With word early this morning that Senate talks have all but broken down, transit advocates in New York are feeling the sting of rebuke. They’re also well aware that New York is sitting on the precipice of an transit abyss, the likes of which the city is ill-equipped to face.
The real problem is that, while this 2009 Doomsday plan looks bad, the MTA will have to enact something like this every year until their debt payments are gone. Many New Yorkers believe that if the Senate fails to act this year and fares go up while service gets scaled back, it will be a one-year cut. Next year, the MTA will operate with reduced schedules, but we’ll adjust. Life will go on, right?
Over the next three years, as the MTA budget documents available here show, dept service payments are going to balloon to a projected $2.2 billion by 2012. As other costs increase, the MTA will have to continue to cut service and raise fares to cover this gap. This is the real reason why transit advocates have been urging permanent action.
Eliot Brown, writing for Politicker NY yesterday, explored the MTA’s downward spiral. He does not paint a positive picture:
Should no new money come from the Legislature in Albany, entire lines would be cut, stations would grow dirtier and fewer booth operators would be around to help. The train cars and tracks would deteriorate rather quickly, giving rise to even more “signal problems” that so often hold up trains, boosting the number of “slow zones”—which are pretty much what they sound like—and increasing the number of derailments.
It wouldn’t exactly be New York in the 1970s, but a decaying transit system, if it gets bad enough, actually begins to undermine New York’s status as a vibrant urban center, interrupting the flow of a system that gives over 2.6 billion rides a year, doing damage to a central feature of the city’s business position and general quality of life.
Workers won’t be able to get to work on time. Business areas — transportation hubs — will be underserved. Up and coming neighborhoods will stagnant, and capital projects will remain half-finished and going nowhere fast.
The city, meanwhile, will suffer. Employers will find disgruntled workers who can’t work the hours they need to be putting in and will begin to turn elsewhere for employee bases. As Hope Cohen from the Manhattan Institute said to Brown, “It’s a vicious spiral—if there’s less and less service, and less and less people want to use it. That’s when it becomes more derelict and crime-ridden and all those things.”
This bleak picture is really what it’s all about. Transit advocates have to start pushing the reality that, barring state action, the MTA will be left with no choice but to cut, cut, cut until New York suffers from a barebones subway system that is in a state of disrepair. That is a reality no one wants to confront and no one can afford, but if Albany does not act, if New Yorkers do not demand a solution, this dystopic transit future will arrive sometime around 2012. It’s that close to reality.