The Metropolitan Transit Authority has taken drastic steps to balance its budget, voting to shut down 24 New York City bus lines and reduce service and maintenance throughout the metropolitan region beginning May 31 unless the state legislature steps in. The cuts will come with fare increases of 18% or more for the system’s 8.5 million daily riders.
The authority’s board of directors voted 12-1 on Wednesday to support the changes, which are intended to help plug a $1.2 billion budget gap for the coming fiscal year.
Subway and bus fares will rise from $2 to $2.50 with an unlimited monthly MetroCard climbing from $81 to $103. Fares for the Long Island Rail Road and MetroNorth service on the East of Hudson lines will increase from 18-30%. MetroNorth’s West of Hudson service will rise as much as 72%. More than 1,000 MTA employees will lose their jobs.
MTA commissioners who support the new measures said they are a last resort to reserve cash to pay for everything from bus fuel to conductors’ salaries. Elliot Sander, executive director of the MTA, said the measures are needed to prevent the system from returning to “the disorder and dysfunction of the 70s and 80s.”
But transit advocates and Commissioner Norman Seabrook (see photo above), who cast the lone dissenting vote on all changes, said the impact on the public is too great to justify support for the measures.
“The mass transit system is not a luxury – it’s a necessity for the men, women and children, seniors who use it. We cannot, absolutely cannot, make this happen today,” said Seabrook, who is president of the city's 9,500-member Correction Officers' Benevolent Association.
Both factions appealed to the New York state legislature to supply additional funds to prevent or reverse some of the changes before June. The state could also reduce the cuts by adding controversial new tolls on the East and Harlem River bridges and a new regional mobility tax, as recommended by an MTA commission charged with seeking out long-term revenue sources.
The changes approved by the board represent a scenario with no additional state or federal funding. The measures will not impact transit infrastructure so the service cuts could be restored as funding permits.
Some of the new measures will impact riders with special needs in particular.
In an effort to reduce 2009 operating expenses by $154.5 million, New York City Transit – a division of the MTA – will enact a series of cost-cutting measures that will increase travel time and distance in all five boroughs. They are summarized here.
These measures including closing 42 customer assistance booths in 36 stations that have more than one full-time booth, which would eliminate gate access at those entrances. This will increase travel distance for riders with wheelchairs who cannot use turnstiles. NYCT will also eliminate 570 customer assistants and 26 supervisors who were hired to make up for prior booth closures.
NYCT will increase its loading guidelines to 125% seated occupancy – up from 100% – on weekday trains from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 9 p.m. to 12 a.m., leaving fewer seats for seniors and riders with disabilities, and less room for wheelchairs. Subway service will also be consolidated and reduced and the Z and W trains will be eliminated.
In addition to terminating 24 bus routes, NYCT will stop service at 1:30 a.m. for 25 routes and cut weekend service on 28 more. Some riders with disabilities prefer buses to subways because they are simpler to board and do not depend on elevators that may break down.
NYCT’s environmental review of the impacts of bus and subway route eliminations and revisions showed that transit service in some neighborhoods in New York City and Nassau County “would be a longer walk, generally from ½ mile to a mile away.”
NYCT plans to reduce paratransit costs by “tightening” policies that suspend Access-A-Ride service to customers who miss multiple rides. A missed ride is recorded when a customer arrives more than five minutes late or cancels a trip after 5 p.m. the night before. Missing 60% of seven or more trips in a month is considered a violation of Access-A-Ride policies. NYCT also plans to increase its taxi voucher program and to provide paratransit service with its own staff instead of private contractors.
The board rescinded its plan to double the fare for Access-A-Ride and will instead raise the paratransit fare to $2.50. But the board has warned that further cost-cutting measures could be taken in the future.
Patricia Dolan, director of the Queens Connection – a transportation advocacy group for seniors – called on the MTA to abandon future Access-A-Ride increases, calling the prospect of doubling the paratransit fare “indefensible.”
“People who ride Access-A-Ride don’t do so because they want to. They do it because if they don’t they’re going to be stuck at home with everything that goes with that,” Dolan told the board.
I asked Commissioner Seabrook how these changes impact disabled riders in particular. He said, “I think they are going to have a major problem. If we’re closing stations, how are these riders who are less functional than other riders going to be able [to get inside] – going to have people to protect them? I think we’re headed for self-destruction with this system.”
Long Island Bus riders will face drastic changes as well, with the elimination of eight bus routes and a fare hike from $2 to $3.50 per ride. Long Island buses will no longer accept unlimited MetroCards, and the age requirement for fare discounts will rise from 60 to 65.
Cost-cutting measures will also impact the Long Island Rail Road’s efforts to protect customers from dangerous gaps between trains and stations, reducing the number of platform conductors funded by the Gap Safety Initiative from four to two. Gaps deter some wheelchair users from traveling by rail.
MTA Bridges and Tunnels will raise tolls by 27-30% on passageways including the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, the Henry Hudson Parkway and the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge.