2004-02-04 / Editorials


State Aid Needed To Foil
Fare Hike, Service Cuts

State Aid Needed To Foil
Fare Hike, Service Cuts

Unless the state of New York puts more money into mass transit, especially the New York City transit system, either bus and train service will be cut drastically or fares will have to be raised, Katherine Lapp, Metropolitan Transportation Authority executive director, told lawmakers in Albany last week.

State money once made up 18 percent of the MTA capital program. Today there is almost no assistance whatsoever, which has led to the MTA’s need to borrow the money it needs to keep the system up and running. Borrowing to meet its needs has the MTA looking at a budget gap projected to increase from $688 million in 2005 to $1.4 billion by 2007. Meanwhile, Lapp said, government subsidies to the MTA have not kept pace with ridership, which has increased by 40 percent since 1996.

Even supporters of most Albany monetary policies toward the city’s mass transportation system are expressing dismay at the prospect of service cuts and fare hikes. Susan Kupferman, one of the mayor’s three appointees to the MTA, said that New York City transit has seen its share of the MTA capital budget erode steadily over the years and Mayor Michael Bloomberg, usually on Albany’s side in decisions involving mass transit funding, agreed. He decried an MTA vote to purchase 120 new Metro-North train cars with money from next year’s budget. "I think the MTA has forgotten that they were created to be a regional transportation system, and the center of the region is right here in New York City," he said. "We have people in Co-op City, people in Queens, who don’t have the kind of mass transit that they deserve."

The threat of service cuts and fare hikes is likely to result in a mass transit system that falls even farther short of what New York City transit riders deserve. Token booths are open only part-time or have been closed altogether, forcing passengers to cross busy streets or walk blocks to an open booth if their fare cards don’t work—an unhappily common occurrence—and often puts passengers’ lives in danger.

Trains and buses that run irregularly are not only inconvenient and dangerous; in many cases they deal another serious blow to both the economy and quality of life in New York City. Attendance at recent MoMA QNS exhibitions, for example, fell far short of projections because repairs on the Number 7 line idled trains on weekends. Not only were prospective museum patrons kept from enjoying the benefits of their memberships in the institution, they also missed out on a chance to become acquainted with the many other attractions of the Queens cultural scene. Both the museum-goers and the businesses they might have patronized—and enjoyed so much they subsequently returned—lost out.

We have spoken in this space before of the blow to the city and borough economy brought about by the most recent fare hikes. Faced with shelling out $4 for each round trip, many New Yorkers whose budgets are already strained are opting to do their shopping for both necessities and luxuries at stores within walking distance of their homes (although that’s not always a bad idea). The same holds true for entertainment. "If we can’t walk to it, we don’t go" is becoming a guideline for many area residents in planning how best to spend their discretionary income.

Not all the solutions to the MTA’s dilemma lie with Albany. During the week ending this past Sunday the city sales tax on clothing purchases was rescinded. New Yorkers crowded into stores to take advantage of bargains—in some cases traveling by mass transit because the savings on the items they purchased cancelled out the higher fare. Along similar lines, a fare rollback to the previous $1.50 fare—or even to $1.75—on certain days would result in an increase in ridership that would more than offset the lowered fare. That’s only one example.

For the sake of every New Yorker we urge the MTA to begin implementing those solutions to the system’s monetary dilemmas that can be found closer to home while pursuing those that lie largely with Albany. New York City simply cannot function without a viable mass transit system—one that everyone who lives and works here can afford.

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