Straphangers—and really everyone in the metropolitan area—ought to be outraged. The fare hikes and service cuts that were, at press time, set to become a harsh new reality for subway, bus and train riders are unconscionable. And the blame lies squarely with the State Senate, whose behavior over the past week has been downright embarrassing.
With the Metropolitan Transportation Authority facing a financial crisis, last year Gov. David Paterson appointed former MTA chair Richard Ravitch to come up with a new plan for avoiding the draconian fare hikes and service cuts that loomed in the absence of new funding. Everyone will feel the pain from a crumbling mass transit system, and so the Ravitch plan rightfully distributed the burden with a payroll tax, a modest fare hike and tolls on the historically free East and Harlem river bridges.
The governor and the Assembly have backed a slightly modified version of the Ravitch proposal. But the Senate has choked, offering a half-baked alternative using numbers that did not even add up. Now Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith has reportedly turned his focus to state budget negotiations, which have reached a new low in terms of transparency.
With no help from Albany in sight, the MTA is planning to move forward with painful service cuts and fare hikes—to $2.50 from $2 for a single ride, and to $103 from $81 for an unlimited monthly pass. The authority also appears poised to cut back on aspects of key infrastructure projects, like an extra bypass track for the Second Avenue subway, and may be forced to take additional steps if finances continue to worsen.
Toll opponents have complained that these fees unfairly burden businesses and working- and middle-class commuters who must drive into the city. But what is inexplicably left out of this argument is that these same groups are also hurt by painful fare hikes and service cuts, and that the long-term effects of failing to fund mass transit are widespread.
That a handful of Senate dissidents can obstruct a critical piece of legislation for the entire metropolitan area is reprehensible, and it shows that Smith, the Senate’s leader, is falling down on the job. If members of his own party won’t play ball, then Smith needs to find some Republicans who will. Make compromises, trade horses—basically, do what he was elected by both his constituents and conference to do: be a politician.
Without an affordable and reliable mass transit, New York City cannot support its businesses, cultural institutions, visitors and residents. Subways, buses and trains are the circulatory system that underlies this entire area’s economic viability.
During this period of unprecedented financial tumult, supporting mass transit is more critical than ever. If Smith can’t see that, then it’s time for the Senate to find a new leader who can.
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