MTA’s Preliminary 2009 Budget & Four Year Financial Plan

A very short time after MTA CEO/Executive Director Elliot Sander finished his presentation on the MTA’s financial plan, I received an e-mail highlighting the main points. Here are those details:

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) today released its Preliminary Budget for 2009 and proposed Four-Year Financial Plan for 2009-2012. The MTA Board will not consider a final budget until December, but the July plan allows for an extended period of public discussion about the MTA’s finances and budget proposals.

The proposed plan reflects sobering developments that have occurred since the last Plan was issued in February 2008, specifically rising fuel costs and the precipitous drop in real estate tax revenue to the MTA. The July Financial Plan assumes an increase of $81 million in 2008 and $127 million in 2009 for fuel costs, and reduced real estate tax projections of $201 million in 2008 and $242 million in 2009. These are the primary reasons that the $216 million budget deficit projected in February for 2009 has grown to over $900 million.

“The proposed plan acknowledges that despite the fiscal crisis we’re facing, the MTA must first cut our own costs and tighten our belt before asking our customers or government partners for more money,” said Elliot G. Sander, MTA Executive Director and CEO. “We have taken extraordinary measures to become a leaner organization, and we have asked all of our funding partners to help close the gap left by rising fuel costs and plummeting real estate revenues.”

To close this gap, the MTA proposed a series of actions that spreads the responsibility among the MTA and its agencies, its labor force, governmental partners and customers, beginning with significant MTA cost-cutting. No service reductions were proposed.

• MTA actions: The Plan already assumes that each MTA agency will do significant belt-tightening, cutting costs by 6% over four years. These cuts come on top of 5% cuts made by the authority between 2004 and 2007. To help close the gap, the Plan proposes an additional $45 million in cuts ($15 million in 2008 and $30 million in 2009). These cuts come even as ridership continues to rapidly grow.

o In addition, the MTA will take an inter-agency loan of $135 million to reduce the gap in 2009 and 2010. $120 million in funds that had been allocated from the 2006 surplus but not yet committed will also be transferred back to the operating budget in 2008 to be used for future gap-closing. Finally, MTA will reduce its subsidy to Long Island Bus by $4 million annually, returning to its historical $10 million allocation, and will begin charging official city, state and county vehicles at Bridge and Tunnel crossings, yielding an additional $10 million annually.

• Labor: The plan assumes that MTA employees will make a modest contribution through negotiation of new contracts.

• MTA Customers: Customers would be asked to contribute through a fare and toll increase that would take effect in July 2009 and yield an 8% increase in fare and toll revenues. This increase would effectively move forward by six months the 2010 increase that had been announced as part of the MTA’s plan to adjust fares and tolls every two years to keep them level with the rate of inflation.
• Government partners: The February Plan assumed additional governmental aid of $600 million beginning in 2010; the MTA will now seek more than $300 million of that aid in 2009, including a list of proposed changes:

o Full reimbursement of lost fares ($104 million) associated with providing peak-hour half-fare discounts to seniors ($15 million) and reduced fares to school children, not currently reimbursed by the City or the State, ($89 million). The City currently pays $13.8 million annually for seniors and the State and City currently pays $90 million annually ($45m each) for school fare reimbursement, which has not changed since 1995.

o $113 million in 2009 from the City to increase its funding of Paratransit to 50%.

o $50 million annually from elimination of State real estate tax loopholes.

o $59 million between 2008 and 2009 in State tax restorations.

These represent a series of proposed changes that will improve the MTA’s bottom line. It is not exhaustive, only illustrative. Other actions taken by the MTA’s funding partners could substitute for these examples.

In addition, the MTA will ask the federal government to eliminate federal mandates that cost the MTA $62 million annually.

As a result of these and other gap closing actions, the MTA expects to carry a $15 million surplus into 2010, helping to lower that year’s forecast deficit to $250 million. Without these measures, budget gaps are expected to grow to more than $2.3 billion in 2012, potentially requiring outsized fare increases and service cuts.

“The MTA’s July Financial Plan is just the start of the discussion about our finances,” said MTA Board Chairman H. Dale Hemmerdinger. “The Board looks forward to a productive public dialogue and will be working closely with the Ravitch Commission appointed by Governor Paterson to address the MTA’s ongoing fiscal issues.”

More information on the Plan is available online at mta.info. The complete plan will be online later this week.

I will get into my thoughts on the board meeting, presentation, & future in the next entry.

xoxo Transit Blogger

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Buses To Replace Some Oyster Bay Branch Trains

Yesterday afternoon, the MTA’s Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) division issued a press release to announce buses will replace 4 trains on the Oyster Bay branch for the first two weekends in August. Here are the complete details:

Buses will replace four trains (two eastbound and two westbound) on the MTA Long Island Rail Road’s Oyster Bay Branch on two Saturdays, August 2 and August 9, as grade crossing renewal work is done at Glen Street near the Glen Street Station. The affected trains are as follows:

Eastbound
Customers on the 5:38 PM and 7:38 PM trains from Jamaica will instead board Ronkonkoma trains departing Jamaica at 5:32 PM and 7:32 PM and then transfer to buses at Mineola to complete their trips to stations East Williston through Oyster Bay. Customers should anticipate increased travel time of up to 15 minutes.

WestboundCustomers on the 4:51 PM and 9:51 PM trains from Oyster Bay will instead board buses at their stations through East Williston and transfer to trains at Mineola to complete their trips. The buses will depart approximately 13 minutes later than regularly scheduled trains. Customers should anticipate increased travel time of up to 25 minutes.

Customers should pick up a copy of the special August 2 and August 9 Oyster Bay Branch timetable at their stations or at all LIRR terminals. Customers can also receive train information 24-hours a day from the LIRR’s Travel Information Center, in Nassau County at 516-822-LIRR, in Suffolk County at 631-231-LIRR or in New York City at 718-217-LIRR. The Travel Information Center’s TDD telephone number for the hearing impaired is 781-558-3022. Customers can also consult the LIRR’s web site at www.mta.info.

xoxo Transit Blogger

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MTA To Consider Skip-Stop Service On The 4

Woodlawn bound 4 tran approaching the 176th Street station in the Bronx.
Could this 4 train be bypassing the upcoming 176th Street station in the future? Resized photo courtesy of Eye On Transit

As we all know by now, the 4 train has the unwanted title of being the line with the worst on-time performance over the last year ending in May. The MTA wants to rectify this as soon as possible & one of the ideas being mulled is the implementation of skip-stop service. Before I share my thoughts on this, here is the story from Marlene Naanes (with contributions by Simone Herbin) of AMNY:

Overcrowded subway trains would skip certain stations during rush hour under a plan New York City Transit is considering to speed up lagging service.

One of the slowest trains, the No. 4, had an on-time record of only 70 percent in May, according to the latest statistics, underscoring the need to find solutions quickly, agency officials said.

But transit advocates immediately expressed skepticism, especially since transit officials stopped skip-stop service on the former No. 9 line in 2005.

“If you were along the part of the line that was skipped, you hated it,” said Gene Russianoff, a staff attorney for the Straphangers Campaign, an advocacy group. Skip-stop train service also can confuse riders, advocates said.

“People run down the stairs and jump on and realize it’s not the train they want and have to get off and change,” said Bill Henderson, head of the Permanent Citizen’s Advisory Committee to the MTA.

No. 4 train riders were mixed on the idea.

“It’s a great idea as long as it doesn’t skip me,” said Katy Burke, 23, of Throgs Neck.

Some riders weren’t opposed to the plan, so long as it was clear which stations would be skipped.

“Anything that helps, anything that makes it faster is a good idea,” said Donna McCabe, 34, of Bay Ridge.

Advocates noted that the service has worked for several years on the J and Z lines, which run through Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens. Transit spokesman Paul Fleuranges said the service is merely being considered right now.

“The fact of the matter is it may not be practical in Manhattan,” he said. “That is to be determined.”

For at least one MTA board member, anything idea that speeds up trains is welcome. On-time trains have decreased by 5 percent between 2003 and 2007, according to transit stats.

“Just do it because this decline is astonishingly bad,” said board member Mark Lebow. “So I encourage you, think up something and do it.”

How should I phrase my feelings on this idea? Hmm….. how about HELL NO! While this idea is only an idea being tossed around, I am here to say that it should be taken out of consideration immediately.

Skip-stop service was an idea that worked well in the past as it provided more frequent service to local only stations along a line. However that was then & this is now. Skip-stop service does not work in today’s transit world due to the huge growth spread out throughout multiple stops in many neighborhoods. While advocates for the idea will point to the current skip-stop service on the J/Z as a success, one must look at why it is.

The skip-stop service on the J/Z works because the stops being skipped by the express are not as busy as the stops the express does make. This pattern optimizes the best way to serve riders of both local & express stations. However this type of pattern would never work on the 4 whether in the Bronx or Manhattan. The ridership is spread out evenly along all the stops in the Bronx. I also agree with NYC Transit spokesman Paul Fleuranges when he said “The fact of the matter is it may not be practical in Manhattan.”

I will go one step further & say it isn’t a case of it may not be, it is a case of it clearly won’t be. There is no way you can justify any sort of skip-stop service along the entire Manhattan run of the 4. There is a reason why this kind of pattern was disbanded on the 1&9 a few years ago. The growth in ridership at the skipped stops rendered the service pattern outdated. This would only be 10x worse in the case of the 4.

Instead of wasting time on ideas that will only make things worse, how about correcting the real issues at hand.

xoxo Transit Blogger

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Financial Details For The MTA Text Alert System

As I wrote about earlier, the MTA will soon be implementing a text alert system in the case of emergency service disruptions. Sewall Chan of the New York Times has a report which discusses the financial details of the new system. Here is his report:

When torrential rains shut down nearly the entire subway system on Aug. 8, 2007, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority was unable to provide quick information to riders. Its Web site, with its confusing layout, crashed. And other means of delivering information like cellphone alerts, downloadable maps and electronic message boards were not available.

Chastened by the criticism, the M.T.A. commissioned a study of what went wrong and proposed a bunch of fixes, including developing a system of customized e-mail and text message alerts for each subway line so riders could be informed about problems.

That notification service will be unveiled in September. The authority has signed a $600,000 contract — $120,000 a year for five years — with the MIS Sciences Corporation, an Internet services company, to run a text-messaging service that will provide real-time alerts about subway, bus and train disruptions to millions of commuters. (The Daily News reported some details of the new text-messaging system on Sunday.)

Under the contract, the company must be able to send out at least one million messages in five minutes, far more than what the M.T.A. can do on its own. MIS Sciences provides a similar service to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

The transportation authority currently sends out regular e-mails — which can also be sent to cellphones — to commuters about track work and other planned service disruptions. About 60,000 New York City Transit customers, 40,000 Long Island Rail Road customers and 26,000 Metro-North Railroad customers have signed up for those advisories, according to Christopher P. Boylan, the authority’s deputy executive director for corporate and community affairs.

But the “Big Kahuna,” Mr. Boylan said in a telephone interview, is the new system of real-time text alerts. Customers will be able to select information for specific subway, bus or railroad lines. “You’re going to self-select what you want, how much you want and when you want it,” Mr. Boylan said.

In addition, M.T.A. Bridges and Tunnels (also known as the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority), Long Island Bus and the M.T.A. Bus Company, which do not currently offer any form of e-mail notices, will be part of the new text-alert system, he said.

During major service disruptions, Mr. Boylan explained, vast numbers of messages must be sent simultaneously from many nodes. The M.T.A.’s system, however, required that e-mail alerts be sent sequentially, “so it took maybe an hour to get a message out to 40,000 riders,” he said.

(Mr. Boylan acknowledged that it would impossible for riders deep inside subway tunnels to get text alerts immediately, but said the messages would aid riders deciding whether to board the subway and riders entering or waiting inside stations.)

The transportation authority is not the only public entity moving to improve its text-messaging capabilities. In December, the New York City Office of Emergency Management announced a new text-messaging program, inviting readers in certain neighborhoods to sign up for emergency alerts.

My thoughts on the system are in the entry I linked to in the beginning of this thread. I noticed the people responding to Sewall’s article are not a fan of the system that will be debuting in September. Check out their responses by clicking here.

xoxo Transit Blogger

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MTA To Release Financial Plan

Yesterday afternoon I received an e-mail from MTA Headquarters to announce the release of their financial plan. I wish I could attend but I have some business appointments in Long Island that I must tend to. I will do my best to watch the presentation online & report about the plan which I’m sure will have tons of people in an uproar.

xoxo Transit Blogger

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