When the MTA Board put its stamp on the four-year budget plan this week, it did so more with a grimace than with a smile. On one level, the plan is a strong indication of agency CEO and Chairman Jay Walder’s willingness to cut services, a necessary move his predecessor never implemented, but on the other hand, subway riders are losing more than just money. The authority has to cut some services that make commutes less painful and more pleasant. The subways are becoming austere.
“The foundation of this [Four-Year] Plan,” Walder said, “is the most aggressive and comprehensive overhaul in the history of the MTA. These actions have allowed us to hold true to our commitment regarding fare increases while maintaining the quantity and quality of service that New Yorkers rely on every day. The State’s ongoing fiscal crisis is one of many risks to the Plan, but with continued hard work and the participation of our labor unions I believe that this Plan can be achieved.”
The fares will be raised only 7.5 percent, an amount agreed upon in Albany as a precondition to the 2009 payroll tax funding plan, but the little things will go instead. We’ve already the V and W trains; we’ve already lost countless bus routes; we’ve already seen headways increase during off-peak hours. Now, as Andrew Grossman of The Wall Street Journal details, we’re going to see services scaled back as well.
The cost-cutting measures mentioned in Grossman’s article come from an engagement with the consulting firm Accenture. The savings to the MTA total nearly $202 million annually, but although economic efficient rules the day, Grossman notes that these cuts will “likely lead to an increase in the minor inconveniences of riding Greater New York’s mass transit system.” We’ve already heard about the plan to scale back on turnstile cleanliness, a move that will save the authority $1.8 million, and Grossman highlights a series of other cuts:
Once subway riders get through the turnstiles, they’ll encounter escalators with more debris on them. A program that started in 2007 aimed at cleaning escalators without taking them out of service ended on June 1. When riders get to the platform, they’ll hear fewer announcements about where trains are and whether they’ll be late. The MTA is cutting the number of stations that have dedicated announcers from 183 to 78.
Since June, there have been five fewer green-clad ushers pointing passengers confused by the hustle and bustle of Grand Central Terminal in the right direction. The reductions are part of staff cuts that will save $1.1 million this year and $1.9 million next year…
The Long Island Rail Road has cut its station pigeon-proofing in half. That could mean more droppings landing on passengers as birds nest in platform overhangs. The railroad will have fewer conductors on platforms at Jamaica Station. It won’t trim the trees and branches along its tracks as often as it did.
Commuters looking to railroad drink carts for comfort amid the cuts will find those more expensive, too. Prices for food and drink on the LIRR and Metro-North will go up 3% in September.
None of these cuts are as major as the June decrease in service levels, but combined, they create negative incentives to use transit. If stations are dingier and dustier, if food is more expensive, if people don’t find the system convenient, they will begin to eschew it for other means of transit or fewer trips away from home entirely. Maybe an outer borough denizen won’t spend money on a weekend in Manhattan; maybe a commuter will find it less appealing to wait at a station bombarded with pigeons.
The MTA has tried its best to whether the times, but without support from the state, the authority is left to enact its death by a thousand cuts. The system itself will be maintained, but the amenities will disappear as the trash piles up. “This is not a situation that we’ve created. It’s not a situation that’s occurring because our expenses are up,” Walder said at Wednesday’s board meeting. “It’s not a situation that’s occurring because our ridership is down. It’s a situation that is occurring because our subsidies have not been there and because money has been taken by the state.”