MTA Lays Out The Pain We Might Soon Embrace

The day has finally arrived in which the MTA Board would be presented with budget proposals to help trim an over $1 billion dollar budget deficit. These proposals included an even bigger fare increase then originally planned along with job losses & service cuts. Details of these proposals began to leak over the last few days from different newspapers such as the New York Daily News & New York Times. I decided to make sure I was able to watch the complete board meeting & subsequent media session which ended literally under 5 minutes ago from the time I started this entry.

Let me first start out by talking about the public speaker session which preceded the budget proposal presentation. I was impressed with the messages echoed by most of the speakers. However I would like to focus on two individuals who I felt were an embarrassment to themselves. The first person is known as Mr. X.

He is someone that I have seen comment at many meetings in the past. He has a certain swagger to his delivery however I felt he did more harm than good in trying to deliver his message. It is one thing to focus on the lack of attendance of board members to public hearings. I completely agree with him that people who don’t make the time to attend important meetings should not have the ability to vote on issues such as fare hikes & service cuts.

However I felt it was distasteful of him to repeatedly focus on the relationship between Paul McCartney & MTA Board member Nancy Shevell. I am no fan of the lack of action she brings to the table but focusing on this just cheapened his legitimate points.

I do not recall the name of the other man who spoke. I just recall that he seemed completely disjointed & had absolutely no sense of direction with his comments. I seriously sat there wondering if he was drunk or high as he spoke. He really did not seem to be all there & made himself look foolish. If that is how he normally speaks, I suggest he refrain from public speaking as it is not his strong point.

Now let me focus on the actual presentation which contained no surprises in my eyes as I was expecting it to be bad. Even with saying that, I can understand why MTA Board Chairman Dale Hemmerdinger said “I think I speak for all the board members when I say wow. That’s quite a presentation and not something any of us wanted to hear.” after the presentation concluded.

The presentation started by focusing on past slides from projections that were made back in July & outlining the changes since that time. Eventually we got to some general outlines in terms of what changes might be coming for the different divisions. I will first start with:

New York City Transit:

7.5% reduction in managerial, professional and clerical positions )on top of previous 1.5% reduction)

Route modifications

Headways and loading guidelines during non-rush hours

Reduce or eliminate bus routes with low ridership

Long Island Rail Road:

Eliminate 173 positions

Service reductions on special service trains and select weekend and off-peak trains

Extend select maintenance cycles

Cancel or combine some trains

Metro-North Rail Road:

Eliminate 88 positions for a savings of $70 million over 2 years

Increase loading guidelines and reduced service to both East and West of Hudson

Reduced car & station cleaning

Long Island Bus:

Eliminate 42 positions to save $5M in 2009 & $6M in 2010 & beyond

Elimination or reduction of low ridership routes

Reduced managerial workforce

Increase employee health & welfare contributions

Bridges & Tunnels:

Eliminate 28 positions at a savings of $17M in 2009 & $24M in 2010 & beyond

Eliminate Cross Bay Bridge rebate program

Reduce number of cash lanes during low traffic periods

MTA Headquarters:

Reductions in managerial headcount, service contracts and purchases of goods and services

In the next entry I will go into more detail about some of these proposals as I was e-mailed a press release which talks about the proposals in greater detail.

Now after the presentation, we got to hear various board members share their sentiment. As I have come to expect, Jeffrey Kay was vocal about the MTA making sure it can find ways to possibly avoid potential fare increases & service cuts. In his eyes the way the MTA does business needs a complete “fundamental reform” as business as usual is not getting the job done.

Norman Seabrook took the opportunity to share his feelings as well. He felt that the board needed to think outside the box to come up with ways to get a steady stream of revenue. He even went as far as to pitch the idea of a “Sin Tax” which would call for a 30% tax on the purchase of cigarettes & alcohol. He admitted that he was a smoker & would not want to pay more. However he felt when push came to shove, it would be more fair for people like him to pay more instead of riders having to shoulder the burden with huge fare increases.

When listening to the overall consensus, it is obvious the board wanted to send a message out to not only our elected officials but the riding public. The message to the elected officials, mainly in Albany is that the way business is done needs to be changed. Albany created them & the way they do business & are a culprit in why things are not well. To the riding public, it was they can only legally do so much in terms of executing actual policies to bring in money. They realistically are stuck with only 2 options in their control which is to determining fares & how much service we get.

I’ll be honest the general riding public will not take the message well. In their eyes the MTA is public enemy #1 & are at fault for everything wrong with our system & its infrastructure. Unfortunately there are not enough people such as transit bloggers or supporters who understand that much of the fault lies with our elected officials.

The perception to many is that politics don’t matter & the things they do or don’t for that matter trickle down to me. However that could not be further from the truth. I will be the first to call out the MTA for their mistakes but I will also be the first to acknowledge that our so called “leaders” are the reason we could potentially see the system return to the state of disrepair & disgusting culture that was rampant in the 70’s & 80’s.

If our city or more accurately region is to remain as the capital of the world, it needs a strong transit system & infrastructure. This means our so called leaders need to recognize that the MTA does not need a bandaid or patchwork solution to cover just the next 1-2 years.

They need to find a way to make sure the MTA not only closes its operating budget but has money to help fund its “Capital Plan” which is just as important as the day to day operating budget. One budget will never be more important than the other. A strong transit infrastructure & system includes balanced funding & budgets for both & this is something that must get done one way or another.

Our transit system is the engine or backbone that makes the region’s economy go & arguably the world as well. What does it take for our leaders to realize this, especially in the state legislature? Without NYC, the state is pretty worthless. This is not the heyday where NYS helped fund NYC. NYC funds NYS & our elected officials need to realize that & get with the program of funding the MTA with legitimate sources of non-fluctuating revenue.

The MTA is clearly depending on the recommendations of the Ravitch Commission to be seriously considered & implemented as that was pretty evident in my eyes. When the Ravitch Commission report is released in a few weeks, will our elected officials step to the plate & find a way to do the right thing? Or will they continue to give a middle finger to the millions of people in our region who continuously get shafted at every turn!

xoxo Transit Blogger

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[…] you have not been in a cave over the last few days, you have read or heard many details of the proposed 2009 MTA Budget. The proposal calls for massive fare hikes greater than originally anticipated along with service […]

[…] MTA held its monthly board meeting. However this was not the typical meeting as this one featured budget proposals to help trim an over $1 billion dollar budget deficit. I outlined the specific proposals which […]

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