The Board of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority passed a budget and financial plan that would shrink service options for disabled riders beginning in April 2010.
The service cuts are similar to those that were approved and then rescinded earlier this year when the state government provided a $2.3 billion annual funding package.However, the paratransit cuts have changed. In lieu of the proposed fare hike that drew strong criticism, the MTA has proposed changing the nature of the service, bringing customers to accessible subway and bus stops rather than their destinations.
Gary Dellaverson, the MTA’s chief financial officer, said “the amount of savings that are associated with that are quite substantial.” The savings are estimated at $40 million in 2010 and $80 annually for the next three years.
Critics say the MTA could achieve the same savings with less pain for customers by increasing its use of taxi vouchers for riders who are able to use cabs instead of the costly van service.
Service requirements and eligibility screenings are regulated by the Americans with Disabilities Act, which requires transit providers to offer comparable service to people who are unable to use mass transit because of a disability.
The cuts to bus service, which would be particularly problematic for seniors and people with physical challenges, include the elimination of weekend service on more than 40 bus routes and weekday service on 18 routes. Click here to view the list.
The subway cuts include eliminating the Z and W subway routes and reducing subway frequency during early mornings and on weekends. Subways would be scheduled to arrive every 30 minutes instead of every 20 minutes from 2 to 5 am.
The MTA would accelerate its elimination of 800 station assistant and supervisory positions, which was taking place through attrition, by having layoffs. The authority plans to reduce its managerial expenses by 5 percent, which includes the elimination of supervisory positions.
The MTA also added a proposal to phase out free student MetroCards for 550,000 children, which generated intense public criticism. Some opponents say that proposal is a cry for help to the state and city governments and is unlikely to go forward.
Public hearings on the budget will take place this winter and the planned cuts could be averted or altered if the city or state provides additional funding. Jay Walder, the authority's new chairperson, said, “This is the start of the process. It is not the conclusion of the process."
The plan emerged suddenly following a string of bad financial news for the authority that was announced in the last two weeks, totaling a $383 million funding loss. Even Walder said he received the budget just one week before the vote and plans to examine it in greater detail over the next few weeks.
The MTA lost $143 million in funding through state budget cuts that were part of the $2.7 billion deficit reduction legislation announced by Governor David Patterson on December 2.
The state also lowered its estimate for the payroll mobility tax to the MTA, which was part of the April funding package, to $229 million below the initial projection. Dellaverson attributed the lower projection to lack of compliance by some of the individuals who owe the tax, and said the state expects $129 million to be recovered in 2010.
On December 11, a State Supreme Court Judge affirmed the authority’s obligation to provide 4 percent annual pay raises to members of the Transport Workers Union in 2009 and 2010. The ruling, which upholds an arbitration panel’s decision in August, will cost the authority an initial $91 million.
In a PDF document presented to the Board, the MTA showed that its funding for the more than $200 million student MetroCard program has risen substantially while city and state funding for the program have shrunk to a fraction of its total cost.
"Students should not have to pay to get to school but the MTA should not have to pay for it," said Ira Greenberg, a non-voting member of the Board.
The December 14 document also shows that the city’s funding for Access-A-Ride declined from $102 million in 2007 to $71 million in 2009 while the cost of the program grew to more than $500 million.
According to a report by the city’s Independent Budget Office, the city is required to provide one-third of Access-A-Ride’s operating expenses minus fare revenue, administrative expenses and urban tax revenue, but the annual increase of the city’s contribution is limited to 20 percent.
The full Board approved the plans with a 12-0 vote at its monthly meeting Wednesday.
Board member Allen Cappelli voted against the plan in the Finance Committee meeting but approved the plan in the Board vote, saying he was "voting to stop the clock," to meet the Board's legal obligation to pass a balanced budget. But he added, "It is just a sickening prospect to deal with."
Board member Norman Seabrook instructed the Board at the Monday meeting to record a “no” vote for him on Wednesday, saying, "We’re really doing something here that is totally insane." However, his vote did not appear to be counted in his absence.
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