MTA: We Need a Rail Bail or It's Back to the Seventies

Service cuts and fare hikes are a miserable inevitability unless the state or feds intervene

Elliot Sander said that the MTA faces a $3 billion budget gap next year and warned of what NYC Transit had in store without a bailout from the state: "None of us wants to see a return to the kind of transit system that defined New York in the 1970s." 

Think "Death Wish" crossed with "The Warriors," if that helps one understand what Sander is getting at. A graffiti-scrawled, crime-ridden transit system in which service was terrible and value delivered was poor.

"On an emotional level, we are very concerned about the impact on human beings," Sander was quoted saying in the New York Post.

Beyond the emotional distress, what does a projected $1.4 billion 2009 budget deficit mean for riders? Fare increases in exchange for lower levels of service.

  • Fare increases--a single ride could cost $2.50 and monthly passes might reach $100.
  • Job losses--nearly 3,000 positions eliminated via layoffs and attrition.
  • Worse service--eliminating or reducing service on five subway lines. No more W. Fewer token booth attendants. So long weekend service on some Booklyn bus lines. Overnight service on multiple Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Queens lines axed.
  • Fewer stops--the N Train will go extra express late at night, eliminating 5 stops.
  • Increased intimacy--prepare to spend more time on crowded platforms and cram into more crowded trains.

All this occurs while more people are expected to rely on public transportation as an affordable alternative in trying economic times. One advocate for commuters with disabilities was bodily removed from Thursday's MTA hearing after questioning why board members and MTA execs weren't losing their jobs. "They told me to shut up. Two tall men dragged me out."

The Straphangers Campaign has been battling a proposed fare hike since this summer, citing the need for higher state subsidization of public transit. Unfortunately, the MTA is saddled with billions of dollars in debt incurred via a capital spending project undertaken as former Gov. George Pataki cut state financing of the agency.

Transit blog 2nd Ave. Sagas points out that despite the gloom and doom, politicians and MTA execs are at least telling the truth, which is that the agency is in big trouble and New Yorkers can expect to see a diminished transit experience unless the state or federal government intervenes.

MTA Chairman Dale Hemmerdinger stated the stakes: “We are charged by law to propose a balanced budget by the end of the year. We only have two ways we can handle that: We can either cut service or we can raise fares. That’s all we can do. If we don’t balance the budget by the end of the year, we could all go to jail.”

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