Two years ago — to the day, if you’re reading this on Thursday — the MTA, in the face of a massive budget deficit, enacted sweeping service reductions that cut a deep gash through the city’s transit network. Although many believed the authority was playing chicken with Albany, the MTA called the state’s bluff in 2010 when, on June 28, it cut two subway lines, 36 bus routes and around 570 bus stops. Now, the agency may be reassessing these cuts as it prepares its 2013 budget, but the extent of any service restorations will remain contingent upon money and the reality on the ground.
At the time of the cuts, Albany could do nothing. New York State had been struggling financially, and legislatures couldn’t or wouldn’t find new revenue to keep services up and running. In an effort to spread the pain, the MTA included service cuts in its sweeping economic reforms, and since that day two years ago, neighborhoods have been up in arms. The same state representatives who refused to confront the MTA and its problems head on have spent years arguing for the restoration of services. Cries have gone up from every corner of the city, from the M8 to the B77, from Sheepshead Bay to the Bronx.
For years, MTA representatives have said services could be restored if the money materializes, and yesterday, the MTA Board made a similar pledge. According to Board members, up to $20 million in next year’s budget could go toward restoring lost services. I have to believe most of that will go toward brining back the buses, but I’m hopeful some could lead to increased subway service as well.
Matt Flegenheimer of The Times had more from Wednesday’s board meeting:
There is no date. There is no proposal. And there is certainly no guarantee. But for the first time since 2010, when the Metropolitan Transportation Authority approved deep cuts amid a budget shortfall, there appears to be optimism that some of the services that were eliminated may be restored — provided that the agency’s recent, if tenuous, financial trends and ridership increases hold.
“Not a day goes by when I don’t think about restoration of services and further investments in the system,” Joseph J. Lhota, chairman of the transportation authority, said Wednesday during a monthly board meeting at the agency’s headquarters in Midtown Manhattan. Mr. Lhota added that the authority remained in the “early stages of evaluation” for possible restorations.
Andrew Albert, a board member and the chairman of the New York City Transit Riders Council, said that some board members had discussed a $20 million restoration fund — enough to bring back some bus, subway or commuter rail services, but probably far too little to return to former levels. “It looks like some figures are trending in the good direction, versus what we’ve seen last year,” Mr. Albert said. “The fact that the chairman is talking about it, and several board members are talking about it, I think bodes well.”
According to Flegenheimer’s report, many MTA Board members are also concerned that the looming fare hikes, guaranteed a few years back, will leave a very bad taste in people’s mouths without a corresponding bump in service. “It’s awfully hard to ask people to pay more when they’re getting a lot less,” Albert said.
Of course, a pair of issues remain, and first between those is money. When asked about the dollars, former Gov. David Paterson, the newest addition to the MTA Board, hedged. “This is the problem,” he said. “Everybody could tell me what they didn’t want cut, but no one could tell me how we balance the budget.” It’s still the problem as New York politicians want service restored but have no plans to pay for it. The MTA will likely have to move some money around and hope for a recovering economy.
The second problem though is a tougher one to overcome. In the aftermath of the service cuts, NYC DOT, the party that controls the city’s bus stops, uprooted many of the then-defunct stops, including all of the shelters and poles along B71 just around the corner from my apartment. The CEMUSA shelters are gone; the bus stations are now parking spots. The MTA isn’t going to restore those services; we’ll never get many similar routes back.
Still, it’s hard not to be optimistic here. Politicians have responded to their constituent demands, and the MTA is listening to those in positions of power who can exert some influence over the authority. By the time 2013 rolls around, we’ll likely have more service then than we do today, and that’s a net positive for the millions who need public transit in New York City.