Home Service Cuts MTA Board approves ’10 budget with service cuts

MTA Board approves ’10 budget with service cuts

by Benjamin Kabak

Updated 12:52 p.m.: After a morning of consternation and an intense discussion about its responsibilities to the city of New York, the MTA Board voted this morning to adopt the 2010 budget complete with massive cuts to subway and bus service across the New York Metropolitan area. To cover a budget gap of nearly $400 million, the MTA has preliminarily approved a plan to eliminate two subway lines and numerous bus routes, scale back off-peak service, eliminate a student MetroCard subsidy, cut Access-A-Ride paratransit options and reduce pay for non-union employees by 10 percent. The details of the plan can be found right here.

While passing this budget today, MTA Board members were vehement in their anger toward Albany and stressed their responsibilities toward the city’s millions of daily transit passengers. “I will not let Albany, Washington or the city of New York off the hook for their responsibility to come up with public policy that adequate deal with the needs of the 10 million people we serve on a daily basis,” Staten Island’s Allen Cappelli, a Gov. Paterson appointee to the Board, said.

Doreen Frasca, another Paterson appointee, also pointed her finger toward both City Hall and Albany. “This agency is in an abusive relationship with two dead-beat dads,” she said.

The Board members were unanimous in their feelings that this latest financial crisis represents an utter failure of government and broken promises from those in charge of overseeing the state. “Government has to do their share, the mayor and the legislature,” Frasca added. “That’s the only way we’re going to get out of this mess.”

“They” – meaning our representatives in Albany – “were the ones who put together a deal and said you are fine for the next two years; it was their deal that fell apart,” Jeffrey Kay, a mayoral appointee to the Board, said. “The politics has to stop. The public and the riders have to go through this, and they’re caught in the middle of it.”

All, however, is not lost, and these service cuts are far from definite. Prior to calling for a vote, MTA CEO and Chairman Jay Walder stressed the preliminary nature of this current budget proposal. “On a personal basis, it was only a weekend ago that I began looking at the service cut package,” he said, noting that the agency will “take some time at the beginning of the year” to reassess the plans to cut service. Hopefully, he says, the MTA will be able to eliminate some of the planned cuts after a deeper look.

In the end, the MTA Board members did not want to initiate these cuts, but they have a legal obligation to pass a balanced budget for 2010 before the end of the 2009 calendar year. The Board will continue to explore the wisdom behind shifting capital and stimulus funds to cover the operating gap, and that debate, which I’ll explore later today, will be rancorous as well. Some MTA Board members were in favor while others were not. “I have great difficulty in moving capital money to operating,” Mitchell Pally, Suffolk County’s representative to the board, said. “That’s the problem we had in the 70s when we did that and it took us a very very long time to change the negative consequences of that.”

The Board will also try to work with New York State and City politicians to find ways to avert cuts to the student MetroCard program and the Access-A-Ride options. Early next year, the agency plans to hold another round of public hearings on the cuts, and although today’s vote was a setback for the MTA, but the agency’s hands were tied. “Service cuts are what we can actually do as an agency to stretch the money we can count on for the 12 months it has to cover,” Mark Page, a Bloomberg appointee, said. “This budget is a part of our responsibility to keep the agency going.”

Clearly, this tale of budgetary woes is far from over, but hopefully, it will spur the beginnings of MTA economic reform that would lead to an equitable and steady revenue stream for the beleaguered agency.

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Older and Wiser December 16, 2009 - 1:21 pm

“…Mitchell Pally, Suffolk County’s representative to the board, said. “That’s the problem we had in the 70s when we did that and it took us a very very long time to change the negative consequences of that.”…

Nice try, Mr. Pally. But conflating the 1970’s deferral of essential state-of-good-repair maintenance capital spending with the mega-construction projects of today is not instructive. Of course you need to upgrade rolling stock, track signals and the like.

But it is MTA management culture that seeks to be the deadbeat dad here. The price of the children’s milk has gone up. It would be one thing if the kid’s milk ration had to be reduced in order to afford fixing up the breadwinner’s deteriorating old car. But it’s quite another if the breadwinner seeks to reduce the children’s milk ration just so he won’t have to slow up construction work on his planned two-car garage with automatic doors that will be the envy of the neighborhood.

Benjamin Kabak December 16, 2009 - 1:26 pm

I can’t believe you would accuse the MTA of being a deadbeat dad after what’s happened in Albany over the last two weeks. Basically, the State legislatures said earlier this year, “Here’s your bailout plan. We promise it will cover all of your budget gap.” Then, Albany’s accountants told the MTA two weeks ago, “Oops. We’re between $100-$200 million short.” Then, the representatives in Albany said, “Don’t blame us; it’s not our fault.”

That’s the definition of deadbeat dad right there.

Delaying capital projects at the expense of the operating budget is a big mistake. That’s why the two budgets are separate and rely on different sources of funding, and that’s why the federal government has been pushing a policy of separate budgets for years now.

Delaying system modernization just to stay afloat for another 10 months is foolish because it will, as numerous board members stated today, allow the state to continue to abrogate its duties. The state will continue to avoid real solutions to the MTA’s budget problems, and the agency will continue to slide further in debt. Bad idea.

Benjamin Kabak December 16, 2009 - 1:27 pm

Additionally, you wrote, “But conflating the 1970’s deferral of essential state-of-good-repair maintenance capital spending with the mega-construction projects of today is not instructive. Of course you need to upgrade rolling stock, track signals and the like.”

But a large part of the MTA’s capital budget is upgrading rolling stock, track signals and the like. The SAS contribution from the $28.8 billion 2010-2014 capital budget is just $1.5 billion. Some of the rest will go into the East Side Access plan, but the overwhelming majority is for state-of-good repair maintenance and modernization efforts.

Older and Wiser December 16, 2009 - 1:35 pm

You will never hear me argue aginst the SAS. But I have always believed, and will continue to believe, that the the MTA should prove that it can complete that one successfully before being given the green light to, for example, dig up Fulton Street forever.

AK December 16, 2009 - 2:14 pm

In an ideal world, I might agree with you Older and Wiser re: Fulton Street, but the City/State/MTA were in a very unique position just after 9/11, when the Feds were willing to throw huge amounts of $$$ New York’s way for the reconstruction and redevelopment of Lower Manhattan. We would have been foolish not to jump at the chance to revolutionize downtown transit via the Fulton Street Transit Hub. At the same time, I totally understand your concerns about cost overruns and delays, especially downtown, where practically everyone would agree, the reconstruction of the WTC and its environs has been disasterously slow.

As for your comment about “planned two-car garage with automatic doors that will be the envy of the neighborhood,” I don’t think that analogy would apply to SAS/Fulton Street Hub/East Side Access, all of which are transformative projects that are, in a real sense, once in a century developments in transit. (check out a column I wrote on Fulton Street and the notion of the unique opportunities created out of the tragedy of 9/11: http://www.hlrecord.org/2.4462.....1.577531#5

I would agree with you that Countdown Clocks are the equivalent of the “planned two-car garage with automatic doors,” and that the cost (a couple hundred million dollars) cannot be justified in this fiscal environment.

Benjamin Kabak December 16, 2009 - 2:20 pm

If every other major transit system in the world already has countdown clocks, how can they be the equivalent of a “planned two-car garage with automatic doors that will be the envy of the neighborhood”? Other transit systems aren’t going to be envious of something they’ve had for a decade or longer.

AK December 16, 2009 - 2:39 pm

As you know, Ben, there are many transit systems without clocks, Boston for one. But more importantly, I don’t think a comparative analysis is useful when it comes to assessing whether countdown clocks are an efficient/politically palatable use of funds in the present fiscal environment. I would love countdown clocks and I hope the MTA has the funds from federal/statte/local governments to build said clocks in the not-too-distant future. But clocks are not structural improvements on par with a new subway line, the construction of the third largest transit hub in America, or the connection of Long Island to Grand Central Terminal. So I guess, yes, taken literally, the anology doesn’t work (i.e. others won’t be envious), but that’s a far too literal reading of Older/Wiser’s point, in my opinion. The appropriate reading is that there are certain parts of the MTA’s captial plan that are *more* akin to luxuries than others. Countdown Clocks, in my view, is at the top of the list, followed closely thereafter by Oyster-Card like technology. Again, I love the Oyster Card and hope we get it, but if cuts need to be made, those are the places to slash spending.

Aaron December 16, 2009 - 3:42 pm

Um, Boston, at least on the Orange and Red lines, has had countdown announcements and clocks since 2005-2006, and I think I still have nightmares about them. “The next red line train to *different voice* ASHMONT *resume old voice* is arriving in *third voice* SIX MINUTES.” Green Line has proven to be a mess because of the streetcar-subway transition, and I never rode the Blue Line due to accessibility issues. Apparently they’re installing it on the MBCR too. San Francisco has them in the subway part of MUNI (in fact, they even have LCD screens showing you where every train in the Market subway is located, so you know when things are so screwed up that you should take another line instead). LA has been installing them over the past few years as well, though I suspect they’ll be on the grade separated lines first.

For what it’s worth, Boston’s clocks/announcements are part of an ADA settlement to enable blind and deaf people to gain equal access to the system, particularly since a major problem in Boston was/is cars that ran with the wrong headsigns and operators who consistently failed to make station announcements (often, none at all, which on the Red Line was particularly obnoxious, even for sighted/hearing people – you have to poke your head in the train and ask “Ashmont or Braintree?” in hopes that the operator had at least made destination announcements to the passengers)

AK December 16, 2009 - 4:12 pm

Boston does NOT have clocks. I lived there from 2002-2009. An annoucement is made when a train is arriving on the Red/Orange lines. That’s it.

Aaron December 16, 2009 - 4:42 pm

Did they un-install the clocks? I lived at Ruggles for 3 years and they had them there. It’s possible that Ruggles was a failed beta test, I know they used the Orange line to road-test other great functionality (commuting to and from State when State was the only Charlie Card station = unfun), but I *know* they were there at least.

Aaron December 16, 2009 - 4:42 pm

To clarify, the clocks weren’t there the entire time I was there (’04-’07) but instead the last year or so, iirc.

AK December 16, 2009 - 4:53 pm

May have been a BETA Test Aaron, though I rode both Red/Orange lines and never saw/heard times called out (except occasionally by the dispatcher, as we hear on the Lexington Avenue line from time to time, “Ladies and Gentlemen, a downtown 6 train is at 42nd Street…”).

Older and Wiser December 16, 2009 - 2:55 pm

There are a lot of transit systems that have sprung to life in the many decades since the inception of the Lexington IRT, each able to take advantage of whatever tehnology is state of the art at the time.

But New York’s is unique, and with unique built in limitations on how timely it can be in keeping up with having the latest and greatest stuff. Fortunately, NYCT is also a remarkably durable technological classic, with its own unique advantages as well. That’s why its been able to get so many people to work more or less on time for a century.

But MTA management seems oblivious to that uniqueness. And one aspect of that uniqueness is the historical roller coaster nature of state and local government support. Breaking ground on a proliferation of decade-long projects with no idea where the out-year funding will come from is fiduciarily equivalent to a homebuyer taking on a variable rate mortg that he doesn’t even want to think about how he will be able to afford in the out years.

Boris December 16, 2009 - 3:30 pm

The London subway is older than the New York subway, but they didn’t have a problem installing countdown clocks.

Whenever someone calls countdown clocks a “luxury”, I think of American-made cars in Cuba. Just imagine telling someone that they don’t deserve to have seat belts or airbags in their car because they are “luxuries”. Why should transit riders be OK with 60’s-70’s technology while cars made 15 years ago are “clunkers” you can get paid to get rid of? Should we have at least some veneer of equity when it comes to cars vs. transit? Keeping transit 40 years behind automobiles only perpetuates the belief that transit is only for the poor.

Aaron December 16, 2009 - 3:40 pm

To be fair, your better example might be automatic vs. manual transmissions – seatbags and airbags are a lifesaving safety measure. Still, I agree, and I’ve posted more above you in reply to AK.

Alon Levy December 16, 2009 - 6:04 pm

New York isn’t unique in anything, except its four-times-greater-than-anywhere-else capital construction costs.

Kid Twist December 16, 2009 - 3:18 pm

Other transit systems have something called “cleanliness,” too, and we can’t seem to manage that here either.

Kid Twist December 16, 2009 - 3:19 pm

we can’t
(learn to type, Kid).

Ed December 16, 2009 - 6:29 pm

Don’t forget that the debt service on capital projects comes out of operating expenses. Currently over $1b a year.

So operations and capital and intertwined and, for example, the SAS contribution out of capital is made possible thru debt.

the debt and high pensions and other benefits are what’s destroying the MTA’s finances. Simply put, the agency borrowed too much to complete too many things that took long and cost too much.

Greg December 16, 2009 - 3:16 pm

When do the service cuts come into effect? Is it January or March or later?

Benjamin Kabak December 16, 2009 - 3:29 pm

The reductions in subway and bus service will start in June. The Student MetroCard discount will be cut from 100 percent free to 50 percent off full fare in Sept. 2010 and then phased out completely in Sept. 2011.

Anon December 16, 2009 - 9:48 pm

So today the Chief Executive Officer of the MTA says to expect and accept that there will be Layoffs with such vigor and certainty.

At almost the same time the House of Representatives votes Yay on a Jobs Bill that in part is supposed to avert public employee layoffs.

So when the Chief Executive of the United States of America ultimately signs this bill early next year (it will likely be approved by the Senate) what will the MTA CEO do?

After this bill goes into Law, laying off public servants won’t seem very Patriotic will it?

Alon Levy December 16, 2009 - 10:22 pm

The jobs bill gives $8 billion to all US transit systems combined.

Anon December 16, 2009 - 10:49 pm

“By a vote of 217 to 212, the House approved additional spending for “shovel-ready” construction projects and money to avoid layoffs of teachers, police and other public employees.”


700 Jobs ~40 Million Dolars
So even *if* this can be saved by Transportation earmarks that would be about a half a percent of the 8 Billion. But I think jobs aspect supercedes the transportation requirement/factor here….

rhywun December 16, 2009 - 11:24 pm

’10 – that sure looks weird. Another decade gone by… OK, time to read the article now.

rhywun December 17, 2009 - 12:18 am

Well, at least a lot of the MTA board members are saying the right things.


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