Updated (1:30 p.m.): Say good bye to the W and Z trains, good weekend service and low fares.

In a 12-1 vote, the MTA Board has approved its so-called Doomsday budget in its legally mandated effort to balance its budget.

The new fare structure will be as I detailed last night (and as presented below), and the new fare rates are set to go into effect on May 31. Late-night and weekend service cuts could go into effect even earlier, and the Z and W trains along with numerous bus routes will be eliminated in their entirety.
This is truly a sad day for supporters and riders of transit in New York City, and the blame for this lies squarely with Albany.

While the battle for now has been lost, there is a faint glimmer of hope. The MTA Board said that today was not the final Doomsday. If Albany acts soon, the Board could put off the service cuts and reduce the fare hike. Politicker NY’s Eliot Brown reports:

Still, the drama continues, as this was not actually the drop-dead deadline for avoiding the fare hike. As many MTA board members noted, the board can take back the action should Albany agree on a new funding package. The fare hikes are slated to go into effect in June, while the service cuts would start earlier.

The Mayor’s Office however warned of at Albany punt. Albany could enact a short-term measure that is a politically popular measure but does nothing to address the inherent problems of the MTA. Writes Brown:

Jeff Kay, a mayoral appointee on the board and director of the mayor’s Office of Operations, was rather pessimistic, suggesting that even if there is a rescue, it will only be a short-term fix that doesn’t get at the root of the problem (not enough long-term reliable funding).

It’s possible, Kay said, that “they’ll come through with what’s politically expedient, which is, make sure fare hikes don’t go into effect.” But even so, “we will be back in two months saying we still have a problem if they just do the politically expedient thing.”

The drama continues.

Click through for a sneak peak at the new fare structure.

Categories : Doomsday Budget
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At 9:30 a.m., the MTA will meet — or will have met, depending upon when you read this — to vote on, among other items, a 23 percent fare hike and massive service cuts to its transportation offerings. While a prior commitment will prevent me from live-blogging the proceedings, you can catch a webstream here. The fare hike happenings will be early on, and I’ll have an update on site as soon as I’m back at my computer.

Meanwhile, on Doomsday Budget Eve, New York politicians and the newspaper editorial boards that love and loathe are all pointing fingers at one august body. Right now, the State Senate and its leaders on both sides of the aisle are getting creamed by pols and papers alike.

The party started earlier this week when the Daily News based both Malcolm Smith and Dean Skelos, the Senate Majority and Minority leaders respectively, for their failing to support the MTA. These politicians, both from transit-dependent districts, have known for a year about the transit doom heading New York City’s way, and then two of them stood by idly as comprehensive proposals to fix the MTA’s finances were supported by everyone else but the Senate.

Late yesterday afternoon, Sheldon Silver, the man responsible for killing congestion pricing in 2008, hopped on the Blame the Senate bandwagon. While Silver’s obstructionism last spring shut off one source of dedicate revenue for the MTA, he guaranteed that the Assembly would pass the Ravitch Plan. His statement:

Let me be clear, the Assembly Majority is ready to pass a plan to save the MTA and prevent a massive fare hike. Our plan would prevent the proposed cuts and fare hikes by sharing the burden of transit costs. Those who use the bridges would pay a toll that is equal to what New Yorkers pay for a subway or a bus ride, and employers would invest in the system through a small payroll tax. We had hoped that the Senate would support our plan. The Assembly is prepared to act on this proposal to avoid the huge fare increases and draconian service cuts that would have a devastating effect on all New Yorkers.

Mayor Bloomberg, echoing a famous line from Network, urged New Yorkers to call their Senators in Albany to urge them to save transit. “If Albany doesn’t come through, then the straphangers are going to have to bear the brunt of this. I don’t think that’s good for the system. I don’t think it’s good for our economy,” Bloomberg, a man who knows a thing or two about money, said. “But we cannot walk away from mass transit. We have to have it. So I hope it doesn’t get to that, but if it does, what I would suggest when you see what’s going to happen to your commuting costs, you should call your state legislators and say, ‘I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore.'”

And finally, today’s editorial in The Times names names. Writes the Grey Lady of Republican Senators from New York who won’t deviate from the strict anti-Ravitch stance of the state G.O.P.:

Among city Republicans who should be interested in helping the M.T.A. are Senators Martin Golden of Brooklyn, Frank Padavan of Queens and Andrew Lanza of Staten Island. There are also a few Republicans upstate who should be trumpeting the Silver plan because of businesses in their districts that depend on the M.T.A. They include Senators Elizabeth Little of Glens Falls, Joseph Griffo of Rome and George Winner of Elmira.

As the State Senate turns its back on eight million riders a day, the M.T.A. can’t just wait. They could start preparing fare machines and scheduling delays set for June — unless Albany wakes up and comes to the rescue.

So that’s that. In 10 hours from my writing this, the MTA Board will have approved a fare hike/service cut plan to balance its budget as required by state law. Those who write the laws, though, won’t act and won’t take responsibility for their inaction. As Bloomberg and Silver do, as The Times and The Daily News do, I too blame our State Senate for the decline and fall of transit in New York City at a time when we need it most.

Categories : Doomsday Budget
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When the MTA Board meets tomorrow morning, they will approve a drastic fare increase that will look something like this:

  • Pay-per-ride subway and bus fares increase from $2 to $2.50. Whether the 15 percent discount will remain is up for debate.
  • Express bus fares will increse from $5 to $6.25.
  • 1-Day Unlimited Ride MetroCards increase from $7.50 to $9.50.
  • 7-Day Unlimited Ride MetroCards increase from $25 to $31.
  • 14-Day Unlimited Ride MetroCards increase from $47 to $59.
  • 30-Day Unlimited Ride MetroCards increase from $81 to $103.

The math, by the way, for figuring out the value of the unlimited card remains virtually the same. If the MTA retains the 15 percent discount, anyone who rides 48 or more times a month should buy a 30-day card. Otherwise, just pay per ride.

As New Yorkers adjust to these 24-27 percent hikes, transit advocates and news outlet alike are wondering how subway-dependent straphangers are going to adjust to the increase costs. City Room posed the question yesterday, and Streetsblog followed up with their own thread today. The Times also wants to know who among us constitute the 2.1 percent of riders that buy single-ride cards. I say tourists.

In response to these questions, most people claim they will change their habits. Some people say they were bike more; others say they will turn to cabs; still others say they will simply cut back on a drink or two. We’ll see if that comes to pass.

I plan to do nothing diffrent. The extra $22 a month is a pain especially in a bad economy and with worse service on the way. In the grand scheme of things though, unlimited access to all of New York City for $103 a month is still a great deal. It’s far cheaper than taking a cab. It’s far cheaper than owning a car and driving

But that’s just me.

Categories : Doomsday Budget
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  • Building a better rat trap · While New York City Transit hasn’t noticed an uptick in rat infestations in its stations, the agency is expanding its war on rats. In an effort to eliminate the foraging rodents, NYC Transit is installing $10 plastic boxes that contain a lethal “granola bar,” according to a city pest control expert. According to NYC Transit head Howard Roberts, the agency will conduct a census of rats around Franklin St. — the site of an eight-month pilot program on the 1 line — to see if the new poison is more effective at eliminating the not-so-lovable creatures than previous rodenticide efforts. · (2)

Yesterday morning, as the MTA Finance Committee prepared to deliver a shocking vote on fare hikes and service cuts, The New York Times ran a story on the Ravitch Plan’s East River bridge toll package. This was not your typical article on East River tolls though. Rather, it highlighted the views of the few and promoted them as though they were accepted wisdom among straphangers.

In the article — headline “Unlikely Opponents of Bridge Tolls: Transit Riders” — Times transit beat writer William Neuman managed to find a few transit riders to were against tolls. Writes Neuman:

But interviews with residents in these districts revealed that the holdout legislators have tapped into a concern shared by many of their constituents, even among those where it might be least unexpected: transit riders. And while toll opponents made up a spirited minority among straphangers interviewed in recent days, their views stood out, because they were both unexpected and passionately held.

“I think it’s unfair to tax drivers to pay for those using public transportation,” Serena Burch, 37, said as she waited on a recent afternoon for a bus near Brooklyn College, where she is a full-time student. “Why should the bridge commuters pay for the subway commuters in Brooklyn?”

Ms. Burch, who lives near Kings Plaza, did not know who her senator was or what his position was on tolls. But as it turned out, they were in agreement. Her senator is Carl Kruger, who has been one of the staunchest opponents of new tolls…

In the Soundview section of the Bronx, John Garcia, 33, a plumber with a job in Manhattan, is represented by Senator Ruben Diaz Sr., another vocal toll opponent. Mr. Garcia said that even though he was a regular subway rider, he worried about the effect of tolls on the small businesses that frequently use the Harlem River bridges. “Tolling the bridges is going to hurt a lot of people that own plumbing companies, construction companies, cabs, deliverymen,” Mr. Garcia said, adding that he would prefer higher subway fares to new tolls.

Later on in the article — as Streetsblog excerpted — Neuman dropped in this tidbit:

While straphangers who opposed tolls were in the minority of those interviewed, far more common in the interviews last week were transit riders who feared the looming fare increases and supported bridge tolls.

Isn’t, then, Neuman’s piece a bit of disingenuous and dishonest reporting? Isn’t the tale here really that the vast majority of straphangers support bridge tolls because they rely on the subway far more than they drive? Isn’t the tale here one of a disconnect between New Yorkers who need the subways and the out-of-touch State Senators sitting in Albany?

Neuman’s story is helping no one and is simply distorting the truth. It’s another dismaying sign that the small minority of people who oppose bridge tolls and the Ravitch Plan have won the PR war at the worst of times.

Categories : Ravitch Commission
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“How did the MTA get here?” Chuck Scarborough asked me last night during my appearance on his new cable-only 7 p.m. Nightly News show. With the MTA Finance Committee voting Monday to recommend the Doomsday budget to the Board at Wednesday’s meeting, that’s the question on everyone’s mind.

In a way, the answer is quite complex. Through years of reduced contributions at the city and state level combined with a crashing real estate market and an increase in labor, fuel and maintenance costs, the MTA has arrived at the eye of a perfect storm of a budget crisis. In another way though, the last part of this equation is quite simple: By borrowing against the future a decade ago, the Pataki Administration ensured that the MTA would be saddled with debt payments.

Without these debt service payments on its capital campaign, the MTA wouldn’t be turning to a Doomsday proposal. We’d be suffering through the typical fare hike debate but not one on a magnitude of 23 percent.

A few days ago, Newsday’s Dan Janison tackled just this issue. His piece was largely overlooked on Monday, but it deserves some attention for the way in which is dispatches with the complex issue of the MTA’s crushing debt. Take a look:

Nine years ago, in collaboration with state officials, the mighty investment company Bear Stearns played a special role in shaping the course on which the region’s transit system now finds itself. Not only did this financial titan advise the Metropolitan Transportation Authority on a five-year, $17-billion capital program, but more notably its executives personally sold the plan to state lawmakers – helping generate commissions for the firm while temporarily funding mass transit.

From today’s perspective, of course, the deal represents fiscal risk and folly. Bear’s collapse a year ago signaled other global financial failures to come, and the debts carried by the state-run MTA drive its latest threat of massive fare hikes and sharp service cuts.

Watchdogs suggested that the Pataki administration and its sparring partners in the State Legislature were mortgaging the future. Policy makers, they believed, figured they’d derail from that track when they came to it.

Yesterday, State Sen. Brian Foley’s office cited data showing how MTA debt service payments of $609 million in 1996 have spiked to a forecast $1.5 billion in 2009. That works out to an estimated $125 million a month, said Ibrahim Khan, spokesman for Foley (D-Blue Point).

That, in a nutshell, is why Gov. David Paterson convened the Ravitch Commission. Well aware of the MTA’s tortured financial history, Paterson wanted a plan that would pare down the MTA’s current debt while providing a steady stream of income on hand for the system’s much-needed expansion. No longer would the MTA build on credit today that would create debt crises a decade from now.

For now, though, that plan isn’t meant to be, and the MTA will head one step closer to a financial abyss. During the Finance Committee session on Monday, MTA CFO Gary Dellaverson noted that projected tax revenues were down 70 percent year-to-date beyond the MTA’s pessimistic forecast. This fare hike/service cut situation will get better before it gets worse, and if Albany doesn’t act, the New York sons and daughters, straphangers all of us, will be left paying for the sins of our Pataki father.

Categories : MTA Economics
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  • Fare Hike Feedback: SAS on NBC · As the public digests the news that the MTA Finance Committee has approved recommending the Doomsday budget to the MTA Board, I’ll be on TV providing some reaction. Andrew Siff of WNBC interviewed me for a segment that will run during the 30-minute newscast at either 5 p.m. or 6 p.m. on Channel 4 in New York. I’ll also be a guest on Chuck Scarborough’s cable-only 7 p.m. news broadcast. Check here for channel information for the Nightly News broadcast.

    As long-time readers of this site could guess, I’m not too happy about the news. The MTA Board has been forced into a corner, and the politicians in Albany are simply spewing excuses. If we’ve known about this impending problem for a year, well, so has Albany. It’s time for the politicians to stop playing games with transit. New York needs its transit funding, and the MTA is now on borrowed time. · (10)
  • Paterson: Just raise the fares · While the MTA Finance Committee just voted to recommend a Doomsday budget with a 2.50 base fare, a $103 30-Day Unlimited Ride card and massive service cuts to the MTA Board on Wednesday, Gov. David Paterson has thrown in the towel for now. In a rather politically dangerous move, he urged the MTA to raise fares today. Facing inaction in Albany and a very stubborn State Senate, Paterson won’t blame anyone but recognizes the reality facing the MTA. The authority is required by law to balance its budget, and Paterson knows it. “I don’t think that the agency should delay any action,” he said earlier today. And so it goes. · (15)

The MTA Finance Committee is currently meeting to debate and vote on the fate of the Doomsday budget. I’ll be liveblogging the event for you.

Categories : Doomsday Budget
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At 11:45 a.m., the MTA’s Finance Committee will meet to approve recommendations for a fare hike and service cuts in an effort to close a budget gap in excess of $1.2 billion. While Richard Ravitch had proposed a plan that, through East River bridge tolls and an equitable payroll tax, would minimized the hike and cuts, a bitterly divided Senate could reach an agreement, and while Sheldon Silver’s Assembly was prepared to pass a modified Ravitch Plan, the Senate has tabled any MTA rescue package for now.

As this drama has unfolded over the past few weeks, Gov. David Paterson has taken up a lot of airtime urging Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith to get his caucus in line. The Democrats, who hold a 32-30 majority in the Senate, have been bitterly divided on the issue with many objecting to the tolls. On Friday, Paterson changed his stance a bit and based the State Republicans for doing exactly what he wants the Democrats to do: holding rank. The Republicans refuse to support the Ravitch Plan because it includes a payroll tax, and while it would be far worse to let mass transit in the city fail, the New York GOP is closing ranks on ideological grounds.

Pete Donohue and Glenn Blain talked about Paterson’s ire in the Daily News this weekend:

Paterson rapped Senate Republicans for taking a partisan stance against a revenue-raising plan, crafted by former MTA Chairman Richard Ravitch and featuring tolls on the East and Harlem River bridges. “I’ve been talking to them about this for the last four months,” Paterson said, referring to the GOP. “And I think that if 30 members of a party all vote the same way – what we used to call that when I was in the Senate was a party vote.”

There are 32 Democrats in the Senate and 30 Republicans. Several Dems oppose tolls, so the Ravitch rescue needs the support of at least some Republicans. Paterson said the package would not only avert whopping fare hikes and service cuts, but fund the MTA’s capital construction and maintenance program.

The program is a significant source of jobs in several upstate districts where there are subway and bus assembly plants, and other businesses with MTA contracts. “I don’t see any reason why they wouldn’t be voting for it because it has a direct economic, imperative affect on their districts,” Paterson said.

While Republicans denied to the Daily News reporters Paterson’s statements, the sentiments ring true. If even a handful of New York Metropolitan Area GOP Senators were willing to support the Ravitch Plan, not only would the MTA stave off a 23 percent fare hike and massive service cuts, but the entire state would benefit from sage investment in transit infrastructure.

Alas. It is not likely to be. New York politics remains stuck in a heavily bipartisan world where compromise between parties is unlikely and even sanity among a solitary party, as the Democrats have shown lately, is not to be expected.

Later this morning, the first of many days of reckoning will arrive. Just remember that the politicians — and not the MTA heads — are the ones responsible for this mess.

Categories : Doomsday Budget
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