Home Public Transit Policy With time tight, northeast Senators eye transit rescue package

With time tight, northeast Senators eye transit rescue package

by Benjamin Kabak

A bus stop no longer With June 28, the day on which New York City Transit will eliminate bus and subway service in order to save $93 million, coming ever closer, time for any rescue packages is running out. Yet, the United States Senate might just come through with the dollars the MTA — and other transit authorities across the nation — needs to avoid crippling service cuts or fare hikes.

With support from the Amalgamated Transit Union and the Transport Workers Union, Senators Chuck Schumer, Kirsten Gillibrand and six other Democrats announced a federal bill that would provide $2 billion in operations aid for transit authorities that are currently exploring service cuts or fare hikes to close budget gaps. The MTA would be eligible for $275 million in assistance that would be good through September 2011.

“Commuters in New York are outraged by the fare hikes and service cuts that are being considered right now,” Gillibrand said. “This emergency funding is badly needed to maintain strong and affordable transit systems that get workers to work, students to school, and keep our economy moving.”

Streetsblog, its DC counterpart and the Tri-State Transportation Campaign all hailed the introduction of the bill as a major step toward a transit rescue. Yet, time remains as short. Writes Ben Fried at Streetsblog:

Before the MTA can decide how to allocate the funding, the bill has to pass Congress. The legislation could be attached as a rider to a war spending bill the Senate is expected to pass this week, said Liu. Or it could be attached to a small business tax credit bill the week of June 8. (The transit aid measures would also have to clear negotiations in conference committee.) Either option would presumably allow the MTA to avoid enacting service cuts scheduled to take effect at the end of June.

“It comes down to our region’s senators being the champions for this on the Senate floor,” said [TSTC’s Ya-Ting[ Liu, who praised [Connecticut Senator Christopher] Dodd and the Senate delegations from New York and New Jersey for sponsoring the bill. “We just know we have to keep up the public pressure.”

In New York City, this bill could not come soon enough, and I worry that its Eleventh Hour introduction may in fact be too late. The MTA has already implemented new schedules for its commuter rail lines and has phased out G train service to Forest Hills. Construction crews are working now to ready the Chrystie St. Cut for revenue service as the M will replace the V train along Sixth Ave., and signs mark bus stops across the city announcing service changes or outright suspensions. If the MTA is to reverse these cuts, the money must start flowing soon.

Of course, the other element of this rescue package we must consider is the way it absolves New York State of its responsibilities toward transit. If this important piece of legislation can pass the Senate quickly, it will be good only for the next 16 months. It isn’t designed to replace state funding schemes, and states shouldn’t begin to rely on the feds to bail out transit agencies every time a funding crisis arises. Perhaps the economy will rebound enough to provide the MTA with increased real estate taxes to avoid future armageddons, but a toll or congestion pricing scheme will have to be put in place sooner or later to help shore up the authority’s revenue streams.

Realistically, the MTA is planning to move forward with its cuts until the bill is ultimately approved. The authority, never one to waste words as it seemingly does with dollars, had only a brief statement to issue. “We support the bill,” spokesman Kevin Ortiz said, “and we hope it passes.”

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Red May 26, 2010 - 1:02 am

In a way this might be ideal because it would be a major funding boost that still isn’t big enough to completely close the MTA’s budget gap. That means MTA efficiencies, and maybe some work rule concessions are still going to be needed.

Pea-Jay May 26, 2010 - 3:24 am

If this passes do you think some of the more logical service cuts/modifications might still occur? Just thinking about the M/V switcheroo here…could that still occur and some other line be moved/extended to replace the lost service in S. Brooklyn ?

Scott E May 26, 2010 - 8:34 am

Actually, I was surprised to see Ben’s post about construction being needed to make use of the Crystie St. cut. I thought it was just a matter of changing some signage and adjusting some track switches, so un-doing it wouldn’t be too monumental a task.

nycpat May 26, 2010 - 10:39 am

All the T/Os and C/Rs have already picked jobs for the new work program starting June 27.

Scott E May 26, 2010 - 8:23 am

As you mentioned towards thee end of the post, it will help short-term, but it doesn’t address the fundamental problems that got us in this mess in the first place. It’s like Mom paying off Junior’s credit card bill, when Junior still has a lesson to learn in financial responsibility.

I’d much rather see a bailout like the kind given to Wall Street. Loan the money to the state, with the requirement that the state use it for continued transit operations, and require the state to pay the money back according to a certain schedule along with a sustainable financial plan going forwards. And I reiterate that the state, the ones with the financial power, should be accountable, not the MTA.

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Eric F. May 26, 2010 - 9:25 am

So rather than raise fares, we’ll borrow money from the Chinese to subsidize fares, and then payback the fare subsidy money with interest over time. This is supposedly prudent fiscal planning. Again, look everywhere for money except to the riders.

Scott E May 26, 2010 - 9:56 am

Absolutely not, Eric. I don’t advocate raising the MTA’s debt level; in fact, I think it would be prudent to try to get rid of that debt ASAP. The goal of this rescue package isn’t to solve the agencies’ budget woes, but to triage the situation. If people can’t get to work or shop for necessities because of the transit agencies’ and states’ ineptitude, the overall economy in these urban areas will tailspin. This plan essentially buys time, 18 months, to figure out how to right the ship, without worrying about how to get through the next week.

Riders have been contributing their share for the longest time, but here in New York, the city and state have backed off from their obligations. When costs go up for the riders, we’ve always found a way to adapt out of necessity. The same cannot be said for politicians, who have taken a “not-my-problem” stance. While they can give the proverbial finger to those who they are obligated to support, I’m hoping that a higher level of government can light the fire under their ass and get them to fix the problems – both in funding and efficiencies – without further distress to the riding public.

Eric F. May 26, 2010 - 10:51 am

If riders were funding the system, then this borrowing scheme would be unnecessary. The entire shortfall is caused by the simple fact that fares do not cover costs. So we layer tax upon tax on other economic sectors and appeal for aid, which is never enough. The fare is insulated from operating costs, and thus the average rider feels in league with union members who retire at 55 with full pensions, rather than annoyed that their fare is $4 to cover this idiotic benefits package. So the riders’ kids will now send dollars to Shanghai in perpetuity in order to ensure that their fare doesn’t rise 2 years in a row. This is not smart. And what incentive does getting ‘free’ money from Washington (read: foreign bond buyers) place on reforming the cost structure? I’ll answer that for you: None.

Red May 26, 2010 - 11:30 am

I really doubt that the average rider feels in league with TWU members. Have you been reading the news over the past three months?

Re: Riders funding the system. You could do that pretty simply by tripling the fare or closing a whole lot of outer borough stations. Is that good for New York? On a related question, did you ever take microeconomics and learn about the concept of externalities?

Boris May 26, 2010 - 12:47 pm

It just seems that the MTA continuously appeals for aid and there is never enough, because that is how the politicians and the media wants us to see it. In reality, virtually all new borrowing and taxes has been offset by reducing direct financial contributions from the city and state or by enhanced union benefits (who I am, as a transit user, absolutely and totally against).

Albany enacts a new MTA tax and then takes money from an old MTA tax and moves it to the general budget. So of course the MTA is as broke as it was before the new tax.

You are right though, giving money to transit agencies without addressing the cause of their problems (state governments) is only a band-aid solution.

Eric F. May 26, 2010 - 12:50 pm

“Externalities”? Yeah, heard of it. It means, what I want is good,sso other people should pay for it. Air travel has positive externalities, but I’m not asking you to buy my Jet Blue tickets to West Palm.

Boris May 26, 2010 - 1:10 pm

Externality is: I get what I want, but other people are paying for it. Transit riders provide benefits for drivers (because transit riders inconvenience themselves to get off the roads so that drivers have more space) but drivers aren’t paying them for it. But they should, hence congestion pricing.

SEAN May 26, 2010 - 5:51 pm

Yes, yes & yes!

Al D May 26, 2010 - 9:34 am

While I do not favor many of the cuts, some of them are needed. The M/V combo is win win as they say.

Same thing with the W. Get rid of it EXCEPT decrease headways on the N & R to make up for it.

MTA always intended to cut the G back to Court Sq., so cuts or not, they were going to do it anyway.

The B37 is generally empty after Bay Ridge, and so are the weekend x27s and x28s. So OK, keep the B37 rush hours only, and re-route the B70 anyway. Get rid of the weekend express buses.

If now’s the time to trim the fat, let’s do it once and for all

Benjamin Kabak May 26, 2010 - 11:10 am

No service cuts are win/win. The M/V may make some sense from a demand perspective from Bushwick into Midtown, but people along the 4th Ave. line out to Bay Parkway are getting screwed. Eliminating the W also leaves riders with fewer choices and longer waits. Those don’t make sense at all.

Marc Shepherd May 26, 2010 - 2:20 pm

Just to emphasize what Ben wrote, the M/V combo is not win/win. You are right that, unlike the other cuts, there are people who benefit. But there are also people who are losing service, so it’s more like win/lose.

Same thing with the W. Get rid of it EXCEPT decrease headways on the N & R to make up for it.

That is exactly what the W does: It provides fill-in service for stations already served by the N and the R.

I have no idea whether your bus comments are correct, but given that you’re wrong about the subways, I don’t have much confidence.

pea-jay May 26, 2010 - 4:42 pm

what if the W was kept in its current config and extended southward during rush hours? Obviously thats not a cut but wouldnt that make more sense than even the current arrangement?

Al D May 27, 2010 - 9:33 am

I have seen the M, V and W regularly, the W less so than the first 2. The V & W are empty at rush hours relative to other lines. The M is crowded, but more than 1/2 make uptown connections at Essex, Canal and Chambers collectively, so there is a need for Midtown direct service while the J & Z can continue to serve Downtown. In southern Brooklyn, ADDING R service makes up for the lost M and the discontinued W which, along with the V is regularly scolded by Brooklyn bound riders who can’t imagine why all these empty trains are taking up valuable track space while, expecially in the case of the F, the F is now delayed. Decreasing N headways further offsets the W loss. Plus, there are less complexities relaying and switching trains, further minimizing delays. The V & W are duplicitive and wasteful in their current form while the M to Midtown further takes the load off the F while improving on a marginal service pattern.

I am not wrong, it is my strong belief and opinion.

Benjamin Kabak May 27, 2010 - 11:10 am

This seems far too anecdotal to me. I’m amidst tracking down some concrete numbers, but do you have ridership figures to back up these claims? Trains that you see as “empty at rush hours relative to other lines” serve a purpose. First, they alleviate even worse overcrowding on those other lines, and second, they’re legitimately crowded at other ends. Take the W all the way to Astoria, and the train gets pretty packed. Ride the V from 2nd Ave. to Forest Hills, and you’ll see the train fill up. They’re not going to be nearly as crowded as, say, the 4 during rush hour, but they’re not ghost trains running empty along local tracks.

BrooklynBus May 27, 2010 - 12:02 pm

Good points. What people also have to remember that if the W goes, the N becomes local in Manhattan so it is more than just the W riders who are affected by this change.

Alon Levy May 29, 2010 - 8:03 pm

But then the Q gives express service, giving Astoria Line riders more frequent express service as well as more frequent local service than they have now.

The only place where it’s legitimately a service cut is between 57th and the Battery, where there are a zillion parallel lines providing similar service.

Andrew June 1, 2010 - 10:18 pm

Astoria is probably maxxed out with the N and W as they are now. I don’t think Astoria is going to get more frequent service than it currently has – some Q’s (and N’s?) will terminate at 57th.

The most substantial service cut is south of Canal, but R and W trains down there aren’t remotely crowded. Even with just the R, there will still be plenty of empty seats.

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John June 4, 2010 - 9:02 pm

In my opinion, even if the bill went through (which I doubt), the MTA will still go through with the service cuts. It has already started taking down signs at bus stops, reprogramming destination signs, and started on the new pick (somebody confirm the last one). The process would be too costly to reverse.
If I were at running the MTA and $250 million came in, I would find out what would be the best way to use it wisely. I sent the MTA a letter saying which services should be retained, in one form or another. For argument’s sake, if they took my suggestions, it would reduce the cost savings from $93 million to about $83 million.
I honestly don’t think it is the best use of federal money. In another 14 months, the MTA will be back where it started and be forced to cut service again. If it just goes ahead with the service cuts and maybe uses some of the money to take away the worst ones (like I said, it would cost maybe $10 million), the MTA would avoid having all of the public outcry a second time.
In my opinion, there are a decent amount of services that could use restructuring to improve efficiency. If I were in charge, I would put the $250 million towards the $383 million budget gap. $383 million – $275 million in federal aid = $118 million. $118 million – $83 million in service cuts = $45 million. That $45 million deficit is a lot easier to reduce than a $383 million deficit.
Either I would ue the money to plug up the deficit, or I would do one of a couple of things: I would save the Student MetroCard program in the event that I can’t obtain the funding from the city or state, or I would use it to avert another round of service reductions and/or a fare hike.
Just my thoughts.

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