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.”