Home Asides Ravitch: MTA is in ‘serious trouble’

Ravitch: MTA is in ‘serious trouble’

by Benjamin Kabak

For those regular readers of SAS, the latest from Richard Ravitch isn’t shocking, but it’s a warning sign nonetheless. In an interview with The Post last week, the current Lieutenant Governor and one-time MTA head expressed fears over the financial future of the MTA. “I don’t see much basis for hope. I’m very concerned,” he told Tom Namako and Carl Campanile. With real estate tax revenues for 2010 already $18 million under projection, the authority is going to have to scramble throughout the year to stay afloat, and Ravitch, the architect of last year’s funding plan, doesn’t see anyone in Albany stepping up to bat for the authority any time soon.

So what is the MTA to do? It can’t declare bankruptcy; it can’t absolve itself of old capital debts or current employment agreements. It can continue to cut services, but cutting our bus and subway options would risk incurring the wrath of commuters. It can also look to raise fares, a certainty for 2011 but an idea that hasn’t gained much traction this year. No matter the path, though, 2010 will be a struggle for the MTA at a time when New York City most needs its transit options.

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11 comments

Dave March 29, 2010 - 1:59 pm

These idiots should just raise fares! Or throw these leftists out of the state government!

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Benjamin Kabak March 29, 2010 - 2:02 pm

What do the lefists have to do with it? The rightists were the ones who got the MTA into debt trouble, and I’m pretty sure the failure to do anything here is a bipartisan issue.

Basically, everyone in Albany should be thrown out of state government, Republican or Democrat.

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John March 29, 2010 - 3:43 pm

I don’t think it’s realistic to expect to cover all their expenses from fare revenue. This is true of most, if not all, public transit systems in the country. So while raising fares may be necessary, it can’t be looked at as the only solution.

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Older and Wiser March 30, 2010 - 4:25 pm

The embarrassing truth is that it’s largely a class issue, in Albany as it is here in the city. If you raise the fares enough to keep service levels, reliability and cleanliness up, you will provide a ride that’s attractive to the middle class, but not quite affordable for the working class.

On the other hand if, like Jay Walder and the politicians he seems out to impress, you keep the fares artificially affordable for the working class, you end up with a system so ramshackle that no one in the middle class will ever be willing to ride or be taxed to help subsidize.

Either way, New York City loses.

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Scott E March 29, 2010 - 3:25 pm

It won’t solve the financial crisis, but there are some creative ways to bring in money. When I was in Los Angeles a couple of months ago, I was surprised to see an older NJ Transit car attached to a Metrolink train. Apparently, they Metrolink was suffering from such overcrowding that they leased some decomissioned NJT railcars to help. NJT has also sent some older cars to Utah when thei . They are now locomotive-pulled, so the self-propulsion is no longer needed. I’ve seen retired NJT buses shuttling tourists from San Diego to Tijuana, Mexico.

What do we do with our retired rolling stock? It gets tossed in ocean. Granted, it won’t amount to huge amounts of money, but every bit counts. Also, it’s hard to instill a culture of “scrutinize every cost” within the organization when that kind of waste and frivolity goes on.

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Josh K March 29, 2010 - 5:11 pm

NYCT subway rolling stock can’t be used on any other system. For most or all of the rolling stock and buses the MTA has, they run them into the ground and then some before getting rid of them. No one else in their right mind would want it. The buses do get sold, usually for scrap. The NYCT subway cars that are getting reefed have so much lead paint and asbestos in them that no scrappers wanted them. The environmental remediation costs just to get to the underlying steel are too high.

Besides, the scrap steel values are way down right now. China’s IDLED steel production capacity is equal to the steel output of the US. When values in copper and steel do return, the MTA should consider removing the junk rails and copper wiring that litter the sides of the tracks.

On the point of waste, please make specific examples. Too many people seem to go on at length about the idea of the MTA wasting money, but no one ever cites serious examples. So instead of making rhetorical flourishes, please aim for more constructive criticism.

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Scott E March 30, 2010 - 12:42 am

Josh- The waste I was referring to was the decommissioned vehicles, I wasn’t speaking in general terms. I wondered about the trains being run into the ground, but this is why I mentioned the application with locomotives, where the most rigorous work is no longer done by the railcars. The decommissioned M1 and M3 cars used by LIRR and Metro-North, while old, could certainly be used by other commuter railroads with little modifications. On the issue of environmental decontamination, I thought all of that had to be done before the cars were ‘reefed’. But while I agree with you that many people talk about waste in nonspecific terms; I wasn’t doing that.

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Niccolo Machiavelli March 29, 2010 - 3:28 pm

If you think you don’t like the politicians, wait until you meet the voters. How bad does service have to get before some one can campaign on a “raise the fares” platform?

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Scott E March 29, 2010 - 3:30 pm

Honestly, Niccolo, if it’s a “raise the fares and repeal the payroll tax” platform, you just might have a winner. Especially in the suburbs.

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Alon Levy March 29, 2010 - 5:07 pm

Okay, I’ll grant you that people who never use MTA services would be happy to raise MTA fares. Which makes it easier than raising tolls – a lot of anti-bridge toll politicians represented districts with trivial car ownership levels.

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Niccolo Machiavelli March 30, 2010 - 6:41 pm

I always thought the payroll tax was a scam to make the commuter tax look good to the burbs. We may be at that point.

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