Initial Hearing Messages Are The Same But That Is Just Fine

Eleven days ago I posted an entry about the initial 3 Ravitch Commission hearings that have been scheduled. The news was first broke by the Tri-State Transportation Campaign. Speaking of the TSTC, they were in attendance at the first meeting which took at NYU this past Monday. Here is a small press release about it from the Empire State Transportation Alliance which the TSTC is a member of.

Leading transportation, environmental and labor groups warned today that New York faced major fare hikes, and cuts in transit service and vital repairs unless new City and State aid is raised to address the MTA’s “titanic” financial problems.

The warning came at the first public hearing of the State Commission on MTA Financing. The Commission – appointed by Governor David Paterson and headed by former MTA Chairman Richard Ravitch – is charged with recommending ways to meet the MTA’s financial needs over the next ten years. Its report is due out by December 5th.

In July, the MTA officially announced major operating deficits in its $6 billion operating budgets for 2009 and 2010. The deficits are caused in large part by declining tax revenues in a bad economy; rising fuel costs; and the impact of years of massive borrowing to finance badly needed repairs.

The agency’s enormous debt has made the MTA the fifth largest debtor in the U.S., behind only three other states and New York City.

The MTA has also proposed cutting $2.7 billion from its five- year, $14.7 billion core capital program – nearly a fifth of its current efforts to bring the subways, buses and commuter lines to a state of good repair. The cuts include rehabilitating 19 fewer subway stations and $336 million in fans to clear smoke in emergencies.

The agency faces a shortfall of more than $17 billion in its 2010-2014 capital program.

Click here for the complete release.

The testimony in Monday’s hearings came from the transit advocates & workers one would expect. The messages delivered were not new & some might be tired of hearing them but until changes are made, they must be repeated. I feel two specific comments summed it up best with the first coming from co-chairman of the Empire State Transportation Alliance, Kevin Corbett:

Failure to make the necessary investments in the critical transportation infrastructure would severely hamper New York’s economic viability. We simply can’t allow this to happen.

The second comment came from executive director of Transportation Alternatives, Paul S. White who said:

The MTA’s problem is clear: The City and State have inadequately funded mass transit for years. The formula for funding mass transportation should be changed.

These two comments are feelings I & many other transit advocates/bloggers have stated for ages now. We all know our system is in dire shape physically. The scary part is as bad of shape as it is in, one could argue it is even in worse shape financially. Think about that for a second & then take in this starling fact posted in the TSTC’s entry I linked to:

The agency’s enormous debt has made the MTA the fifth largest debtor in the U.S., behind only three other states and New York City.

Take a minute or two & just think about that statement. I sat at my desk for a couple of minutes & just let that fact soak in when I first read it. If that statement alone does not get you worried about our transit infrastructure, then you truly don’t give a damn about it & have no right to complain about it.

While it is easy for the masses to blame the MTA for this, it is clearly not just on them. As much as I call them out on their wrongs or rights, they are not the main parties responsible for this. The people responsible are the same elected officials who continue to shortchange the MTA as everything else has to be more important that our transit infrastructure. If it is not those types, it is the officials who say the right things about giving the MTA’s its fair share but when push comes to shove, they run out of bounds a yard or two short of the first down marker or end zone.

The years of financial abuse under the Pataki or more correctly named Paturkey regime have helped lead the MTA to the brink of financial disaster. Now the Ravitch Commission must come up with ways to save the day & even if they come up with ideas, we are not guaranteed to be saved. It seems pretty evident that one of the suggestions will be congestion pricing & we all know that this stands no chance of getting implemented.

Many advocates/bloggers will then start the rally cry that the yet again failed proposal was the answer to our problems & our officials will get blamed again. While I am one of the first to call them out for their purposeful mishandling of MTA funding, this is the one time they would be right. The obsession with the fall back crutch known as congestion pricing needs to end. As I have said for months, all that plan does is become the modern version of “Robbing Peter to pay Paul”. This also would let officials off the hook for their lack of proper funding of our transit infrastructure.

The right thing to do would be to force their hands & have them provide the money they should have all along without passing the buck to fellow commuters albeit via auto instead of mass transit. I sincerely hope that the Ravitch Commission has some aces up their sleeves & are not banking on a fall back crutch. We all know that crutches tend to bend & break easily when put under a lot of pressure or stress. The future of our transit infrastructure is at stake & that is way too much pressure for a fall back crutch or band-aid solution. The time has come for real solutions & real results. If our elected officials can’t finally understand this, then we might be in to deep to make it back.

xoxo Transit Blogger

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