Fare Hike In 2009? Tell Me It Can’t Be True!

Well folks it can & most likely will be by time 2009 rolls around. Daily News transit reporter Pete Donohue had a report with a catchy title about the possibility of a fare hike in 2009. Here is his report courtesy of the New York Daily News

Brace yourself for the possibility of another subway fare and toll hike.

A rare back-to-back increase – along with service cuts – could be in store for commuters now that MTA number crunchers are suddenly dealing with a massive hole in next year’s budget.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority‘s projected 2009 budget gap has ballooned – doubling or even tripling original estimates, sources said.

Without new state money, officials may soon raise the spectre of increases, service cuts – or both, sources and experts said.

“They don’t have many options,” one source said.

Subway riders gasped at the suggestion.

“I’m a recent college graduate so I can’t afford the subway as it is,” said Bryan Tran, 21, of Queens. “Any higher and I will have to walk everywhere. It’s ridiculous.”

The MTA by law must have a balanced budget. The preliminary plan will be released next month.

“Back-to-back fare hikes would slam riders, already reeling from higher costs of living and a poor economy,” said Gene Russianoff of the Straphangers Campaign

The MTA just boosted fares in March, and those hikes will raise nearly $200 million over the course of a year. If the agency is forced to fill next year’s budget gap with increases in subway and commuter train fares, and bridge tolls, the next hikes would have to be even bigger.

The only other consecutive set of increases was in 1980 and 1981.

The latest projections had the MTA struggling to fill a $220 million budget hole. That number has grown to $500 million to $700 million, sources said.

Part of the problem is that last year the MTA predicted that revenue from fees on real estate transactions would drop by $160 million between January and May. Instead, they plummeted by $240 million, MTA documents show.

And despite pledges to fight for more MTA funding, the state Legislature later joined Gov. Paterson in slashing expected subsidies from one state account by $40 million earlier this year. The hit repeats next year.

Paterson picked former MTA Chairman Richard Ravitch in April to lead a panel to weigh funding solutions for the authority’s operating and construction budgets.

Although Ravitch has been delving into the authority’s finances, the other panelists haven’t been selected.

Before this fiscal crisis, MTA officials adopted a policy of modest fare and toll hikes every other year, with the next round coming in 2010.

Board member Mitchell Pally, who voted against this year’s hikes, said he doesn’t expect that schedule to be altered in preliminary budget next month. Fare hikes and service cuts are “the last two things we should be thinking about,” especially with gasoline prices so high, he said.

He called for the federal government to again provide operating budget funds for transit, a practice he said halted more than a decade ago.

I was reading Second Avenue Sagas (you should be reading his transit blog like you do this one!) & noticed Benjamin took Bryan who was interviewed as part of the report, to task for his statement of having to walk if the fares go up any higher. He did so by stating the following:

Despite Donohue’s man-on-the-street Bryan Tran’s statement — “Any higher and I will have to walk everywhere. It’s ridiculous.” — the fares just aren’t that high. The average cost-per-ride for an unlimited ride user is still well below what the $1.50 base fare we all used to pay in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

If anything, this news just drives home what Sheldon Silver and the anti-congestion pricing contingent did when they opted to let that MTA-saving measure die in committee. Perhaps it’s time to start paying closer attention to Ted Kheel after all.

Now here is my problem with his statements. While he is completely accurate about the cost for an unlimited rider being less than the base fare of the 90’s, I feel it is not exactly fully relevant to the actual costs of today. While the average fare is lower, one must account that not everyone is an unlimited rider. There is also the possibility that the recent fare increase has resulted in the loss of some unlimited riders due to not being able to afford the increases. However I feel the main issue is the cost of living is so much different from the 90’s that the savings one receives on paper is just that on paper.

With a potential fare hike in 2009 being even bigger than the one we just faced, the harsh reality is that some might be priced out of the system. While none of us know if Mr. Tran was being over dramatic with his “walking statement” or being completely honest, it is undeniable that another fare hike will lead to some people turning to walking as a necessity to get around.

The other issue I have relates to bringing up the failure of the proposed congestion pricing plan becoming a reality as to why we will have to pay more in the long run. I have been dead set against congestion pricing since day one. I could not support an obvious attempt to screw one section over to help another. It was clearly a case of “robbing Peter to pay Paul”. Instead of this excuse, I feel more anger should be shown towards current & former government & MTA officials for not doing their jobs properly. If things were run the way they should have been with the agency & riding publics best interest being accounted for, we would not be in the mess we were in.

This leads me to an editorial about the fare hike which was on page 24 of Monday’s New York Daily News which calls out MTA CEO Elliot Sander along with MTA Chairman Dale Hemmerdinger. Here is the editorial courtesy of the New York Daily News

Promises, promises. Broken promises. It seems that’s all the Metropolitan Transportation Authority is good for.

Back in March, the MTA socked riders with another fare hike for subways, buses and commuter rail. The salve was a pledge that there would not be another increase for at least two years.

Chairman Dale Hemmerdinger and CEO Lee Sander promised to get the agency’s fiscal affairs in order.

They promised they were starting an orderly program of fare increases: Riders would pony up every other year, with hikes in line with inflation.

They promised they would get whatever additional money they needed – and it would be a lot – from state and city governments.

“Trust us,” harrumphed Hemmerdinger and Sander.

And they took the public for a ride. Barely three months after giving their word – and pushing through a hike with the blessings of then-Gov. Eliot Spitzer and Mayor Bloomberg – the MTA is floating the prospect of another increase as early as next year.

All of a sudden, the agency is broke, suffering from declining revenues while costs are climbing. Real estate-related taxes dedicated to the MTA are plummeting, thanks largely to the subprime crisis. Next year’s budget gap won’t be $220 million, but as much as $700 million.

Bloomberg is in no mood to help by boosting operating aid. Spitzer, who vowed to provide $600 million, is gone in ignominy. And the Legislature echoes with its own empty promises.

In the winter, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and lawmakers like Assemblyman Richard Brodsky trumpeted that they wanted to avert the March hike. But come spring, when fares rose with the crocuses, they failed to come through with a dime.

What they did do was kill congestion pricing, and with it an immediate $354 million in federal cash along with a half-billion dollars from traffic fees every year – money that was desperately needed to reduce the pressure for fare hikes.

There was a ray of hope two months ago, when Gov. Paterson tapped former MTA Chairman Dick Ravitch to lead a group to map out the agency’s financial future. But Paterson hasn’t gotten around to naming the rest of the Ravitch panel. He needs to do that right away. Monday would be best, but no later than Tuesday.

And Hemmerdinger and Sander need to shoot straighter.

I must give credit where credit is due. As you might remember, I was a supporter of former New York Governor Elliot Spitzer & felt he was criticized way too often for trying to help out the little guy. However I must say Benjamin Kabak of Second Avenue Sagas fame is spot on with his analysis of the editorial in Monday’s New York Daily News.

I must also give him credit as he was the first blogger/writer of any sort to call bullshit on Mr. Spitzer’s political game of being the “good guy” & how he was screwing over the majority of riders. I definitely recommend you check out his past posts on Spitzer’s game & how we are paying the price now. But before you do that, I highly recommend you check out his response to Monday’s editorial. You can do so by clicking here. When you are done, you can read my feelings from December in regards to then Governor Spitzer’s screwjob for the holidays.

xoxo Transit Blogger

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The MTA Hopes Its Green Attitude Leads To Tons Of Greenbacks

Last Monday, Newsday’s morning paper AMNY featured a story about the MTA’s plans to have their “green” attitude lead to tons of greenbacks. In simpler terms, the MTA is partnering with the consulting firm of Booz Allen Hamilton in hopes of being able to make money from selling credits they earned from cleaning up the environment to companies who would be in need of such credits to fall within legal standards. Simply put the Metropolitan Transportation Authority wants to get paid for helping high polluting companies legally pollute. Here is the full article courtesy of Newsday via AMNY:

The MTA recently released “green” MetroCards that touted mass transit’s benefit to the environment. The agency, however, hopes to take their efforts farther by selling its pollution reducing benefits for cash on the carbon trading market.

Last month, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority approved a $776,000 contract with consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton to measure its carbon footprint and look at ways to create revenues “in a tradable-carbon situation.”

What that means is that the MTA hopes eventually to quantify the amount of pollution it removes from the air through mass transit, put a value on it, and sell it to a company that is a high polluter. By paying the MTA, the company would legally be allowed to pollute.

“This is all quite new and unique and a little bit out there,” said Projjal Dutta, director of sustainability initiatives at the MTA.

Carbon-trading is more common to Europe and Japan, where nations are committed under the Kyoto Protocol to limit their emissions greenhouse gases.

Through mandated “cap-and-trade” programs, a business can exceed the allowed limit on greenhouse pollution it releases if it buys unused emissions from a “clean” industry on the carbon-trading market. These so-called carbon “offsets” are usually generated in the developing world through projects that are certified to reduce greenhouse gases.

It’s uncertain how much the MTA stands to profit from such a deal.

Worldwide carbon-trading was a $64 billion business in 2007. Some 2.9 billion tons were traded at a price range of 8 to 20 euros per ton (about $12 to $31), said Eron Bloomgarden, U.S. director of EcoSecurities, a company in the emissions reduction market.

In the United States, because the market is voluntary, carbon brings only $2 to $7 per ton on the New York Mercantile Exchange‘s Green Exchange, which opened in March, and the Chicago Climate Exchange that started in December 2003, Bloomgarden said.

That’s expected to change fairly soon. All three presidential candidates support adopting some form of cap-and-trade policy in the United States.

The MTA is putting itself in a position to try and profit from whatever policy is mandated. The agency actually has a negative carbon footprint because subways, trains, and buses take cars off the road and reduce congestion, which means that cars do not burn as much fuel sitting in traffic.

“A system ought to be in place that incents somebody like the MTA through some other means to keep increasing those passenger miles,” Dutta said.

I now bring in the viewpoint from Benjamin Kabak of Second Avenue Sagas who pegs this issue dead on when he said:

In trying to wrap my head around the idea of the MTA trading its carbon credits in an emissions market, I keep landing on two distinct points that are seemingly at odds with each other. On the one hand, as we well know, the MTA is searching high and low for any dollars it can scrounge up. The authority needs money to keep our public transit system in a state of good repair and, looking ahead, for much needed expansion plans as well. To that end, if the powers that be feel they can capitalize on the MTA’s negative emissions, then they should do so.

But on the other hand, the environmentalist public transit advocate in me is a little wary of the carbon trading plan. If the MTA is allowing some other company to continue to pollute by trading them their carbon credits and profiting from it, does that really match the agency’s desired and publicly-stated goals of becoming a greener organization. Until the U.S. starts putting stricter caps on greenhouse emissions, the MTA is simply profiting off some other company’s pollutants. That’s fine for the bottom line but not so fine for the environment.

Check out his entire entry on the issue by clicking here.

I couldn’t have said it any better myself!

P.S. It always brings a smile to my face when I hear about Booz Allen Hamilton as lets just say if only those walls could talk, the stories you would here…………

xoxo Transit Blogger

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Multiple People Hurt As Bus Crashes Into An Abandoned Building

9 days ago, multiple people were hurt after a public bus (bus route & # not reported) crashed into an abandoned building. The bus driver hit the building after he had to swerve out of the way of a little kid who darted into the street. No one at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) has commented on the accident. According to firefighters, all injuries were minor.

Now based on a rough estimate of the location of the accident, I am pretty sure the route involved in the accident was the Q53 which is a limited stop route which runs between Woodside & Rockaway Park.

xoxo Transit Blogger

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MTA Announces A New Metro-North Railroad President

A week ago today, the MTA issued a press release to announce their selection to be the next president of the Metro-North Railroad. The successor will be Howard R. Permut who will take over after current Metro-North President Peter A. Cannito retires on July 15th. Here is the full press release courtesy of the MTA:

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority today announced the selection of Howard R. Permut as President of MTA Metro-North Railroad. Permut is currently Metro-North’s Vice President of Planning, Development and Procurement. He was part of the original team that created Metro-North out of the Conrail commuter operations in New York and Connecticut in 1983. Permut will assume the position when current Metro-North President Peter A. Cannito retires on July 15.

A native New Yorker, Permut has been at the forefront of Metro-North’s vision to expand service, ridership and revenue – both East and West of the Hudson River. Under his leadership, programs were developed to improve and expand train scheduling, market and advertise current and new services and create innovative strategies to increase train station access via parking spaces and multi-modal connecting services.

As a result of these initiatives, Permut is largely credited with facilitating the emergence of Metro-North as the transportation mode of choice in the discretionary off-peak and reverse peak markets while maintaining the railroad’s 85% market share of the traditional Manhattan-bound peak commuter. Permut has also provided leadership and expertise in Metro-North’s relationships with its service partners – both for the railroad’s current operations (Connecticut Department of Transportation for the New Haven Line and NJ Transit for the West of Hudson services) and for the creation of new service opportunities (New York State Department of Transportation, Amtrak and local municipalities).

“We interviewed a wide range of candidates and I am delighted that the best candidate was an internal one,” said Elliot G. Sander, MTA Executive Director and CEO. “Howard has been part of Metro-North’s creation and rebirth and his experience and unique perspective more than qualify him to lead Metro-North into the future. It is also a tribute to Pete Cannito that his successor is one of his direct reports. I again wish to extend my thanks to Pete for this and all his contributions during his tenure.”

Permut’s initial priorities for Metro-North include maintaining the high levels of safety and service reliability while planning for the railroad’s future. “It is an honor to have been chosen to lead such a terrific workforce and I thank Lee for this opportunity,” Permut said. “It is my intention to maintain the already high levels of service Metro-North provides its customers and the region at large. As every Metro-North President has done before me, I will work with our customers, employees and service partners to continue improvements so, together, we can strive to make this railroad an acknowledged brand name for excellence.”

A planner by training, Permut began his career in Chicago in 1975, working for the Northeastern Illinois Regional Transportation Authority. As a Manager of Capital Programs there, he developed facility improvement plans for railroad, bus and rapid transit systems serving the greater Chicago area. He returned to New York in 1979, joining the MTA as a Senior Policy Planner, specializing in assessing policy and program analyses with a particular focus on labor relations. He was one of 10 people chosen to form Metro-North from the dilapidated Conrail commuter lines in New York and Connecticut. On January 1, 1983 – Metro-North’s birthday – Permut became the railroad’s first Director of Planning. He continued to be promoted into positions with greater levels of responsibility throughout his 25-year career with the railroad he helped create.

Permut has shared his expertise with both students and fellow transportation specialists through a wide range of visiting scholar positions as well as memberships within professional associations in the transportation and planning disciplines. Permut holds a Masters of Science in Transportation from Northwestern University and a B.A. in Geography from the State University of New York at Binghamton.

Metro-North employs approximately 6,000 employees and runs a system comprising more than 700 miles of track on 5 main lines and 3 branches in nine counties and two states. The landmarked Grand Central Terminal is its flagship station.

xoxo Transit Blogger

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Hicksville Station Parkging Garage Closed Indefinitely

Six days ago Steve Ritea along with Kimberley A. Martin of Newsday broke the news that the parking garage located at the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR)’s Hicksville station will be closed indefinitely. Here is his full report:

Be warned, motorists who use the four-level parking garage in Hicksville near the Long Island Rail Road Station.

You can’t park there today — or until further notice.

The 1,400-space garage, owned by the Town of Oyster Bay, was closed indefinitely Tuesday afternoon after a town worker spotted a crack in a structural support beam, officials said.

Town officials said motorists instead can park in Broadway Mall’s southwest lot, and shuttle service to and from the train station will be provided weekdays from 5 a.m. to 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. until further notice.

Also, normal street parking restrictions will be lifted within a half-mile radius of the LIRR station, although drivers cannot park in spaces for the handicapped without the proper permit or in front of fire hydrants.

“No one has indicated any danger of an immediate collapse,” Oyster Bay Supervisor John Venditto said of the garage, which was built in 1971. “In the interest of everyone’s safety … the garage will be closed until further notice.”

Tuesday afternoon and evening, most commuters who returned to the garage to retrieve their vehicles were allowed to walk in and drive out on their own. Those who had parked in about 120 spots near the cracked beam, however, waited as their vehicles were driven out of the garage by a town employee as a precaution, with the vehicle turned over to the owner outside the garage.

“What took them so long to find out there were structural problems here when thousands of commuters leave their cars here every day?” asked Nancy Sherman, 48, of Jericho, holding a flier that explained the garage’s closure. She said she uses the lot when she takes the train into the city for her job with a pharmaceutical company.

Walking toward the garage to retrieve her car, she said, “We pay a lot of taxes. Where is it going if not to ensure our safety?”

Commuter Frank Nieves, 43, of Hicksville, wondered where he’ll park today before catching the train into the city for his job as a real estate manager.

“I don’t know what I’ll do,” he said. “I guess I’ll figure out a way.”

Venditto said cars not removed last night would be allowed to stay in the garage until their owners return. No one will be towed, he vowed.

The garage, at Newbridge Road and Duffy Avenue, provides roughly 20 percent of the parking spaces around the LIRR’s Hicksville station.

Venditto said the crack was found in the overnight hours of Monday into yesterday, when a town maintenance worker walking through the garage to pick up debris noticed the crack in a concrete-and-steel T-beam on the eastern side of the third level. The worker notified his supervisors.

Engineers were called in and recommended that the garage be closed until repairs could be completed.

Parking in the garage, which includes a basement level, ground level and two upper levels, is allowed by permits issued by the Town of Oyster Bay.

James Nizza, 39, of Melville, said he got a LIRR notification on his BlackBerry about the garage’s closure while heading home from the city, where he works as an insurance analyst.

“I’m not surprised. This garage has been falling apart for years, but I’m shocked that it’s an emergency situation now,” he said. “People will be irate … . It’s going to be chaos.”

xoxo Transit Blogger

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