Home Service Cuts Disabled, students hardest hit in MTA budget

Disabled, students hardest hit in MTA budget

by Benjamin Kabak


In an effort to close an unexpected budget gap of nearly $400 million, the MTA this morning unveiled a plan to cut services across the city. While two subway lines and a few bus routes will be eliminated and service on others severely reduced, the city’s students and disabled are the hardest hit in the latest round of cuts.

As the Gary Dellaverson, MTA CFO, explained this morning, this new budget gap developed early last week when payroll tax totals came in at around $200 million below expectations. The state has since revised that number upward to $100 million below expectations, but that $100 million combined with lower expectations for 2010, a late-year cut of $143 million in appropriations to the MTA and a labor arbitration ruling that will add $91 million to the MTA’s bottom line next year has led to a deficit of $383 million. Since the agency has promised to avoid a fare hike until 2011, cuts are on the table.

“To present a balanced budget despite losing hundreds of millions of dollars in State funding over the past two weeks requires measures that are painful to the MTA, our employees and our customers,” Dellaverson said to the MTA’s finance committee. “Given the ongoing downturn in the broader economy and the resultant economic crisis facing the State, we have worked to balance the budget while maintaining our commitment to riders not to increase fares in 2010.”

And the cuts are severe. In addition to reviving the Doomsday service cuts, the MTA will rollback the student discount for MetroCards and will pare down services to the disabled until they meet the bare federal minimums under the Americans with Disabilities Act. At a time when the agency has few choices, it’s certainly taking the ones bound to attract the most political attention. The financial summary and board presentation, available here and here, respectively, as PDFs, tell a tale of reduced service across the board.

The MTA plans to:

  • Discontinue W and Z subway routes; terminate G subway route at Court Street;
  • Increase subway headways on weekends and early mornings; increase off-peak subway load guidelines;
  • Adjust express bus service to reflect demand and eliminate low performing weekend express bus service;
  • Discontinue and restructure local bus service on low-performing routes;
  • Eliminate Rockaway-resident Cross Bay toll rebate program;
  • Reduce car consists and increase load standards; and
  • Reduce service, on Commuter Railroads.

Although everyone will suffer from reduced service, more crowded midday trains and fewer overall options, students and disabled passengers will see a drastic change of transportation quality. As I noted this morning, the MTA seemed ready to axe student MetroCards, and that plan is now official. With Gov. David Paterson starting the day by saying that his hands were tied and the Daily News reporting that state contributions to student transit costs were down to just $6 million, the MTA could no longer afford to fork over nearly $170 million in voluntary subsidies for student travel.

Under the new plan, the MTA will move to a half-price discount for students in September 2010 and phase out the Student MetroCard program entirely in September 2011. By delaying the elimination of these free rides, the MTA is giving Albany ample time to find money for the program. The MTA should not be expected to foot the bill for a program the city and state once promised to fund in full. “The MTA” the financial summary says, “can no longer afford to subsidize this free service and, therefore, is proposing a roll back of the discount for school transportation.”

As for paratransit service reductions, the MTA is vague on the specifics. Michael Grynbaum reports that the authority will provide paratransit service only to the nearest handicap-accessible subway station and that door-to-door service will be eliminated entirely. The agency’s documents call for cost savings of $40 million in 2010 and $80 million in 2011 through “improvements in scheduling efficiency, an increase in the use of vouchers and taxis, better coordination of feeder service with accessible fixed route service, improved eligibility screening, and the elimination of the most expensive carriers.” No matter the end result, the MTA’s services for the disabled will be simply, as I said, the bear minimum required by law.

I’ll have more on these catastrophic cuts over the next few, but I want to leave you for now again with Andrew Albert’s quote. This is a mess of Albany’s doing, and our elected representatives are trying to wash their hands of it. That injustice just cannot stand. As Albert said, “To have this situation in the most transit-dependent city in the country is a complete failure of government.”

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Alon Levy December 14, 2009 - 7:55 pm

If the Teamsters were, well, not the Teamsters, the MTA would be able to cut conductors on the LIRR and MNRR, which would have the same cost effect as reducing service but with none of the ridership problems.

Scott E December 15, 2009 - 8:21 am

I disagree. I believe the number of conductors on these trains is the amount sufficient to collect tickets between the City Terminal Zone (Penn Station, Flatbush Ave/Atlantic Terminal, Hunterspoint Ave) and the next station (usually Jamaica). Already, many passengers get free rides to/from places like Nostrand Avenue, East New York, and Woodside because the conductors simply can’t check a long train fast enough. If you want to reduce conductors, you need to speed up fare collection with new technology.

When NJ Transit built the Secaucus Junction station in 2003, they implemented a confusing system of turnstiles and mag-stripes on the tickets, since there is no way to check the train between there and Penn.

Alon Levy December 15, 2009 - 1:39 pm

In first-world transit systems, they have turnstiles at stations, or a proof of payment system. This isn’t new technology – it’s been around for over a hundred years. New York uses turnstiles for the subway and Jersey City uses proof of payment for light rail.

rhywun December 14, 2009 - 9:20 pm

1. I don’t like looking at numbers, cuz like I do that all day at work, but… do they add up? I.e., do these cuts eliminate the deficit? Cuz I recall last year’s “doomsday” cuts were only going to save around $25M. Maybe cutting the student program makes up a large part? $170M a year sure is a lot. IF all the cuts do eliminate the budget, then I will recant my usual claim that they’re “just for show” and start to take them seriously….

2. Speaking of the student program… I’m a bit astonished to hear that the city is not required to furnish some sort of transportation to all students who live too far from school to walk. That’s how it was where I grew up. I always got either a free bus pass or a yellow school bus.

3. I’m still not clear on the labor arbitration. Is it really true that the MTA didn’t budget for the already-negotiated raises? Because that seems really stupid on their part.

Julia December 14, 2009 - 11:22 pm

As to #2, I’m confused, too. As far as I know, that is the law in NYS, so I’m not really sure how this will all work. Will the city have to pay for the student MetroCards? It’s still cheaper than adding school buses.

Matt December 14, 2009 - 9:47 pm

Will there be any public hearings about this?

crescent December 14, 2009 - 10:42 pm

> This is Albany’s doing

I don’t know. Paterson’s already raised money specifically for MTA and raised taxes the liberal way – only on the high-earners. I think logically draconian cuts are the next step.

Abba December 14, 2009 - 11:21 pm

Benjamin is there any chance that the board will not pass the proposed budget on wednesday?

The politics of threatening service cuts :: Second Ave. Sagas | A New York City Subway Blog December 15, 2009 - 1:33 am

[…] « Disabled, students hardest hit in MTA budget Dec […]

meera December 15, 2009 - 11:00 am

why does the MTA’s own budget plan PDF say they are going to terminate the G train at Court St? do they mean Court Square? One of the Smith St stops? or is this just proof that we are pawns in some ridiculous game of brinksmanship?

MTA Board approves 2010 budget with service cuts :: Second Ave. Sagas | A New York City Subway Blog December 16, 2009 - 11:57 am

[…] a detailed look at the full package of service cuts, please see this post from Monday. In addition to those cuts, all non-union employees are slated for an 10-percent salary reduction […]

Five Ways to Stop MTA Service Cuts | Mobilizing the Region December 16, 2009 - 4:39 pm

[…] be hurt the most under this plan.  (It’s worth noting that the costs of student fares have increasingly been borne by the […]

Nowooski December 17, 2009 - 2:59 pm

What does “increase headways” and adjust load “guidelines” mean?

Benjamin Kabak December 17, 2009 - 3:20 pm

Headways are the amount of time between trains. Increased headways mean longer wait times.

Nathanael December 22, 2009 - 10:46 pm

At least reducing Access-A-Ride to the federal minimum will make it blatantly obvious that the MTA will save money by making more subway stations accessible.

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