In a little bit of hyperbole on Thursday, Dale Hemmerdinger, the MTA Chair, opined on the monumental task facing the MTA Board. Somehow, someway, the board has to find a way to balance a budget with a $1.4 billion deficit.
“We are charged,” he said, “by law to propose a balanced budget by the end of the year. We only have two ways we can handle that: We can either cut service or we can raise fares. That’s all we can do. If we don’t balance the budget by the end of the year, we could all go to jail.”
While Hemmerdinger and his MTA co-conspirators probably won’t get carted off to Rikers if they don’t offer up a balanced budget next month, they do have the unenviable task of selling service cuts and fare hikes to a very skeptical public. So just how are they going to save the money?
In my post on the budget presentation, I listed the MTA’s proposed cuts. Let’s take a second look at the subway cuts.
NYC Transit: Savings of $167 Million in 08/09, $280 million annually 2010-12
The cuts to New York City Transit represent the highest dollar total of all the cuts and also seem to impact the greatest number of people. Off the bat, the MTA is planning a 7.5 percent reduction in staff. Furthmore, the agency will condense a few lines and eliminate others. They plan to shorten G service, operate N trains via Manhattan Bridge late nights, eliminate the W and extend the Q to Astoria, operate M trains only to Broad St. during rush hours, eliminate all Z trains and add J local service. For growing neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Queens that depend on these trains, that’s a big blow.
Meanwhile, for the rest of us, the MTA will be reducing non-rush hour service along the lettered lines from around 15 trains every two hours (one per eight minutes) to 12 trains every two hours (one per ten minutes). Late-night service will arrive every 30 minutes instead of every 20 minutes, and bus service will be cut heavily. Ouch.
The other agencies will see extreme cuts as well. Metro-North will suffer through $35 million worth of personnel and service cuts; Long Island Rail Road will drastically cut back on people and trains to the tune of $36 million in 2009 and $53 million annually 2010-12. Even the money-making Bridges and Tunnels division will scale back by about $17 million a year.
In the end, these savings are substantial for the MTA, but the cost to New Yorkers is immeasurable. Late-night subway service will become a burden. Missing that one train could result in a 30-minute wait. Non-rush hour trains will be slower and more crowded. People will be unhappy about paying more for less service.
For the most part, New York politicians are saying the right things. “Neither the city nor the state has any money. There’s not enough money to go around, and we’re all going to have to work together,” Mayor Bloomberg said. Considering that Bloomberg himself is wealthy enough to cover the MTA’s gap, that’s hardly sympathy from the mayor.
Sheldon Silver, the scourge of congestion pricing, has kind words for Richard Ravitch. “Clearly, [Ravitch] will be talking about ways to raise revenue,” Silver said to The Times. “I’m not afraid of reasonable, responsible tax policy, plain and simple. I think that both the residents and the businesses of the city of New York, understanding the significance of mass transit in the city, would be understanding of some revenue raises to continue affordable mass transit.”
Whether Silver is politically willing to do the right — but perhaps unpopular — thing for the MTA is another question entirely.
So here we are in November with but four months to spare. The MTA Board must adopt a balanced budget by the end of December, and MTA CEO and Executive Director has given the state until March to come up with money. If funds are not forthcoming, the agency will start cutting service with fare hikes to follow by June. Stay tuned; with the Ravitch report due in two weeks, the fun is just getting started.