Home Service Cuts Public hearings for the MTA, but to what end?

Public hearings for the MTA, but to what end?

by Benjamin Kabak

The MTA’s proposed service cuts and the plan to eliminate the student MetroCards will come under fire at this week’s hearings. (Map via NYC Transit’s book of service changes)

Ed. Note (11:30 a.m.): An earlier version of this post focused on the critique of the MTA’s proposed bus service changes. Because of some conflicts in the arguments, I’ve updated this post.

Last night, the first of the MTA’s service cut hearings invaded New York City. Due to some law school obligations and assignments this week, I don’t believe I’ll be able to attend any, but I can tell from the coverage (Times, Daily News) that I’m not missing much. A bunch of people are railing against the MTA, and a bunch of politicians who have the checkbook power to stop the cuts are grandstanding instead of paying up. Been there, done that, and we know how that story ends.

This year’s format differs a bit from last year’s, and the MTA has taken some flack for the change in schedule. As the hearings hit the five boroughs and outer-lying areas this week, the authority has decided to double-book. For example, tonight, both the Bronx and Brooklyn host hearings, and MTA Board members and top officials will have to determine which of the two events they should attend.

Politicians and some rider advocates claim that this packed schedule does a disservice to angry riders who want their voices heard. The MTA has a different take. Authority heads want “to hear from folks throughout the region, not to allow the same people to testify nine different times,” MTA spokesman Aaron Donovan said to The Times. After watching the same people say the same thing over and over again last year, I can understand why the MTA would want to eliminate that noise at their hearings.

Despite my inherent skepticism of the impact of these hearings — after all, nothing short of a miracle that happens at these hearings will help generate the $750 million the authority needs — some interesting ideas come out of these hearings. Some people stress the human element of transit and call for certain bus lines to be maintained. Others express their opinions on the cut package as a whole. And sometimes the MTA is listening.

Take, for instance, this report from December 1990. Nearly twenty years ago, the MTA found itself in a similar situation. The Authority was short over $200 million and had planned to eliminate numerous bus routes and scheduled trains. After vehement public protest, the authority decided to approve a 10-cent far hike and engaged in some serious internal belt-tightening.

Today, though, while I’ve long advocated raising the fares, especially in light of the fact that we don’t pay enough as it is, the MTA may be left with no choice. They will have to cut services to cover its gap, and they may, as officials have started to hint this week, raise the fares as well. The politicians can squawk; the people can protest; but with a deficit representing nearly seven percent of its overall budget and no funds from Albany on the horizon, the MTA will simply just sit there, listen and enact its planned cuts in the end.

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Rhywun March 3, 2010 - 4:19 am

I don’t think the proposed cuts are misguided – it’s evident they’ve put a lot of thought into it. The routes with the least ridership are cut, and portions of routes that have somewhat higher ridership sometimes get replacement service from other routes.

The real question is whether the proposed cuts actually solve the deficit problem – and I think the answer to that is a resounding “No”. The cuts are the result of some bureaucrat telling the planners, “Cut x% of bus service”, and the planners dutifully came up with the least destructive plan that cuts x% of bus service. Yet cutting x% of bus service only makes a tiny dent in this year’s deficit – which leads me to believe it’s the political move I thought it was the whole time. If they were serious about balancing the budget on bus cuts, the cuts would be a *lot* deeper. And that’s not even taking into consideration the proposed elimination of student Metrocards, an idea which never had more than approximately 0% of passing, especially since having become the top story on the local news this week.

In short, it is my belief that the visible cuts don’t amount to much, and the effective cuts (such as the student Metrocard) will never happen, leaving the agency to scramble for one-time emergency help. If there’s one thing our state leaders are good at, it’s one-time gimmicks. I don’t know if this year is the year that their powers to hide this stuff from the public will fail them, or next year. But it’s definitely soon.

Marc Shepherd March 3, 2010 - 11:38 am

Of course these cuts will solve the deficit problem. It is cheaper to run a system with less service, fewer employees, and fewer riders (students) getting discount fares.

Now, if the politicians scramble at the last minute for emergency help, so much the better. All the MTA is doing, is to say, “You’ve cut our funding, and by law we must balance our budget. So here you go. If you don’t like it, then fund the agency properly.”

Eliminating student discounts is brilliant, because it forces dim-witted politicians to take action, which apparently they were not otherwise inclined to do.

Rhywun March 4, 2010 - 12:44 am

But the elimination of student transportation is not a serious proposal – there is no way that it will pass. Even if the city or state eventually decides to cover it, I still don’t think the proposed service cuts even come close to balancing the budget.

Allan Rosen March 5, 2010 - 9:37 am

“the planners dutifully came up with the least destructive plan that cuts x% of bus service.”

How do you know this for a fact? I know for a fact that although they might have tried to do this, they did not succeed and that was the entire crux of my testimony which you can read either at allanrosen.spaces.live.com.

Sammy Finkelman March 5, 2010 - 11:59 am

>> In short, it is my belief that the visible cuts don’t amount to much, and the effective cuts (such as the student Metrocard) will never happen, leaving the agency to scramble for one-time emergency help

That’s the idea! The only question why did they include any real cuts at all, instead of having the package consist entirely of fake cuts and playing chicken?

Streetsblog New York City » Today’s Headlines March 3, 2010 - 9:06 am

[…] Service Reductions Will Cut Deeper Than MTA Lets On, Says Former Transit Planner (SAS) […]

SignalWatcher March 3, 2010 - 9:18 am

I wouldn’t pay Al Rosen any attention. His transit rants on other online forums are absurd and often downright wrong. I don’t know if he was a good Director of Bus Planning back in the day, but these days it really seems that he hasn’t a clue what he’s talking about.

Benjamin Kabak March 3, 2010 - 11:36 am

You’re not the only person to tell me this. I’ve updated the post quite substantially here.

Aaron March 3, 2010 - 11:59 am


What did the original post say, if I might ask? I’m not familiar with Al Rosen. Over at DailyKos the usual convention for fixing erroneous information is to use the strikethrough tag, to show that the information has been shown to be in error but to still allow people to see the original post so that the comments and meta discussions still make sense. It’s not always applicable but I’ve also found it to be sometimes useful when I blog and I accidentally use a bad source.

Benjamin Kabak March 3, 2010 - 12:01 pm

It would have been a 900-word strike through. I’ll email it to you.

Aaron March 3, 2010 - 1:33 pm

Oh my, yeah, I can understand that now. And thank you for the e-mail, it certainly satisfied my inner dork :).

Allan Rosen March 5, 2010 - 11:27 am

Don’t believe him. I think he’s upset because I made some negative comments about Transportation Alternatives or Streetsblog. He wouldn’t dare to state his objections publicly.

Benjamin Kabak March 5, 2010 - 11:41 am

It has nothing to do with Trans Alts or Streetsblog. It has to do with information I’ve received from Transit and a few other people who are aware of how the service cuts were put together. Everyone I’ve spoken with says that (1) they accounted for estimates in lost revenue despite your changes to the contrary; that (2) your interpretation of their service guidelines do not agree with their measures of the same service guidelines; and that (3) your cost analysis and theirs were not based on the metrics.

I know you have some valid points. I think your analysis of services to be eliminated highlights the tensions in these MTA service cuts, but I couldn’t run the prior post as is without further research. I’m happy to talk to you about your take on these cuts and run a post next week or the week after that explores why your analysis and Transit’s seem to reach different conclusions.

Allan Rosen March 5, 2010 - 4:01 pm

If you read my entire testimony, I did not say that they did not account for lost revenue. (1) I said they grossly underestimated lost revenue. Whenever they provided an alternative routing, I could not find any lost revenue. (2) their service guidelines except for outer Staten Island, call for no one having to walk more than a quarter-mile to a bus route. This has always been interpreted as a quarter-mile to an east-west or north-south bus route. I do not know how it is currently interpreted. (Theoretically, all Manhattan crosstown routes could be eliminated and technically everyone would still be within the guidelines.) I recognize that these are only guidelines and cannot be followed in all instances. However, these cuts are putting some between one-half and three-quarters of a mile from a north-south or east west bus route and that far exceeds the guidelines as I interpret them. To interpret the guidelines otherwise does not make sense.

(3) “your cost analysis and theirs were not based on the metrics”.

I’m not sure if I understand what you mean by this, but we can discuss it if you would like to.

Sammy Finkelman March 5, 2010 - 12:07 pm

Can I get it also?

Allan Rosen March 5, 2010 - 11:15 am

Who else did you hear this from? The fact that you deleted your other posts without correcting it is very suspicious.

Allan Rosen March 5, 2010 - 11:07 am

I’d like to know who you are and why you are trying to discredit me. Cite specifics or don’t say anything.

Phil March 3, 2010 - 2:01 pm

This might be a silly question, but what’s going to happen to the extra busses?

SEAN March 3, 2010 - 2:36 pm

Onething they could do is retire the oldest busses in the MTA fleet. There are hundreds of older RTS busses near or on the verge of retirement. Just excelerate the process.

Phil March 3, 2010 - 8:43 pm

I’m trying to figure out why it’s the MTA’s job to subsidise student fares? 1) Public schools are usually in walking distance of residence within the city, so most students wouldn’t need these discounts anyway. 2) For specialised high schools like Stuyvesant, shouldn’t it be the Education Department’s job to pay for these fares in lieu of students/parents/MTA? 3) If your child’s in a private school you probably have enough money for commuting matters and it would be wrong for the city to pay for those students anyway.

Rhywun March 4, 2010 - 12:58 am

1. NYC, like many urban districts with multiple schools, engages in a program of specialization and “magnet” schools which results in large numbers of students traveling across the city to attend their school of choice. Even in my upstate district 20 years ago, with only 6 high schools, I would guess that around half the kids did not attend their “neighborhood” school. I have no idea what the actual figures are in NYC in the present day, but I do think the days of “one size fits all” neighborhood schools are long gone.

2. The NYC school district is an arm of the city government, and therefore it is IMHO the responsibility of the city government to pay for student transportation.

3. Private schools are totally independent of any public agency or government. I think your characterization that private school students “probably have enough money for commuting matters” is probably not accurate, as such schools do accept lots of low-income students, but nevertheless you are correct that public agencies are totally not responsible for paying their transportation costs. Instead, such costs are covered by grants, charities, and such.

Allan Rosen March 5, 2010 - 11:18 am

It isn’t. See this article:


NYCTracks March 4, 2010 - 12:51 am

The Brooklyn public hearing got pretty interesting tonight. Five people were arrested. Most of the flap was over the student Metrocard cuts. Students — it’s not clear yet if they were high school or college students — definitely had the loudest voices there. People got tired of the politicians taking the podium and called out for students to speak.

We have pictures and a live blog of the incident at NYCTracks.com.

Niccolo Machiavelli March 4, 2010 - 1:44 am

NYC Tracks, its clear that they were impatient assholes. The MTA gained nothing by the politicians butting to the front of the line except that they got to take the blame for what the politicians were doing. The loud mouths in the peanut gallery who couldn’t wait their turn made the best media. People should be angry, they should be getting arrested, civil disobedience would be effective. It made for great media but it made a bullshit meeting even deeper in manure. They looked a little old and immature for high school students. The high school students there from the NYC Student Union (a group that conceivably deserves a union) patiently waited their turn while the group that was yelling while everyone else tried to speak started the battle.

Alon Levy March 4, 2010 - 3:19 am

What issues would a high school student union engage in? Students aren’t really employed, and can’t go on strike…

Niccolo Machiavelli March 4, 2010 - 11:04 am

Why can’t they go on strike? They are not under the Taylor Law. They get dicked around in countless ways and this is just another one. The city could pick up this tab so could the State. Hell Bloomberg could write a personal check for the whole $214 million fares and still have 14 Billion in the bank.

Russell Warshay March 5, 2010 - 8:30 am

“Why can’t they go on strike?”

Because they’re not labor (a production input,) they’re consumers. They could boycott, but they’ll only be hurting themselves.

Sammy Finkelman March 5, 2010 - 12:04 pm

Allan Rosen:

AR> my testimony which you can read either at allanrosen.spaces.live.com.

That link does not work. This is the link to the testimony:


I got that through http://www.sheepsheadbites.com.....qus_thread

Which you put on that slip of paper you handed out to a few people at the MTA hearing in Brooklyn. You stayed a few minutes just a little bit outside the auditorium and I guess whoever walked out just then could get it.

Sammy Finkelman March 5, 2010 - 12:06 pm

I think the reason the link you gave does not work is that there is period after the m in .com Leave out the period and it does work.

Allan Rosen March 5, 2010 - 4:04 pm

The period was the end of the sentence. It was not meant to be part of the address.

Sammy Finkelman March 5, 2010 - 12:11 pm

Nobody could write a detailed reply? I thought, when I looked at the book, taht mayeb one or two things he said about what they did in their calculations was wrong. Maybe there was more wrong in his post -but there was not too much about calculations in the testimony. But in any case, he as clearly guessing about whjat they did. And his guess that this was a pckage developed over a long period of time and tehy substituted recent figures for earlier ones, may be correct.

There really is no reason either to think the MTA was just following a rule and I think the recently acquired bus routes in Queens are of course politically protected.

Allan Rosen March 5, 2010 - 4:10 pm

The MTA stated in their report that they intend to implement their recommendations or some version of it within 90 days after the hearings. I have also heard that it takes 18 months to prepare a schedule. Therefore, in order for all this to happen within 90 days, some or most of this work has to have already been prepared and it is impossible for all this to have been prepared within 30 days as the MTA stated, if I read that correctly.

MTA reassessing bus cuts, but larger deficit looms. :: Second Ave. Sagas March 10, 2010 - 12:15 pm

[…] hearings last week as political theater, I recognize that, as happened in 1990, these hearings can impact the MTA’s approach to service cuts. Today, the Daily News reports, unsurprisingly, that the MTA is reconsidering some bus route […]

Allan Rosen March 15, 2010 - 9:24 pm

Moat of the cuts will stay. It is highly doubtful if cuts other than the ones Walder orders to be dropped will be dropped. Two weeks is hardly enough time for the Board and the staff to review all the comments and make changes. The videos of the Brooklyn hearing were supposed to be posted on the MTA website on March 10th and as of the 15th, still are not available. When did or will the board receive copies of all the written testimony to review? After the scheduled vote?


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