September 8, 2008
Editorial: The Riders Pay
New York City’s mass-transit system is deteriorating and desperately underfunded. The politicians know this, but they are still providing far too little in the way of financing. The result is that the system’s users, many of them already suffering from tough economic times, could be stuck with the bill.
Neither the city nor the state is paying its fair share, despite what they claim. With the Metropolitan Transportation Authority facing a budget gap of nearly $1 billion next year, direct subsidies from both governments last year totaled about $600 million, not much more than what they were a decade ago, according to the nonpartisan Independent Budget Office. Adjusted for inflation, subsidies have actually declined, saddling riders with an ever-increasing burden.
The main problem is that New York’s state legislators have failed to put a dependable source of financing — like congestion pricing — in place. Transit has been forced to rely on fluctuating taxes from real estate and other sources and, increasingly, rising fares.
A one-two punch of back-to-back fare hikes and reduced service seems likely if New York’s elected leaders don’t approve significant new subsidies or a solid revenue-generating plan.
The M.T.A. has said it needs the city and state together to contribute an additional $300 million next year. State lawmakers say they are awaiting the recommendations of a commission led by Richard Ravitch, expected after the November elections. Mayor Michael Bloomberg insists that the city has already done its part, contributing $1.2 billion last year.
But Mr. Bloomberg gets to his $1.2 billion figure by including not only the city’s direct subsidies, which are what really matters, but also an assortment of other kinds of payments that do not directly benefit the M.T.A. They include $344 million in interest payments on money the city borrowed for previous transit aid.
A safe, clean and reliable mass-transit system is not only environmentally sound; it is also essential to New York’s economy. We know the city and state have their own huge, looming budget gaps. But both need to dig deeper to keep mass transit moving.