Cigarette Taxes To Starve Off A Fare Hike?

Mayor Bloomberg sure seems to think so. According to him, the uncollected taxes on cigarettes sold on Indian reservations could starve off at least one of the two potential fare hikes facing commuters. David Seifman of the New York Post filed the brief report:

NEW ORLEANS – Mayor Bloomberg blew smoke in the MTA’s face over its fare-hike plans.

Hizzoner said yesterday uncollected taxes on cigarettes sold on Indian reservations could spare straphangers at least one of two proposed fare hikes to close a $700 million hole in the MTA’s budget.

“That just alone would replace one of those fare increases,” said Bloomberg, who was in New Orleans for the National Conference of State Legislatures. “We want to make sure that the state goes and finds alternative sources.”

Bloomberg also said the MTA, which called for an 8 percent fare hike in July 2009 and another 5 percent increase in 2011, should cut more than 1.5 percent of the budget from each of its agencies over the next four years.

Lets see if these taxes really help starve off at least one fare hike. I have my doubts considering that for starters the tax has been uncollected all this time. Lastly why should I believe the state would do the right thing & use that money to help fund the MTA. Their past track record of shafting or outright stealing money from the MTA is more than enough reason to question the reality of them doing the right thing. We shall see…..

xoxo Transit Blogger

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MTA Contiues To Throw Money Away

In the span of 5 days, New York Daily News Transit reporter Pete Donohue wrote 2 articles highlighting how the MTA has thrown money away due to poor operational practices. The first story showcased how bus drivers were compensated for nearly 19,000 hours of overtime which was not needed. Here is a brief sample of Pete’s report:

Bus drivers racked up nearly 19,000 hours of annual overtime transit managers now say was flat-out unnecessary.

Managers can reduce overtime by that much with “better monitoring” of shifts and a “more advanced reporting system,” the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s preliminary 2009 spending plan says.

The MTA’s bus and subway division, NYC Transit, also can trim the ranks of an obscure contingent of drivers called shifters, who don’t drive routes but move buses within depots, according to the plan, which proposes cutting 21 of about 340 shifter positions.

Combined, the two actions will save $2.1 million next year, according to documents and officials.

Click here to view the full report.

The next story highlighted how the MTA spent almost $1 million dollars since 2000 to pay token booth workers who worked overnight shifts at two stations in Harlem which no overnight service existed. Here is a sample of that report:

Token booth clerks collected about $1 million since 2000 for working overnight shifts at two Harlem stations – where no trains run during those hours.

Between midnight and dawn, seven days a week, clerks have been stationed in their cubicles at the 145th St. and 148th St. stations even though the No. 3 train didn’t run during those hours.

NYC Transit announced Thursday that the service will resume at those stops Sunday, 13 years after it was halted for low ridership.

A spokesman for NYC Transit yesterday said clerks have been on duty as a deterrent against vandalism, and to unlock turnstiles if an emergency ever required a train be rerouted to one of the depots.

Click here to view the full report.

For the record I do acknowledge that the money wasted with these actions is only a drop in the bucket of the overall amount of money the MTA owes. However it is good to see attention being called to such actions that result in an unnecessary waste of funds. If you take a second & think about it, you would realize why this is just the initial signs of an agency that is completely run wrong.

When you factor in the amount of money it seems to be next to nothing. Now just take that amount & continue to add to it with all the other money wasted due to poor oversight & one could see how the amount gets more significant by the second. This is the MTA we are talking about, so we all know there are a laundry list of other examples of financial mismanagement.

When your everyday commuter reads stories such as these, how do you not expect them to be outraged at any sort of a fare hike? Why should any of us pay more money to help fund an agency that for years has shown no care to proper financial management? The answer is we clearly should not have to fork over more money. Answering the question is quite easy, the hard part is finding legitimate ways to avoid a fare hike that is truly not justified.

xoxo Transit Blogger

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Do We Really Need All These Executives?

According to the MTA they do as the recently released 2009 preliminary budget plan by the MTA features calls for the elimination of approximately 500 jobs. Unsurprising to most, none of those jobs are “suits” within MTA Headquarters. Pete Donohue of the Daily News has the report:

The MTA plans on cutting hundreds of positions from its budget – but not one suit at authority headquarters apparently is expendable.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s proposed “Program to Eliminate the Gap,” part of its preliminary 2009 budget plan, trims about 500 positions, mostly from the NYC Transit bus and subway division.

MTA headquarters – the division at the top of the food chain – wouldn’t lose one executive, according to the preliminary budget. About 1,400 staffers are on the headquarter’s payroll, about half are members of the MTA Police Department.

All told – with positions cut and added to address new initiatives or programs – the MTA head count remains relatively flat at about 68,000, officials said.

Metro-North is adding more than 50 workers, for example, because it’s opening a new station near Yankee Stadium.

Some board members on Wednesday said the MTA needs to reduce expenses further.

“We really have to tighten our belts and look for other ways to save money,” board member Norman Seabrook said.

The MTA is cutting “controllable expenses” by 6% over four years, starting this year, MTA CEO Lee Sander said. That’s on top of 5% in reductions from 2004 to last year, he said. It will continue to look for more savings but can’t slice too deeply without reducing service and impacting the reliability of the transit system, he said.

NYC Transit reductions include trimming dozens of workers assigned to such tasks as cleaning subway cars as part of a pilot program on two lines, removing debris from tracks, doing preventative maintenance on turnstiles and MetroCard vending machines.

Officials said the agency will be more efficient and riders wouldn’t see a slide in conditions.

The agency also will reduce the number of property guards by 13 and rely more on surveillance systems and alarms.

It also is ending its participation in the Work Experience Program – where the unemployed toil for welfare benefits – that requires transit cleaners to fill supervisory roles.

I’m not surprised at the angle being taken in the report. However I must say it legitimately calls into question the positions that will not get cut. Should I & the rest of the riding public believe every single position at the job is more important than the ones proposed to be cut? I have a hard time believing these positions are more important than ones for cleaning subway cars, removing track debris, etc..?

Such positions are vital if you ask me as a clean subway car is never a bad thing. More importantly, cleaning track debris is a strong way of preventing track fires which cause headaches for everyone directly or indirectly involved. What does every single employee within the MTA Headquarters do on a daily basis that makes their job more important? I would love to hear the answers as I’m sure most would be quite comical.

xoxo Transit Blogger

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Watch CNN While Waiting For A Train

Lost amidst the recent financial negativity from last Wednesday’s MTA Board Meeting was the announcement of a possible partnership between themselves & CNN. Helen Kennedy of the New York Daily News has the brief story:

Coming soon to a subway platform near you: Wolf Blitzer.

The MTA is exploring a partnership with CNN to install TV screens tuned to the cable news channel at various train and subway stations around the city.

CNN has TV screens in departure lounges in 42 airports. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s pilot program would install TV screens in six stations later this year to see how the idea goes over.

“We haven’t determined the stations yet but we’re thinking of a mix of commuter rail, subway and maybe a bus station,” said MTA spokesman Jeremy Soffin.

News, features and sports scores would run on a loop for waiting straphangers. The MTA also could broadcast transit information.

CNN will provide the equipment and the pilot project won’t cost the MTA anything.

If it works out, the MTA hopes to receive significant revenue from the network, which would sell ads on its subway network. “We have 5 million customers per day. That’s a lot of eyeballs,” Soffin said.

In the era of TiVo and DVDs, TV advertisers are desperate to find new captive audiences.

Many New York City cabs have TV screens installed.

In 2005, Atlanta’s MARTA became the first transit system to install flat-screen TVs displaying news and ads with closed captioning.

For starters I applaud the MTA’s initiative to bring better technology to our transit system. I will also applaud them for exploring a partnership that would benefit them overall without having to spend any out of pocket costs. However that is where my applause stops.

While I am for bringing better technology to our system, I question the timing for such initiatives. At a time where they face deficits that can possibly bring the system down, now is not the time to explore partnerships that don’t help with the here & now. The agency’s finances are so bad that any & all initiatives should be focused on getting out of our financial crisis. When the finances start to show improvement then & only then should they look into initiatives that are luxuries as compared to necessities.

xoxo Transit Blogger

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MTA Expects Ridership To Fall Flat In 2009

A few days ago Matthew Sweeney of AMNY had a report about the MTA’s projection for 2009 ridership numbers to fall flat. Here is his report:

After more than a decade of growth in transit ridership, the MTA is predicting that bus and subway straphanger numbers will fall flat in 2009.

Ridership on subways has grown dramatically this year — increasing by more than four percent — as people have run from the rising price of gasoline. The subway crowds have so far more than made up for a slight drop in bus ridership. But the MTA believes that days of increases are soon coming to an end. The MTA is expecting 2.35 billion bus and subway riders this year and 2.34 billion in 2009.

“The leveling off is due to two factors,” said Jeremy Soffin, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. “We grew more than expected in 2008 due in part to high gas prices and two is the loss of jobs due to the cooling off of the economy.”

The loss of jobs has a direct effect on the numbers of riders. And the agency’s forecasters expect that job losses will outpace any new riders who choose the subway to avoid the high cost of gasoline.

Click here to read his full report.

I happen to agree with the Straphangers Campaign’s Gene Russianoff when he said “I think predicting is a little risky and there are conflicting factors.” How can anyone trust these projections when just a 5 months ago, the MTA was forecasting ridership growth through 2012? I for one do not feel the growth will just fall flat in 2009. I would not be surprised if it did not fall at all. With the cost of driving seeming to become even more of a burden, drivers will continue to flock to mass transit even with fares expected to rise in the near future.

I seriously hope the MTA is not using these projections to make any cuts in service. We already need more service than we currently have so they better not pull any funny business. However this is the MTA we are talking about so funny numbers are just part of the package.

xoxo Transit Blogger

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