Home Fare Hikes Daily News pointing fingers in the wrong direction

Daily News pointing fingers in the wrong direction

by Benjamin Kabak

Much like every other straphanger in the New York area, the Daily News editorial board isn’t too thrilled with the news that another fare hike may head our way next year. The board issues a stridently worded editorial blasting MTA Chair Dale Hemmerdinger and CEO Lee Sander for breaking their fare hike and fiscal promises.

Take a look:

Back in March, the MTA socked riders with another fare hike for subways, buses and commuter rail. The salve was a pledge that there would not be another increase for at least two years.

Chairman Dale Hemmerdinger and CEO Lee Sander promised to get the agency’s fiscal affairs in order. They promised they were starting an orderly program of fare increases: Riders would pony up every other year, with hikes in line with inflation. They promised they would get whatever additional money they needed – and it would be a lot – from state and city governments.

“Trust us,” harrumphed Hemmerdinger and Sander.

And they took the public for a ride. Barely three months after giving their word – and pushing through a hike with the blessings of then-Gov. Eliot Spitzer and Mayor Bloomberg – the MTA is floating the prospect of another increase as early as next year.

All of a sudden, the agency is broke, suffering from declining revenues while costs are climbing. Real estate-related taxes dedicated to the MTA are plummeting, thanks largely to the subprime crisis. Next year’s budget gap won’t be $220 million, but as much as $700 million.

The editorial ends with an exhortation to Sander and Hemmerdinger to “shoot straighter.”

Now, that’s all well and good except there’s a problem: Sander and Hemmerdinger did shoot straight last year, but they were trumped by then-governor Eliot Spitzer who lessened what would have been a substantial fare hike.

This is not a new story. In November, when Eliot Spitzer spoke out against the fare hike, I lambasted him for ignoring the financial realities of the MTA’s situation, and I wrote about how Spitzer’s pandering was reminiscent of the five-cent fare follies of the early 20th Century. I still think this current debacle is Spitzer’s fault.

To anyone watching our economy and the MTA’s books, disaster was looming in November. The MTA was relying on real estate tax revenues to cover its operating deficit, and Sander routinely stressed, rightly so, that this revenue stream was in danger of drying up as soon as the economy went south. Well, the real estate market went south in a big way, and the MTA is seeing its worst fears realized.

Had the MTA been allowed to implement its desired fare hike at the end of the 2007 instead of Spitzer’s reduced hike proposal, we wouldn’t be discussing a potential 2009 fare hike. As it is, Spitzer’s proposal benefitted cars and tourists more than anything else, and we and the MTA are still paying the price.

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