The MTA has "largely recovered" from the economic recession and is on much better financial footing than just seven months ago, but it's not doing enough to hold down planned fare and toll increases, a new state report said.
The analysis from the office of state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli notes that, since February, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority has identified $1.9 billion in "unanticipated resources," including from higher tax revenue, lower debt, and reduced costs for energy, employee benefits and pensions. With the newfound money, the agency was able to eliminate a projected 2014 budget gap, improve service and maintenance, and help fund its next five-year capital plan.
What the MTA hasn't done, the report said, is use its windfall to roll back planned fare hikes totaling 15 percent over the next three years, more than twice the inflation rate. Fares have already climbed 29 percent since 2007, a rate "much faster than inflation," the report said.
"These increases occurred when riders were least able to afford them, as the recession took a heavy toll on family finances," the report said. The next round of fare and toll hikes in 2015 loom even as "household income remains stagnant," the report said.
And although MTA officials regularly trumpet having achieved more than $800 million in recurring annual savings since 2010, DiNapoli's report said that agency cost-cutting has been "modest" outside of an overhaul of its paratransit services for disabled riders.
"The MTA's financial outlook is much improved. While funding the next capital program and improving services are critically important, reducing the size of planned fare and toll hikes must also be considered," DiNapoli said in a statement Friday.
"There is plenty of time before the next scheduled fare increase for the MTA to refocus its efforts on reducing waste, which could go a long way toward easing the financial burden on commuters," DiNapoli's statement said.
In a statement, the MTA said it was "pleased" that the report recognized that the agency had shrunken projected deficits by $400 million and is on track to achieving $1.3 billion in annual savings.
"The MTA is focused on cutting costs across all operations, including areas such as paratransit, debt service, health care and pension costs that were once considered uncontrollable," the agency said.
"Our goal is to keep all future fare and toll increases as low as possible, even though many of those costs are still projected to increase at twice the rate of inflation," the MTA said.
In a statement, the Straphangers Campaign, a nonprofit rider advocacy group, said it "shared" DiNapoli's view that the MTA should use some of its unexpected revenue to reduce the size of planned fare hikes.
"Transit riders here already pay far more than their fair share of the cost of transit operations, compared to riders in other big systems in America," said the statement, citing transit systems in Chicago, Philadelphia and Washington D.C.
The report also notes that the LIRR is having the most trouble of all the MTA's transit agencies in bouncing back to its pre-recession levels.