Home Fare Hikes The MTA’s real endgame

The MTA’s real endgame

by Benjamin Kabak

Before the year ended, the MTA released a whole bunch of numbers concerning the so-called Doomsday scenario that might come to pass. The agency unveiled four different fare hike proposals and outlined the various service cuts that could go into effect as early as June. It’s scary stuff for a city so dependent upon a healthy transit system.

While these numbers can seem a bit discouraging and overwhelming, the MTA isn’t releasing them into the void of the public for no purpose. Legally, they are required to announce the proposed changes in advance of this month’s public hearing, but politically, the powers-that-be at the MTA have an endgame as well. Newsday reminds us of just what that endgame is in an editorial:

But let’s look at the MTA’s underlying message. What the agency is trying to convey is a doomsday picture, which it will carry out unless the State Legislature comes to the rescue. We’re all familiar with that concept, now that our tax dollars have bailed out Wall Street and Detroit.

The MTA must find a revenue stream to fund its operating costs, which are out of whack by $1.2 billion next year. Its bailout would come in the form of East River bridge tolls and a payroll tax, which were recommended by a commission led by former MTA chief Richard Ravitch. The Ravitch Commission ideas could eliminate the need for service cuts and reduce fare increases to 8 percent. But that would mean more taxes and no incentive to squeeze fat out of the bureaucracy. No fare hikes can begin until March…

MTA news has been muddled, but keep the endgame in mind, and you won’t be fooled: The State Legislature is the real target of these fare-hike scary tales.

The emphasis, clearly, is mine.

It’s hard to understate this theory. The MTA does not want to institute a fare hike while significantly scaling back service. The agency doesn’t want to annoy millions of New Yorkers who suddenly find themselves waiting longer for more crowded trains that run on reduced routes. The transit authority would rather be adding more bus routes and select bus service instead of cutting bus routes and jacking up express bus fares.

But they can’t. They don’t have the money or political support to do so, and until that support arrives, they will be left with the only tools at their disposal to balance the budget: fare hikes and service cuts.

New Yorkers have a seemingly hard time understanding this point, but Newsday nails the issue. If straphanging citizens of this city are unhappy with the MTA, that’s their prerogative, but that ire should also be directed at Albany and City Hall. Until some politician can come up with a plan, the rest of us will be left out in the cold, paying more and waiting longer for the trains.

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Marc Shepherd January 2, 2009 - 9:20 am

It strikes me that some of these ideas might be worth implementing regardless of what the legislature does. From the MTA’s own description, the SCA (station agent) program hasn’t been very successful. It looks like there’s a substantial savings if they terminate it, with no significant downside.

Grrrumpy Miner January 7, 2009 - 5:55 pm

No signifigant downside?Tell that to the at least 500 clerks who lose their jobs via layoffs and may find massive problems paying rent,bills,school,food on their families tables.Also tell that to the remaining rank and file of station agents who have to pick twice a year why they have to pick crazy houses like Times Square and Columbus Circle in which we paid our dues to get away from.Most of the Agents in the SCA program have heavy seniority and will pick out other clerks who will have to go scrambling and find other stations to work.So before you use that hallowed phrase “No signifigant downside” think a little bit harder that could impact those who get you from Point A to Point B.


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