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John Petro

MTA Service Cuts Hurt New Yorkers but Do Little to Help MTA Finances

This week New York City straphangers felt the impact of the MTA service cuts— longer commutes, crowded trains and platforms, dirtier buses and trains, and a generally worse commuting experience. Not only are these cuts negatively impacting the quality of life for millions of riders, but they also undermine economic development and job creation.

New Yorkers might be able to cope with this new commuting nightmare if the sacrifice led to the transit system’s financial stability. But even after $93 million in savings because of the service cuts, the MTA is looking at an operating budget hole of over $400 million in 2011. And the gap seems to widen monthly. Two weeks ago the Wall Street Journal reported that tax revenue for transit was coming in $135 million less than expected.

The long-term budget picture looks even worse. The MTA’s five-year capital budget, which is used to replace old trains and buses, repair tracks and stations, and build system expansions, is under-funded by $10 billion. Without the necessary funding, the transit system will fall into disrepair and riders will fall into dismay.

So, the service cuts stink, and they don’t even begin to get us out of this mess. And unless state lawmakers make a serious effort to address the root cause of the MTA’s budget, namely chronic disinvestment, the situation will only get worse.

Lawmakers in Albany have not contributed any money directly to fund the MTA’s capital program in nearly 20 years, forcing the transit authority to rely on borrowing instead. This borrowing puts pressure on the fare box, as the money to pay back past borrowing is taken out of the MTA’s operating budget. In 2010 the MTA will pay nearly $2 billion in debt service. That’s a little less than half of the $4.3 billion the MTA collected in fares in 2009.

For whatever reason, lawmakers in Albany have consistently shortchanged the region’s mass transit system, which is arguably one of the state’s greatest assets and is unarguably the backbone of the nation’s biggest metropolitan economy. When Albany killed congestion pricing in 2008, they also killed a reliable revenue source for mass transit that would have allowed the MTA to begin paying down its $25.5 billion debt. More recently Albany flat out stole $143 million in tax revenue that was “dedicated” to transit.

The result: instead of planning new transit lines that would create jobs, drive growth, and create new economic opportunities for New Yorkers, we are fighting to preserve the system we have.

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Posted at 6:05 PM, Jul 01, 2010 in Urban Affairs
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