2009: The year the money vanishedBy
For tomorrow, the final day of the year, I’ll present my personal Top Ten stories of 2009 as I did last year on New Year’s Eve. Today, let’s review the year that was in transit news.
For the MTA, 2009 was a struggle. The year started with fears of service cuts and fare hikes and, after a brief reprieve that wasn’t as substantial as promised, service cuts are back on the table. January started with the MTA’s attempting to come to grips with its fiscal crisis. The agency set March 25th as its drop-dead date for a bailout, and the Authority and TWU announced they would go to arbitration. As the agency struggled with its own economic reality, the opening for the new South Ferry station was delayed due to an engineering issue. The MTA received some good to end the month as the beleaguered Fulton St. Hub earned a stimulus-inspired reprieve.
In February, the MTA announced that ridership was at a 59-year high, but Bridge & Tunnel revenues were plummeting. The Tunnel Boring Machine began its work along 11th Ave. where the 7 line will soon run. Transit fixed a 70-year-old typo, and the month ended with news that the MTA’s deficit could reach $2 billion. Cuts were nearly inevitable.
March was a rough month for the MTA. First, Washington, DC, announced full underground cell coverage by 2012 while the MTA’s pilot program for the city is seemingly dead. Meanwhile, Albany continued to throw charges of two sets of books at the MTA. We first heard of the Gang of Four as the plan to institute bridge tolls on the East River Bridges began to die a slow death. The MTA Board approved its Doomsday budget by month’s end, and the Second Ave. Subway officially lost its third track.
For rolling stock buffs, April began with word of the R160 making its F train debut, and the MTA announced a May opening date for the new Yankee Stadium Metro-North stop. As Senate talks of a bailout plan began to breakdown, the MTA announced a summer rollout for the planned service cuts. I again wondered whether or not station agents actually did anything as Doomsday inched closer and closer. Along Second Ave., the new MTA timeline showed a mid 2016 debut for the project’s Phase I.
May brought a tentative agreement on the MTA’s funding package. It was an imperfect solution and one that cost then-CEO and Executive Director Elliot Sander his job. The Second Ave. Subway earned $79 million in stimulus funds, and we discussed the MTA’s pension problems. We also saw a 13 train on the 1 line.
In June, the fare went up as Richard Ravitch warned of a bleak 2010 for the MTA. Transit announced 4 express service in the Bronx, and the R40 slants made their final runs. The MTA sold the naming rights to the Atlantic Ave./Pacific St. station and sweetened Bruce Ratner’s Atlantic Yards deal. Transit announced lower-than-expected ridership and fare revenue figures for 2009.
The summer saw a reprieve from the bad news. We explored funding transit through market-rate parking spots or a 36-percent fare hike. As the subways were accused of being very noisy, we went in depth on the Bleecker St./Broadway/Lafayette St. reconstruction efforts. Jay Walder earned an MTA appointment and pledged a fully-funded capital plan. The Feds and the MTA debated whether or not the SAS Phase I would open in 2017 or 2018, and the G train was extended to Church Avenue for the duration of the Culver Viaduct rehab.
August saw some good news. The MTA, despite immediate operations budget problems, unveiled a $28 billion capital plan to cover the next five years of transit expansion. On the heels of this announcement, we examined why transit matters in New York City. Bus arrival boards made a 34th St. debut. The MTA lost its TWU arbitration case and promised to appeal. Meanwhile, Transit dealt with the fallout from a major accident as the ceiling at 181st St. along the 1 line collapsed. For two weeks, Northern Manhattan commuters faced headaches and crowded trains.
September started with the Walder confirmation hearings and ended with TWU protests. In between, Jay Walder announced plans for a new fare payment system by 2014, and the Comptroller’s Office released a report critical of Transit’s station maintenance efforts. We explored sending the Second Ave. Subway on a spur through Alphabet City, and the MTA eliminated its station agent program.
Technology took center stage in October as the MTA announced plans for an A Division rollout of the train arrival boards set for a 2011 completion date. Carolyn Maloney graded the Second Ave. Subway, and NY1 axed Bobby Cuza’s transit beat. The F line was on the wrong end of a critical internal review, and we bemoaned the lack of Second Ave. express service.
Early November saw more personnel upheaval as Howard Roberts left Transit. A few days later, Tom Prendergast was named the new Transit head. The East Side Select Bus Service plans were nearly firmed up, and someone was murdered on a crowded D train early on Saturday morning. The initial 2010 budget featured no service hikes or fare cuts, but that utopian view would last just a few weeks. The Cortlandt St. stop on the BMT Broadway line reopened on Thanksgiving Eve.
Oh, December, what pain you have brought. Although we spent the early days of the month looking at the lack of megaprojects, the last few weeks have been all budget woes all the time. First, the state cut $140 million in appropriations for the MTA. Then, the state revealed a $200 million payroll tax shortfall. All of a sudden, Doomsday service cuts — but no fare hikes — were back on the table. Then, the MTA lost its arbitration appeal and unveiled a plan to cut free subway travel for students. We saw a plethora of solutions but no real answers for the MTA as the agency approved the service cuts two weeks ago.
And so that’s that for the year that was in transit. It has been a seemingly cyclical year. The agency has moved ahead along Second Ave. and 11th Ave. as its capital plans to expand the system are firmly in place. Yet, the operations budget has been attacked and trimmed so that it can barely support an adequate 24-hour transit system. Hopefully, as the political debate over student MetroCards and other service cuts heats up into 2010, we’ll have a better year upon which we can reflect 365 days from now.