By N. Clark Judd
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority voted this morning to institute a series of fare hikes and service cuts throughout the subway, bus, Metro-North and Long Island Rail Road systems, which will be phased in between May and July.
The vote delivered on a promise MTA officials made earlier this month to institute a so-called “doomsday” budget if the state Legislature and Gov. David Paterson could not agree on a program that would increase revenue for the public benefit corporation. In the wake of the vote, lawmakers and MTA executives continued to do what they have been doing since December, when plans began to circulate that would generate more revenue for the public benefit corporation — they pointed fingers.
As a result of the vote, two bus lines in the Northwest Bronx will likely be eliminated, another line through Riverdale will cease to run at night, and the base subway and Access-a-Ride fare will increase to $2.50, among other service cuts and fare increases.
In remarks delivered this morning, MTA Chairman Dale Hemmerdinger laid blame for the changes at the feet of three state lawmakers — two of whom represent the Bronx — who refused to go along with earlier plans because of tolls on the East and Harlem River bridges. The three state senators, Pedro Espada Jr., Ruben Diaz and Carl Kruger, later backed an alternate plan that did not include bridge tolls and called for greater oversight by the state comptroller over the MTA.
“For years some of our most vocal critics have made careers out of calling for more transparency at the MTA,” Mr. Hemmerdinger said, according to an e-mailed press release.
“At the core of our structural deficits is a starvation diet from some of the very same folks who have abandoned us now,” he later added. “It includes most, but probably not all, of the internal, external, formal and informal oversight entities and processes we’re subject to. It’s remarkable we can get anything done with all the folks we have looking over our shoulders. But we do.”
The first plan to give the MTA more revenue-generation options, produced by a commission led by former MTA Chairman Richard Ravitch, included tolls on the East and Harlem River bridges, a one-third-of-one-percent payroll tax, and fare increases.
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver proposed a compromise plan that would tie all the tolls to the cost of a subway fare; the Ravitch plan would have done that for Harlem River bridges only, and set the other bridge tolls equal to those at other major MTA bridges.
Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith gained the support of Mr. Espada and Mr. Diaz with his counter-proposal, which also lowered the payroll tax and fare increases, but deferred addressing costs of capital projects. The MTA will deliver its next capital plan in October.
Mr. Paterson, Mr. Ravitch and MTA officials publicly rejected that plan.
In an e-mailed statement released this morning, Mr. Espada, who represents parts of Fieldston, Riverdale and Kingsbridge, showed no signs of budging from his position.
“I believe there is ample time for Albany to step in and prevent these massive fare hikes and service cuts,” he said. “I remain optimistic that we will have a plan in short order to deal with the MTA’s operating subsidies and the capital plan. But I remain steadfast that the MTA must present an actual capital plan to the state Legislature before the Senate will approve any revenue stream for such a plan.”
While Mr. Hemmerdinger accused the lawmakers holding out against the Ravitch plan and Mr. Silver’s compromise proposal of holding the rest of the state’s leaders hostage, Mr. Diaz accused Mr. Hemmerdinger of doing much the same thing.
“They are holding the community hostage,” he said.
“They say no, you give me now, you give us now the money for the operational problems that we’re facing and you give us money for the capital plan that nobody knows what it is,” Mr. Diaz said. “Otherwise we’re going to shut out the services … and we’re going to blame you.”