While Wall Street was suffering through its worse day since Sept. 2001, leading transit advocates gathered at NYU to testify on the state of the MTA’s finances. In the first Ravitch Commission hearing, leaders from all walks of New York public life stressed the need for a lifeline of money from New York City and State. The MTA, they warned, could face dire consequences if the MTA’s fiscal health is not restored.
I spent much of Monday at NYU but in classes. So I missed the hearings. Luckily, the good folks from the Tri-State Transportation Campaign were on hand to report on the testimony:
Leading transportation, environmental and labor groups warned today that New York faced major fare hikes, and cuts in transit service and vital repairs unless new City and State aid is raised to address the MTA’s “titanic” financial problems.
The warning came at the first public hearing of the State Commission on MTA Financing. The Commission – appointed by Governor David Paterson and headed by former MTA Chairman Richard Ravitch – is charged with recommending ways to meet the MTA’s financial needs over the next ten years. Its report is due out by December 5th.
In July, the MTA officially announced major operating deficits in its $6 billion operating budgets for 2009 and 2010. The deficits are caused in large part by declining tax revenues in a bad economy; rising fuel costs; and the impact of years of massive borrowing to finance badly needed repairs.
More alarming, TSTC reports, is the current state of the MTA as one of the nation’s leading debtors. At a time when the country is falling into crippling debts, the MTA is the country’s fifth leading public debtor. Only New York City and three states owe more money. Clearly, the MTA cannot remain solvent and operate a viable transit network for a region of nearly 19 million people.
“Years of borrowing as a result of the City and State’s disinvestment in mass transit are coming to a head as the price of fuel has drawn many new people to transit, with total ridership up in the last year by more than 5% on the subways. What’s more, the proposed hikes would come at a time when working and middle class New Yorkers are already struggling with a rising cost of living, and real economic hardship,” TWU President Roger Toussaint said.
Toussaint testified on Monday along with prominent activits such as Gene Russianoff of the Straphangers Campaign, Kevin Crobett of the Empire State Transportation Alliance, Robert Yaro of the Regional Plan Association and Kate Slevin of TSTC. As each organization head passed through the commission sessions, they all had the same message.
“Failure to make the necessary investments in the critical transportation infrastructure would severely hamper New York’s economic viability. We simply can’t allow this to happen,” Corbett said.
As Monday’s market crash proceeded as expected — and Tuesday promises to be no better — the MTA is certainly facing an uphill battle. New York State doesn’t have any money; New York City doesn’t have any money; and the Federal Government is too busy bailing out the country’s housing market to focus on the New York City transit network. But the ramifications for our region and for our nation are just as drastic.
Without a viable transit network, New York City will face a precipitous decline. In all sectors, the New York economy will suffer, and as we’re seeing on Wall Street, when New York suffers, the rest of the nation will suffer. It doesn’t have the cachet of a Fannie Mae or a Freddie Mac, but in its own way, more than just New Yorkers rely on the MTA.
In the end, the Ravitch Comission will probably tell the city and state to spend more money. The panel will probably recommend a congestion fee as well. And in the end, our elected officials won’t respond. As Paul S. White, head of Transportation Alternatives said, “The MTA’s problem is clear: The City and State have inadequately funded mass transit for years. The formula for funding mass transportation should be changed.”