At public hearings held across the city this month, I have heard strong objections from hundreds of MTA customers about the fare and toll increase and service cuts the MTA has been forced to propose. You may be surprised by my reaction: I agree with you. A 25 percent fare increase is too much, especially in this economic environment. And with transit ridership growing, I agree that now is the time to be adding service, not cutting it. These painful measures can be avoided, but only with your help.
Unfortunately, the MTA is facing a $1.2 billion deficit as a result of rising debt costs and a dramatic decrease in revenue due to the collapse of the economy. Make no mistake, we are doing everything we can internally to tighten our belts. We are cutting costs by 6 percent over three years, with managerial and administrative expenses cut by 7 percent this year alone. We will achieve these results by pursuing innovative programs, such as a plan to consolidate back-office operations that will save up to $40 million annually. I, along with agency presidents, will also forgo previously agreed-to raises. But administrative costs make up only 7 percent of the MTA’s budget, so no amount of cutting can solve our entire problem.
Even more worrisome is the lack of funding to pay for maintaining and expanding the system. Since 1982, the MTA has invested $76 billion on these capital projects. As a result, the subway is now literally 20 times more reliable than it was in the early ‘80s. Ridership is up 50 percent in the past dozen years, reaching levels not seen in a generation. While this progress doesn’t mean much when you’re standing on a crowded No. 2 train, it is important to acknowledge how far we’ve come from the days of graffiti-covered trains and daily track fires.
Thankfully, the commission appointed by Gov. David Paterson and chaired by former MTA Chairman Richard Ravitch has recommended a funding package to support the system’s capital needs and help limit fare increases and eliminate service cuts. The Ravitch proposal shares the responsibility for funding the transit system among everyone who benefits from it, and I strongly support these recommendations.
After 25 years of dramatic improvement, New York’s transit network is clearly at a crossroads. A lack of funding threatens to derail unprecedented progress and send us in the wrong direction. If Albany doesn’t act soon, our customers will be faced with drastic fare and toll increases and service cuts, and the system will risk falling into disrepair.
Please call or write your local State Senator and Assembly Member and urge them to support the Ravitch recommendations to provide a steady, long-term funding stream for the MTA. Make sure our legislators understand the importance of the MTA’s transit network to all New Yorkers. Providing the region with efficient and reliable transportation options will keep our hardworking men and women and our economy moving forward.
Elliot Sander is CEO and executive director of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
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