This fare hike sure is growing into one contentious issue, and everyday, it seems, more and more news hits the airwaves. Today, the news is big: A group of New York politicians and interest groups issued a joint statement urging the MTA to hold off on the fare hike until April 15 at the earliest.
Why such a precise date, you may wonder? Well, New York’s big wigs believe they can secure additional state and federal funding such that the need for such a drastic fare hike would diminish. For its part, the MTA issued a statement warning once again of its potentially dire financial situation and hinted around that, if this fare hike is delayed, the next one could be worse. More on that in a minute, but first, the story on the politicians.
Basically, the 22 politicians are highlighting a state government more willing to support the MTA. For 12 years under Gov. George Pataki, funds that should have gone to the MTA were routinely siphoned off to upstate road projects. Now, the politicians are ready to bring some money back to the city. “Fare increases are a last resort,” Richard Brodsky, an assembly member from Westchester, said. “After 12 years of neglect under the Pataki administration, we want to work with the M.T.A., the city and state governments to change the failed policies of the past.”
Brodsky also noted that, in the past, the MTA had approached what had been a hostile environment in Albany and had been rebuffed. This time, when they wouldn’t be rebuffed, the Authority hadn’t even bothered to ask. It can’t hurt to ask, and it hurts riders the most if the MTA doesn’t do its duty and go hat in hand to Albany.
Any mention of the 12 years of neglect and state funding is sure to draw New York City Comptroller William C. Thompson’s attention. In August, he issued a comprehensive report detailing how state funds could help the MTA avoid a fare hike overall. Yesterday, he was one of the louder voices calling for a postponed fare hike.
“The wisest approach is to give our state legislators time to enact legislation that will finally give New York City Transit its fair share of funding, so that any fare increase down the road does not disproportionately affect our area,” Thompson said (and released in this statement). “Before the MTA plans for higher fares and tolls and the next phase of its capital program, the State and the City must provide additional funding to New York City Transit that it is rightly owed.”
Joining these leading politicians in sending a letter expressing these sentiments to the MTA were, according to Cityroom, the Disabled Riders Coalition, New York City Environmental Justice Alliance, the Straphangers Campaign of the New York Public Interest Research Group, Transportation Alternatives, Tri-State Transportation Campaign and Vision Long Island.
The MTA, of course, isn’t ready to give in, and they are issuing dire warnings about a future without this fare hike. Cityroom notes that Jeremy Soffin, MTA spokesman, issued the following statement yesterday:
The four-year financial plan that we proposed in July is designed to fill $6 billion in projected deficits while increasing service to meet rapidly growing demand. To fill these gaps, the plan relies on more than $2 billion in new state aid, including almost $400 million next year, and a cost-of-living increase in fares and tolls. Failure to receive either the anticipated state aid or the fare increase will require a more drastic increase and unacceptable service cuts starting in 2009.
Funny how the MTA expects to receive state aid without even asking. Now, I know the futures of the property taxes that the MTA benefits from are a little shady at best, but I just don’t believe that an agency turning in a surplus right now could really end up in as desperate a situation as the MTA forecasts for itself. I could very well be wrong. But for our sakes as riders, I hope the MTA does its utmost to take up Brodsky and the rest of the New York politicos on their offer, and I hope that the politicians make good on their promises.
This could easily be the start of a win-wins situation for the MTA, the riders and the politicians looking to curry favor with their constituents. Let’s hope it stays that way.