Wednesday, March 25, 2009

MTA Board approves fare hikes, service cuts

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Almost 10 months after officials from New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority vowed to strongly resist service cutbacks despite rising costs, the MTA Board of Directors Wednesday approved cuts, along with fare increases, to address a $1.2 billion budget gap. MTA Board members, in a 12-1 vote, cited inaction from state legislators in Albany for the decision, voting to approve a “doomsday” budget to keep the agency running.

The basic one-way subway fare will go up 25% May 31, to $2.50 from $2.00, while a 30-day MetroCard will cost $103, up 27% from $81. Fares on the Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North would rise an average of 23% on June 1. Tolls also will be raised on MTA's bridges and tunnels beginning July 11.

MTA also plans to lay off 1,100 “blue collar” jobs and about 1,000 “white collar” jobs, but stressed such action won’t resolve MTA’s budget woes. Among managerial staff, 211 bus and subway managers are being let go, 32 LIRR managers and 18 Metro-North counterparts will lose positions, and 21 employees at MTA headquarters in Manhattan will face dismissal. About 750 other administrative positions will also be eliminated, MTA said.

"It's a true crisis that cannot be solved by us without causing great pain to the riding public," said board Chairman H. Dale Hemmerdinger.

"The fare increases and service cuts that the board must approve today are the only major tools Albany has given the board to operate the transit system and keep those operations in the black. There are no other moves in the board's playbook," said Elliot Sander, MTA’s executive director and CEO.

Pleading a corporate mea culpa and delivering a dark warning during the meeting, Sander said, "The precarious position that the MTA finds itself in today did not materialize overnight or merely in the last year. The gap in our operating budget and the absence of stable, recurring resources to support the 2010-2014 capital program reflect a confluence of adverse forces--decisions made early in the decade to put the 2000-2004 capital program on a credit card and the ravages of this deep recession."

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg Tuesday said transit users should voice their disapproval to their state representatives. “When you see what's going to happen to your commuting costs, you should call your state legislators and say, 'I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it anymore,"' the mayor said.

MTA officials in San Francisco last May at the American Public Transportation Association’s annual Rail Conference, discussing the squeeze on public transportation budgets in the U.S. and Canada, stressed the agency’s reluctance to enact service cuts even if fares or other revenue sources needed to be hiked.