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MTA: Revenue dropping, but no 2010 hikes planned

NEW YORK - NEW YORK (AP) — The recession is taking a growing toll on the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, despite a nearly $2.3 billion state bailout, but the nation's biggest mass-transit system said Wednesday that it still expects to get through 2010 without raising fares or cutting service.

The MTA said the bailout, cost-cutting and proceeds from recent fare and toll hikes will offset drops in tax revenue and ridership.

"The budget is balanced on the head of pin for the next few years, and if the wind doesn't blow too hard, we'll probably make it through," MTA board Chairman H. Dale Hemmerdinger said as the agency released its $11.9 billion 2010 operating budget proposal.

The $2.26 billion bailout, which raised payroll and other taxes in 12 metropolitan counties, has improved the MTA's fortunes substantially since the agency's last financial snapshot in February. Passed in the spring, it staved off major service reductions and slashed this year's fare and toll increase from 23 percent to 10 percent.

Those steps closed a projected deficit, though the MTA says its revenues continue to ebb.

Tax income from real estate sales is expected to fall this year by more than 50 percent from last year's total — a projection that has worsened significantly in just the last five months. Projected fare and toll collections also are dropping, with ridership off more than 3 percent since last year.

Meanwhile, the MTA faces rising expenses for pensions and paratransit, or disabled-accessible transportation, chief operating officer Gary Dellaverson said.

The agency has been trimming spending, in part by planning to eliminate about 360 maintenance, painting and management jobs in city buses and subways.

Those cuts, expected to save $37.7 million, are to be accomplished through attrition and reassignments, not layoffs. Still, they drew condemnation from the subway and bus workers' union, which called the plan a stealth service cut and said riders would face dirtier trains and buses.

"When Albany saved the MTA from its Doomsday budget earlier this year, the MTA promised Albany and straphangers that it would maintain current service as is," Transport Workers Union of America Local 100 said in a statement Wednesday. "With this move, they have reneged on that promise."

The union and agency are in arbitration after contract negotiations stalled in January.

The MTA expects revenue and ridership to start ticking up next year. With a 7.5 percent fare increase planned in 2011 and 2013, the agency isn't projecting deficits for the next three years. But the agency acknowledges that a worse-than-expected economy, volatile energy prices and other factors could derail their plan.

While officials' commitment to keep fares steady next year is heartening, "the bad news is that their finances beyond 2010 are very uncertain," said Gene Russianoff of the New York Public Interest Research Group's Straphangers Campaign, a rider advocacy group.

The 2010 operating budget won't go to a vote until December. An updated capital spending plan for big-ticket items is yet to come.

The MTA's transit network carries more than 8 million riders on an average day, while more than 800,000 vehicles use its bridges and tunnels.

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