MTA readies cuts as politicians say the right thing


In a little bit of hyperbole on Thursday, Dale Hemmerdinger, the MTA Chair, opined on the monumental task facing the MTA Board. Somehow, someway, the board has to find a way to balance a budget with a $1.4 billion deficit.

“We are charged,” he said, “by law to propose a balanced budget by the end of the year. We only have two ways we can handle that: We can either cut service or we can raise fares. That’s all we can do. If we don’t balance the budget by the end of the year, we could all go to jail.”

While Hemmerdinger and his MTA co-conspirators probably won’t get carted off to Rikers if they don’t offer up a balanced budget next month, they do have the unenviable task of selling service cuts and fare hikes to a very skeptical public. So just how are they going to save the money?

In my post on the budget presentation, I listed the MTA’s proposed cuts. Let’s take a second look at the subway cuts.

NYC Transit: Savings of $167 Million in 08/09, $280 million annually 2010-12

The cuts to New York City Transit represent the highest dollar total of all the cuts and also seem to impact the greatest number of people. Off the bat, the MTA is planning a 7.5 percent reduction in staff. Furthmore, the agency will condense a few lines and eliminate others. They plan to shorten G service, operate N trains via Manhattan Bridge late nights, eliminate the W and extend the Q to Astoria, operate M trains only to Broad St. during rush hours, eliminate all Z trains and add J local service. For growing neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Queens that depend on these trains, that’s a big blow.

Meanwhile, for the rest of us, the MTA will be reducing non-rush hour service along the lettered lines from around 15 trains every two hours (one per eight minutes) to 12 trains every two hours (one per ten minutes). Late-night service will arrive every 30 minutes instead of every 20 minutes, and bus service will be cut heavily. Ouch.

The other agencies will see extreme cuts as well. Metro-North will suffer through $35 million worth of personnel and service cuts; Long Island Rail Road will drastically cut back on people and trains to the tune of $36 million in 2009 and $53 million annually 2010-12. Even the money-making Bridges and Tunnels division will scale back by about $17 million a year.

In the end, these savings are substantial for the MTA, but the cost to New Yorkers is immeasurable. Late-night subway service will become a burden. Missing that one train could result in a 30-minute wait. Non-rush hour trains will be slower and more crowded. People will be unhappy about paying more for less service.

For the most part, New York politicians are saying the right things. “Neither the city nor the state has any money. There’s not enough money to go around, and we’re all going to have to work together,” Mayor Bloomberg said. Considering that Bloomberg himself is wealthy enough to cover the MTA’s gap, that’s hardly sympathy from the mayor.

Sheldon Silver, the scourge of congestion pricing, has kind words for Richard Ravitch. “Clearly, [Ravitch] will be talking about ways to raise revenue,” Silver said to The Times. “I’m not afraid of reasonable, responsible tax policy, plain and simple. I think that both the residents and the businesses of the city of New York, understanding the significance of mass transit in the city, would be understanding of some revenue raises to continue affordable mass transit.”

Whether Silver is politically willing to do the right — but perhaps unpopular — thing for the MTA is another question entirely.

So here we are in November with but four months to spare. The MTA Board must adopt a balanced budget by the end of December, and MTA CEO and Executive Director has given the state until March to come up with money. If funds are not forthcoming, the agency will start cutting service with fare hikes to follow by June. Stay tuned; with the Ravitch report due in two weeks, the fun is just getting started.

Categories : MTA Economics

26 Responses to “MTA readies cuts as politicians say the right thing”

  1. Todd says:

    Considering that Bloomberg himself is wealthy enough to cover the MTA’s gap, that’s hardly sympathy from the mayor.

    Remember in Batman Begins how Bruce Wayne’s billionaire father built Gotham a brand-new train for “the good of the city?” I really like that idea.

    • Matt says:

      The more I read about Bloomberg the more I’ve come to realize what an absolute self-serving crook he is. He is no better, and in fact perhaps worse, than the average politician in this regard. I pray to all of you to NOT RE-ELECT THIS MAN NEXT YEAR FOR A THIRD TERM! He cares nothing for any of us, and he doesn’t try to hide it either. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m sick of elitists running our city.

    • Gerrit says:

      Gather round the bard’s knee, villagers, while I sing you the legend of Dale Hemmerdinger. The mighty warrior slew the twin ogres of deficit and infrastructure. Upon his triumph, the nubile transit maidens flung themselves at his feet. All hail Dale… paragon of virtue and immortal among men!

  2. Lou Z says:

    This budget plan stinks. I have an idea that may sound crazy but if there ever was a time to discuss it, its now. Ok so the MTA wants to cut the W line to save money. What if it sold the W line? Most of the subway was built by private enterprises of wealthy NYers in the late 1800s what would be so wrong with selling a line you were going to do away with anyway? MTA could require the purchaser to have MTA manage the line and all employees would have to be rehired by a joint effort between the MTA and the private company.

    Selling the line would not only cut cost for the MTA but bring in $$. The big picture of where this city can and should be in the next 5-10 years cannot afford to be overlooked by cutting mass transit. First we cant get the congestion pricing taken care of now we actually make mass transit worse. We should get a big sign like in Reno,NV except our should say “Welcome to NY, the dumbest big city in the world”

  3. Scott E says:

    Matt – personal politics aside, I think your point exemplifies what is wrong with the system. Look at any of the Daily News articles online, and the majority of reader comments (aside from some moron claiming to run for mayor) are directed towards Mayor Bloomberg. The problem is, the mayor doesn’t run the MTA! He can’t set policy, can’t negotiate contracts, he can’t even enforce building codes. Yet as the leader of the city, and due to the popular misconception that the MTA is a city agency, he gets all the heat for it. This is why I say that NYCT should be separated from the state-run MTA and put under the city’s watch. Then the chain of accountability will make sense.

    Right now, all Bloomberg is doing is trying to make the inevitable not sting so much. He can’t stop the MTA collapse from happening, but he can try to make the public more accepting and/or forgiving.

    It would be awfully nice of him to bail out the faltering transit agency with his own money, but he’s not stupid. If there’s one thing we’ve learned from the Wall Street crisis, it’s not to loan money to someone who has out-of-control debt and has no reasonable chance of paying it back. Given the agency’s financial situation, I’d call buying stock in MTA a bad investment.

  4. Marc Shepherd says:

    Considering that Bloomberg himself is wealthy enough to cover the MTA’s gap, that’s hardly sympathy from the mayor.

    What do you expect from the guy? While he’s at it, why don’t we ask him to fund the schools, fire houses and libraries?

    Ok so the MTA wants to cut the W line to save money. What if it sold the W line?
    There’s one slight problem with that: the subway is a money-losing operation. It costs more to operate than it recovers in fares. Why would anyone want to buy it?

    This is why I say that NYCT should be separated from the state-run MTA and put under the city’s watch.

    The reason NYCT was put into the MTA is because bridge & tunnel surpluses are used to subsidize the subway. If NYCT were not part of the MTA, the subway finances would be in even worse shape — as indeed they were before the MTA was created in the 1960s. Anyhow, what makes you think the city can operate a railroad any better than the state can?

    • Scott E says:

      Marc, in my (admittedly un-researched) “plan”, bridges and tunnels, which exist entirely within the city, would go to the city as well. The suburban rail and buses would be separate. As far as their capability to run it, they bring in people who can run it. In fact, it would probably be many of the same guys running it day-to-day as it is now, but different folks managing and financing it. Its about putting accountability on the right path. The fact that the city has no jurisdiction over a crucially important piece of its infrastructure is ludicrous.

      • Marc Shepherd says:

        Yeah, but when the city had jurisdiction over the subway, they practically ran it into the ground. The MTA gets a lot of money from the state—not as much as it should, but still substantial. Understandably, the state wants control over how its funds are spent.

        Your proposal raises other practical difficulties. It makes sense to have the subway and the suburban railroads in a single agency. They are pretty similar to one another, and could probably benefit from shared management. Bridges & tunnels are actually the odd duck in the MTA nest, but the reason for including them is that they subsidize everything else.

  5. Lou Z says:

    Anyone else have a suggestion to fix this? or even par of it? On most blogs or new sites all the comments are how people hate the city and middle class people should move out because we are getting squeezed. Maybe we as citizens should put forth plans on sites like these so we can possibly capture the attention of people in power.

    • Marc Shepherd says:

      People like us are “friends of transit.” The types of solutions we’re likely to prefer, are those difficult or impossible to pass in the legislature and/or city council. Of course, you also get a lot of suggestions from people who haven’t even studied the publicly available documents, and who therefore don’t even understand the finances of the agency they’re purporting to fix.

      The reality is that if service cuts and fare increases are unacceptable, tax increases and congestion pricing (which includes bridge tolls) are the only remaining levers. Debt is out of the question, as the MTA has too much debt as it is. So the trick is to find a combination of taxes and CP that will attract enough “yes” votes in Albany.

    • rhywun says:

      I have a suspicion that the real answer is more federal $$. (Do they contribute anything to operating costs?) Middle America will tell us to drop dead (again), but if we’re subsidizing rich bankers and auto executives now, transit is fair game too….

      • Marc Shepherd says:

        The Federal government does not contribute much to operating costs, and there are several reasons why they’re unlikely to.

        The Feds are feeling bailout fatigue. If the New York City Subway deserves a bailout, then what doesn’t? I mean, even the U. S. Treasury has its limits. At the moment, only the banks have been bailed out. You might have noticed that the auto execs left Washington empty-handed.

        There are at least two reasons to bail out banks and car companies that aren’t shared by the NYC subway. First, massive bank or industrial failures have the potential for nationwide disruption. Cancelling the Z train or raising the subway fare to $2.50 does not. Second, the banks and car companies can’t raise taxes to cover their shoftfalls; New York can. A Federal subsidy amounts to taxing the citizens of Idaho so that New Yorkers can ride their subway more cheaply. You’re not going to persuade Congress that that’s a good investment.

  6. Skip Skipson says:

    Pie in the sky thinking here…it won’t happen…but what if there was a mass boycott/”commuter strike” against the MTA.

    Would that force the city & state to cough up more funds (albeit at the expense of other programs because ‘they don’t have the money’)?

  7. lilbunnyfoofoo says:

    These cutbacks are lame, but some are not quite as bad as they sound. The G for instance, hasn’t consistently run past Court Square for at least 5 years, every weekend the MTA posts yet another service interruption notice.

    That said, the changes will obviously cause pain, but am I the only one who would accept less frequent subway service for more predictable service? Right now I don’t know of a single rider who uses the published train schedules simply because they are so often inaccurate. 30 minutes between trains works for me if the trains are actually running on schedule. Heck i’d wait 35 minutes if I could count on service.

    So much of what troubles the riders of the subway is the lack of communication and information about where the trains are, how they are running, and when they are going to be in a particular location. Signage, announcements and staff communication with the public are areas that could be improved with little additional cost or R&D, but they are improvements that would be felt by most every rider.

    Cuts will have to be made unless a true philanthropist like a bloomberg steps up and loans the city money, which is not going to happen. The ubiquitous, always on, non-stop 24 hour subway system is a great dream, but at some point reality must step in. Personally I would sacrifice frequency for regularity.

  8. Ricardo says:

    O.K. If you cut the W and screw up N service, I will be driving my big-ass F-150 to the city from now on. You want Draconian, go got it.

  9. Michael S. says:

    Talk about self serving SOBs, the MTA takes the prize. Maybe they should go to jail for mismanaging the whole transit mess. Budgets are total baloney when it comes to NY City’s finances. There more holes in it than cockroaches in da Bronx. These bums are a gang who act in secret, have no oversight, get away with whatever they want, and somehow live the life of Riley.

    This is their revenge for (I think it was Bloomberg’s) trying to take away their free easy pass rides.

  10. Dale says:


    My newlable fibers are wep-sprong’d within the ether. Noopherize your childer ones, for I doth alight upon the imminent starshots towards the future.

    • Gerrit says:

      Wonderful! Let us rendezvous on the nearest shooting star, making all local stops to Moonbeam Tango(TM) and Filibuster Strawberry (C). “Miramaxwell house of Payne training day of the tentacle” quoth the Dingo Trolley (ENEMIES). Ripples of Jupiter. Mittens of Romney.

  11. Marc Shepherd says:

    Talk about self serving SOBs, the MTA takes the prize. Maybe they should go to jail for mismanaging the whole transit mess.

    I know you’re upset, but can’t you be bothered to learn the facts? There are two main reasons for the current crisis, neither of which is the MTA’s fault. The first is that ex-Gov. Pataki insisted on funding the MTA with debt, which now has to be paid back. The second is that a huge part of the MTA’s income is dependent on real-estate tax revenues, which are way down this year, for reasons I assume I don’t need to explain. Other mistakes include the failure to approve the original congestion pricing proposal, and that the last fare hike was too modest. Those things, too, aren’t the MTA’s fault.

    I am not saying the MTA has managed everything perfectly. The fare holiday a couple of Christmases ago was pretty dumb, as this site rightfully pointed out at the time. But most of the reasons for the current problem stem from government decisions outside of the MTA’s control.

  12. Dan says:

    Does running the N late nights mean that all of the stations between Dekalb and Canal are going to be closed?


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