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MTA chief Prendergast seeks $300M in city funding, calls service a 'bargain'

Metropolitan Transportation Authority Chairman and CEO Thomas F.

Metropolitan Transportation Authority Chairman and CEO Thomas F. Prendergast testifies at a hearing of the New York City Council Committees on Transportation and Finance on Monday June 1, 2015. Credit: Bryan R. Smith / Bryan R. Smith

The chief of the MTA Monday implored New York City officials to step up their transit funding, reasoning that the city is not paying nearly enough for what it gets in return.

Metropolitan Transportation Authority chairman Thomas Prendergast, testifying at a meeting of the City Council, urged the city to boost its yearly capital subsidy to $300 million. That's an increase of 140 percent over the city's planned $125 million -- itself an increase from the $100 million the MTA has received in recent years.

"I believe the city can and should do more to support its transit network and now is the time to stand up and do something," Prendergast told members of the council's finance and transportation committees. "It's easy to ask for more service on a subway or route. It's easy to wait for somebody else to act. It's harder to step up and provide more funding."

The MTA last year requested a funding increase to $125 million, but on the same day last month that Mayor Bill de Blasio agreed to the amount in his proposed executive budget, Prendergast asked for it to be increased to $300 million.

Monday, Julissa Ferreras, chair of the council finance committee, told Prendergast the change was "incredibly frustrating."

"How are we supposed to engage in a conversation or a negotiation when you keep moving the goal post?" Ferreras said.

Prendergast took responsibility for the poor timing of his request, saying he was more focused on state capital funding when he made his initial request in September. He said the agency revised the amount after hearing from several transit and finance experts in recent months.

The MTA's proposed $32 billion capital program, which aims to pay for infrastructure maintenance and improvement projects through 2019, remains $14 billion short on funding.

And while the MTA keeps pressure on the State Legislature to come up with ways to fill most of the budget gap, it has also said the city has a responsibility to do more because it directly benefits from transit more than any other party. More than half of the MTA's proposed capital program is earmarked for the city subway system, which is experiencing record ridership. Prendergast has noted that if the city merely kept up with inflation since contributing $136 million to the MTA's first capital program more than 30 years ago, its subsidy would be up to $363 million a year.

"When you consider what our city gets in return for the funds it invests in the MTA, you could say it is quite the bargain," Prendergast said.

The council will decide on its MTA subsidy when it approves its final city budget this month.

Gene Russianoff, spokesman for the nonprofit Straphangers Campaign, said the MTA's late change was inartful and inept and suggested it was another example of poor on-time performance.

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