Straphangers face more pain as MTA drowns in debt

(Credit: Urbanite)

By Heather Haddon

The fast-approaching fare hike and service cuts won't come close to keeping the MTA in the black, meaning straphangers could get hammered again.

Plummeting ridership and tax revenues have led to another $621 million in losses this year. That's on top of the $1.2 billion deficit that MTA will begin filling next month with a fare increase of up to 30 percent and dozens of service cuts.

Next year, meanwhile, brings a new problem for the MTA and straphangers as the agency predicts it will have a $1 billion deficit, triple what it originally thought.

It's unclear whether that will mean a new round of fare hikes and service cuts, but the board is expected to discuss the new deficit at the meeting Wednesday.

After years of record increases, MTA officials expect ridership to decline by more than 7 percent this year because of the fare increase and the number of people of out work.

“The state of our finances is dire,” said MTA chief Elliot Sander, during the agency's board meeting. “We need Albany to come to the rescue.”But funding plans under consideration by the state won't fully cover the MTA's $1.8 billion deficit for this year. Both versions of the plan in the Assembly and Senate leave a hole of about $200 million, according to the latest projections. The agency could absorb a deficit of that size in the short term, but the Senate's proposal — relying payroll taxes, an 8 percent fare increase and $1 surcharge on taxi rides — would fall too short in coming years, said MTA spokesman Jeremy Soffin.

Meanwhile, up in Albany:

• The Senate Transportation Committee advanced its $1.76 million rescue plan for the MTA along party lines. Democrats hope to pass the bill next Wednesday, but support for the proposal has crumbled.

• A growing chorus of leaders, including Gov. David Paterson, blasted the $1 surcharge on taxi rides included in the Senate's proposal, as half of it goes to funding transportation projects outside the city.

Even if Albany acts, it's fast becoming too late to reverse the fare increase. Local stations will begin to receive the new fare table next week in preparation for the May 31 hike, Transit spokesman Paul Fleuranges said.

“Million of New Yorkers are scratching their heads and getting very, very angry,” said Gene Russianoff, of the Straphangers Campaign.

The agency's board will begin to discuss options to plug this year's during its meeting Wednesday. MTA officials could not say yesterday if it would need to enact additional cost saving measures this year.

Tags: mta , new york city , transit

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