Too Little Too Late Might Be The Story For The Ravitch Commission Report

This past June, I wrote an entry about New York Governor David Patterson appointing 12 members to the MTA Financing Commission. The commission which is headed by former MTA Chairman Richard Ravitch is known in most circles as The Ravitch Commission. Their goal was to recommend strategies to fund MTA capital projects and operating needs over the next ten years. Their report which is due in the first week of December was looked at by many as the saving grace to the MTA’s financial woes.

However due to the global financial crisis leaving no sector safe including transportation agencies like the MTA, the report’s recommendations might be too little too late. William Neuman of the New York Times has more in this report which will appear in today’s print edition:

When Gov. David A. Paterson created a commission last spring to recommend a solution to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s financial troubles, the panel’s head, Richard Ravitch, a respected former chairman of the authority, quickly took on white knight status, with officials and politicians hoping he would ride in before the year was out to save the authority from disaster.

Questions in recent months about the authority’s economic future have repeatedly drawn the same response: Wait for the Ravitch commission.

But the stock market’s troubles and the global banking crisis have accelerated the authority’s financial slide to the point that officials are now working to carve deeper cuts in their budget plans for 2009.

And it appears likely that there will be insufficient time for the State Legislature to act on the Ravitch commission’s proposals, meaning the authority will be forced to adopt an austerity budget with both service cuts and fare increases by late December, an official said.

Further, because of sharply falling revenues, an even larger increase in fares and tolls might have to be considered than in the authority’s earlier budget plan, which called for an 8 percent rise in revenues from those sources, the official added.

All that sets the stage for a winter of wrangling among the governor, the Legislature, the mayor and authority officials, who will be under intense pressure to rescue the region’s mass transportation system.

“We clearly are going to be laying out some very painful stuff,” Elliot G. Sander, the executive director of the transportation authority, said in an interview last week, referring to the budget discussions that will unfold over the next two months. “We are going to have to balance the issue of fare increases and service cuts and also see how we can cut our budget further. Those are the three pieces to the puzzle and we’re just in the process of dealing with those trade-offs.”

He said that agency heads within the authority have been put on notice that they may be asked to propose budget cuts greater than the 4.5 percent reductions they had previously been asked to consider for next year.

Click here for the complete report.

For those like myself who are in tune with happenings at the MTA, nothing in this report comes as a surprise. However even with saying that, one must be considerably worried when Elliot Sander says “We clearly are going to be laying out some very painful stuff.” This is an extremely powerful message & unfortunately for us, it is not a good one.

If I had to place a wager on service cuts happening immediately if things continue the current status quo, I would bet against it. While many consider the MTA to be against the public, they won’t do something such as cutting service when it is clear that more is needed. The fat will be trimmed from many layers including upper management down to employees.

However when all of that huge fat is gone, then & only then would they look into actual service cuts. The only thing I would worry about right now is how much fat they can realistically cut off that won’t get neutralized with an economy that continues to bottom out. While I wouldn’t ring the panic alarm yet, I don’t think we are far off from it ringing uncontrollably.

Can Ravitch somehow pull off the impossible this time? The first week of December will be quite historic for the MTA, whether good or bad remains to be seen!

xoxo Transit Blogger

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