Transit Riders to Governor and Mayor: "Help!"
The subway cars are still shiny, but the transit system is groaning under a huge influx of riders generated by a booming economy and discount fare cards. Unfortunately, service improvements to reduce crowding will not happen if the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) sticks to its new five year spending plan, which calls for borrowing $22 billion - the biggest government loan in state history. Instead, transit experts foresee more crowding, crushing debt payments and fare hikes. To avoid this dismal future, improve service and lure new riders, the Straphangers Campaign recommends the MTA:
1. Buy more new subway cars and boost operations to reduce rush hour waits to four minutes or less. The MTA plans to buy 1,130 new subway cars during the next five years, 203 above the current fleet. The Empire State Transportation Alliance, a coalition of business, civic, environmental and riders groups, calls for buying 1,587 cars to expand the fleet by 457. The MTA's purchases will increase service by 2%, though ridership will increase by 17%. In addition, the MTA should spend an additional $33 million for increased operating expenses.
2. Open planning to the public. The MTA, a public agency, practically developed its spending plan in secret. Citizen experts from Empire State Transportation Alliance and elsewhere were shut out until the last minute. This disenfranchising of the fare and tax paying public is wrong. The MTA should create an advisory capital program committee based on Assembly bill 5395.
3. Win renewed city and state funding for its capital programs. The MTA must borrow $22 billion dollars because it failed to win new funding from the state and city. Since 1990, state support for new transit equipment and construction plummeted from 19% to 9%. The City's $106 million annual contribution is the same as it was in 1986, an amount much less than the $180 million needed to match inflation.
Debt Bomb Means Massive Fare Hikes. The MTA's mountain of debt lifts interest payments from $692 million in 1998 to a staggering $1.6 billion in 2010 -- one-quarter of the MTA's revenue. This means at a minimum a forty cent fare hike within five years and less money for service.