Editorial On MTA Funding

Today’s edition of the morning newspaper Metro has an excellent editorial by Neil deMause on MTA funding. Here is his piece:

As if New Yorkers hadn’t been beset by enough bad news of late — foreclosures going through the roof, “The Real World” filming its next season in Brooklyn — last week the MTA chimed in with word that its latest round of budget woes would force it to “defer” planned service upgrades, possibly forever. With $500 million in red ink projected for next year, MTA chief Lee Sander declared, the authority needed to put off everything from renovating crumbling subway stations to buying new double-length buses – and still may consider another fare hike next year.

To blame is the MTA’s financing system, which draws roughly equally from fares and from a series of dedicated taxes. (If you’ve ever wondered why the city sales tax is an unwieldy 8.375 percent, it’s because that extra 0.375 percent is metro area residents’ tithe to the MTA.) This works great when the economy is cooking along, but not so much when it tanks – yet people still have to get to work, regardless of how much mortgage recording tax was collected this year.

Mayor Bloomberg’s solution, you’ll recall, was congestion pricing, which was supposed to funnel untold riches to the MTA to accommodate all those commuters who’d no longer be on the roads. Since that plan died in April, though, the mayor has largely been content to sit and lick his wounds, aside from dropping hints for tolls on the East River bridges. (A state commission headed by former MTA chief Richard Ravitch will take up this and other son-of-congestion-pricing ideas this summer.)

If funding mass transit was a good idea two months ago, though, it should still be good now. Yes, any solution will mean more taxes — or service cuts elsewhere. (Unfortunately, the least painful cut – axing the No. 7 train extension in Manhattan — is unlikely to happen, thanks to a Rube Goldberg financing device that effectively says the money can only be used for a train line to the middle of nowhere.) But after all, a fare hike is a tax, too — and worse, one that not only hits those least able to afford it, but that discourages the very behavior you want to encourage.

Right now, according to Gene Russianoff of the Straphangers Campaign, the city provides less than 3 percent of the Transit Authority budget. For the mayor to chip in more now, while facing rough fiscal forecasts, would take guts. But like good public schools, reliable mass transit is something that can’t wait for rosy economic times.

Neil is spot on with his assessment of the current funding practices by the MTA. The government which is supposed to serve the people is doing a disservice to the MTA & its riding public. This has got to change or our transit infrastructure will die right before our eyes.

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[…] is provided by three sources: fares, a .375% sales tax, and a real estate transfer tax (thanks Transit Blogger). Fare revenue is unlikely to go down because ridership seems to be increasing or at least staying […]

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