million shortfall for 2010 resulting from decreased state assistance and lagging tax revenues.
The MTA said it was able to close the gap by eliminating nearly 3,500 administrative and operating positions through layoffs, voluntary separations and elimination of vacant positions; freezing pay for management employees; increasing efficiency of paratransit and Bridge and Tunnel operations; reducing use of overtime; eliminating or deferring projects; consolidating functions; renegotiating contracts with vendors; and more efficiently managing inventories.
Under the 2011-2014 plan, the base fare of $2.25 would remain unchanged. The one-day and 14-day MetroCards would be phased out. For unlimited-ride MetroCards, the MTA offered two options: a 30-day card offering up to 90 rides for $99, or a 30-day unlimited-ride card for $104. Options for the seven-day unlimited-ride MetroCards include a card offering up to 22 rides for $28 and an unlimited-ride card for $29.
According to MTA spokesman Aaron Donovan, public hearings on the MetroCards are scheduled for September, with fare hikes going into effect Jan. 1, 2011.
Cash tolls at the agency’s six major bridge and tunnel crossings would increase by 50 cents, while the smaller Cross Bay Veterans Memorial and Marine Parkway-Gil Hodges Memorial bridges tolls would jump 25 cents.
“The riding public is footing more and more of the bill to keep our transit system running, and all the while the services they rely on are disappearing before their very eyes,” said Paul Steely White, executive director of Transportation Alternatives.
Donovan also indicated an additional 200 station agents would be laid off. Wednesday’s budget announcement comes on the heels of another borough rally last Friday blasting the beleaguered agency for cutting more agents.
Assemblyman David Weprin (D-Little Neck), who organized the event along with representatives from Transport Workers Union Local 100 and Amalgamated Transport Union Local 1056, called the layoffs “one of the most foolish cuts the MTA can make,” that puts the safety of commuters at risk.
“How can someone say something, when there’s no one there to see something?” Weprin asked the crowd gathered outside the F train station at Hillside Avenue and Midland Parkway in Jamaica Estates.
Donovan said even with the latest round of cuts every station in the system would continue to have at least one 24-hour booth.
Maurice Jenkins, vice president of TWU Local 100’s station division, said the cuts give “criminals more opportunity to ply their trade,” and pointed out that station agents so often are the eyes and ears of the Police Department in the transit system.
“If we don’t tell cops a crime is being committed, how will they know a crime is in effect?” he asked.
Donovan said crime in the city transit system is at record lows thanks to police presence.
“We will continue to work closely with the NYPD to ensure that our security decisions are aligned with their policing strategies,” he told the Queens Chronicle last week.
ATU Local 1056 Vice President Mark Henry said the cuts marked another example of the borough getting shorted.
“Stop making Queens a doormat,” he said to the MTA.