Last week, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), our local mass transit agency, voted to raise fares and cut service. The price of a monthly MetroCard for the buses and subways will go from $81 to $103 per month, and fares and tolls for other MTA facilities (they’re also in charge of the commuter railroads, and toll bridges and tunnels) will similarly go up.
That, in and of itself, wouldn’t be too bad: public transportation in New York works pretty well, and would be a good value even with the fare increase. But the plan also includes a series of service cuts, including dropping two subway lines and about 30 bus routes, and reducing late-night subway service by one-third.
In good times, financing the MTA is not a critical problem: the agency is financed with transfer taxes on real estate and other similar transations. But since the economy went kablooie, tax revenues are way down.
Historically, New York State has subsidized the MTA to some extent, but that’s difficult right now because the state is broke. It’s not as if we couldn’t see the problem coming: Richard Ravitch, who ran the MTA years ago, was tasked last year with coming up with a plan to help finance the MTA under the current circumstances. However, none of his recommendations have gotten through the New York State Legislature. The Ravitch report included a plan to charge tolls on the East and Harlem River bridges that are currently free, but somehow the Legislature first decided that the toll could only be $2 (not the $5 proposed in the Ravitch report) and then couldn’t be done at all.
The only thing that the Legislature has apparently done, and isn’t specific to the MTA, is to crank up the income tax on higher brackets (above $250,000/yr). While such a tax increase is a necessary component of dealing with the problem, it can’t be the entire solution: raise the taxes enough, and the people who pay them will go elsewhere.
But then the Legislature seems to be on its own little planet, where there’s a shortage of funds, but never any need to do anything about it, and the Governor is on his own little satellite, apparently sucking his thumb while the whole mess unfolds.
The thought is that the Legislature will get off its rump and ‘do something’ to help fund the MTA. The newspapers have been suggesting that we should all call the Governor and our legislators to get them to do something.
It seems pointless: I’ll save my breath to cool my porridge.
But watch: sometime late in May they’ll put something together, and the fares will only go up by 10%.
They always do stuff like that.
They’ll come through.