August 15, 2008

Report Shows Constant City, State Transit Cutbacks

August 15, 2008
Aid to Transit Remained Flat as Fares Rose, Report Finds

Direct city and state subsidies to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority have remained relatively flat in recent years, while income from fares and from taxes dedicated specifically to the authority has soared, according to a report released on Thursday.

The report, from the city’s Independent Budget Office, was issued as the transit agency grapples with a looming financial crisis and is seeking added revenues for next year through toll and fare increases and additional city and state subsidies.

Both Gov. David A. Paterson and Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg oppose the fare increases and say that their governments have their own budget problems and cannot provide additional financing.

The report said that last year, city and state subsidies to the authority totaled $603 million. In 1990, the report said, the governments contributed $526 million. When the 1990 numbers are adjusted for inflation, the subsidies were equivalent to $862 million in 2007 dollars. Over the last five years, the subsidies have remained virtually flat.

For the most part, that money is required by state law or through longstanding agreements between the city, the state and the authority. For example, the city and state each pay about $159 million a year for general subway and bus operations, an amount that has remained steady since the mid-1990s.

(In making the comparison, the report does not include the current city financing for recently acquired private bus lines, which the authority took over in 2006. That subsidy amounted to more than $260 million last year, according to the report.)

According to the report, the authority received $3.7 billion last year from taxes that directly finance the authority’s operations, including taxes on real estate transactions in the city and the surrounding counties served by the authority’s commuter rail lines. That income has grown substantially over several years, largely because of the boom in the real estate market. In 1990, such taxes brought just $1.3 billon in inflation-adjusted dollars to the authority.

The transit system also receives federal subsidies, but they go to long-term improvements, not operating expenses, as the city and state subsidies do. The authority’s current financial troubles are due in part to the faltering real estate market, which has led to lower tax revenues.

The report also said that last year, revenue from subway, bus and commuter rail fares — and other sources, like advertising — was close to $4.4 billion, and tolls at the authority’s bridges and tunnels provided $1.2 billion. Fare revenue was close to $3.7 billion in 1990, when adjusted for inflation, while tolls were $1 billion.

Next year, the authority has said, it is facing a shortfall of close to $1 billion. To help plug that gap, it wants to raise fares and tolls and to have the state and city together to contribute an additional $300 million. In response, Mr. Bloomberg and Mr. Paterson have called on the authority to cut costs.

On Thursday, Mr. Bloomberg said again that the city could not afford to increase its contribution. “We have no money to do that, and it’s up to the state to find the money,” he said at a meeting of the United States Conference of Mayors in Manhattan.

But others said the study showed that both the city and the state need to do more.

“The city and the state have given the short end of the stick to the M.T.A.,” said Gene Russianoff, the staff lawyer for the Straphangers Campaign, a transit rider advocacy group.

Like the dedicated taxes, the subsidies to the authority that come directly from the city and state are paid for by taxpayers.

But Mr. Russianoff said the city in particular still had an obligation to make a larger contribution. "We’re looking at the city’s probably most important capital asset and probably the single biggest factor in its economy in terms of getting workers and students and tourists around,” Mr. Russianoff said. Referring to the levels of subsidy, he said, “The city is operating like it’s 1995.”

The report also questioned a claim by City Hall that its subsidy to the authority exceeds $1.2 billion a year. The city’s figure includes some items that do not appear in the authority’s budget, like $360 million to police the subways, which are patrolled by the city’s Police Department, and $344 million in debt service that the city pays on money it has borrowed, in part to help finance the authority’s capital spending.

On Thursday, Stu Loeser, a City Hall spokesman, said that those were legitimate costs related to the authority’s operations.

“We have budgeted that amount for the cost of policing the subway,” Mr. Loeser said. “If New York City were not to do that, it would be a cost that would have to be borne by the M.T.A.”

Mr. Loeser said it was wrong to draw a sharp distinction between the two types of financing and suggested that dedicated taxes may be preferable.

“If anything, that’s better, because it creates a dedicated revenue stream and takes transit funding out of the annual budget process and takes it away from competing against public housing or parks or hospitals or other valuable government activities,” he said.

Ken Belson contributed reporting.


August 11, 2008

Assemblyman Joe Lentol's Letter to MTA CEO Lee Sander

Recently, Assemblyman Joe Lentol wrote to Eliot G. Sander, Executive Director and Chief Executive Officer at the MTA. Here is the letter, reprinted below with the Assemblyman's permission. We'll let you know if there's any response.

Mr. Sander should hear regularly from G train riders - consider writing your own letter...

July 31, 2008

Eliot G. Sander
Metropolitan Transportation Authority
347 Madison Avenue
New York, NY 10017

Dear Mr. Sander,

I want to bring to your attention the disparity between two of the subway lines in my Assembly District in North Brooklyn, the G line and the L line, as reported this week in the Straphangers Campaign’s annual subway report. While I am pleased to learn that the L train has become the most reliable line in the city, it saddens me to see that the G train is once again ranked amongst the worst lines in the city.

The G line was rated worst of all lines in terms of cleanliness and frequency of breakdowns, and near the bottom in frequency of trains and clarity of announcements. This report card failed to have a category for service disruptions, but if it did I’m sure the G line would have had a poor mark due to incessant disruptions. A good week for the G is one in which it runs from Smith-9th Streets to Court Square without the need for shuttle busses along the way. But seemingly every other weekend my constituents and thousands of others are forced to deal with service disruptions, a split G line in which people must transfer from one train to another, and shuttle busses. I can’t even remember the last time the G went past Court Square to Forest Hills. If the train ran its full route it would save many commuters time and aggravation, in addition to re-linking local neighborhoods with the many thriving and affordable shopping districts in Queens. Countless numbers of my constituents used to use the G line just to get to those stores and now they cannot.

I have said it before and I will say it again, I’m tired of the G line being treated as the lowly stepchild of the MTA. For years I have heard promises of service improvements but nothing ever materializes. Instead, the G is always the first line on the chopping block when it comes time to cut costs. The L line brings people to Manhattan’s Central Business District and intersects several transit hubs, and I am left to conclude that is the reason why it offers much better service. The G line, meanwhile, doesn’t connect to Manhattan, services people in Brooklyn and Queens, and offers about the worst service in the city. It is a sad state of affairs that this line continues to be neglected just because its riders are not going to Midtown or Wall Street.

The G line connects the people of North Brooklyn, from Greenpoint to Red Hook. If the service were better it could have a dramatic impact on the economic growth of this part of the city and is especially vital considering that nearly all of the affordable housing slated to be built in the city is along this line. All else aside, I would have thought these arguments alone would be enough to merit improvements.

For all of these reasons, I am asking you now to stand with me and my belief that improvements to G line service are a must, and that change needs to happen immediately.

I thank you for your time and attention in this matter. Please feel free to call me at 718-383-7474 if you have any questions or comments.


Joseph R. Lentol


August 5, 2008 Reactivated

New battle launched to freeze subway fare
by Pete Donohue
NY Daily News
Monday, August 4th 2008

Foes of the fare hikes that went into effect this year are reactivating their "Halt the Hike" battle cry.

The Working Families Party and Straphangers Campaign want to rally commuters against MTA plans to raise MetroCard and other fares next year.

The groups, which plan to go to stations citywide, have reopened the Web site and are urging the public to send e-mails to Gov. Paterson and Mayor Bloomberg.

"New York exists because of a good transit system and you can't just have the riders carrying the full freight because the whole society depends on it," said Dan Cantor, Working Families Party executive director.

The Daily News launched a "halt the hike" newspaper campaign in October, while advocates launched parallel efforts. In November, then-Gov. Eliot Spitzer directed the MTA to scale back the planned increases and keep the $2 base bus and subway fare stable - but MetroCard prices rose.