MTA Announces Doomsday Budget
by Jeffrey Harmatz
Nov 26, 2008 | 4078 views | 0 0 comments | 59 59 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Last week, the MTA proposed a “doomsday” budget that included severe service cuts to existing bus and train lines in an attempt to reduce the gap between their expenses and their revenue, but many elected officials are trying to hit the brakes on the cuts before they can pull out of the station.

The cuts, which will most dramatically affect residents of Brooklyn and Queens, will eliminate the W and Z lines, which serve residents in Astoria and Williamsburg, respectively. Other cuts include the removal of G service beyond Court Square and M service beyond Chambers Street.

Late-night wait times for all lines are expected to increase as well, while fares are expected to increase. The planned cuts have been met with criticism and outrage by virtually every elected official, not to mention the subway riders themselves.

“The MTA’s latest round of proposed fare hikes and service cuts is, in a word, unacceptable,” said Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz. “Slashing G train service past Long Island City would dramatically reduce the already limited direct subway routes for those who travel between Brooklyn and Queens, forcing them to travel far out of their way, all the way through Manhattan.”

On Monday, Brooklyn Community Board 1 held a town hall meeting to discuss transportation issues. The meeting was planned long in advance of the MTA’s proposed budget, but it was the service cuts that most concerned attendees.

The MTA was represented by Hilary Ring, director of Government Affairs, who explained how the MTA found itself in such a dire situation. The authority’s money comes primarily from New York City and New York State and a portion of taxes paid on real estate transactions. In the current economy, real estate sales have dramatically slowed, and neither the city nor the state are in any kind of financial shape to provide the MTA with more funding to make up for the loss.

“We think that the city and the state should give us more money so that we don’t have to go with our doomsday budget,” said Ring. “But we’re not going to sacrifice reliability, safety, and maintenance.”

Of primary concern at the meeting was service on the G and L trains. Though there are no specific cuts planned for the L train, the lack of expansion in the face of the mushrooming population of Williamsburg and the closure of the M8 cross-town bus in Manhattan will put even more strain on a line that is already beyond capacity. Councilwoman Diana Reyna criticized the MTA and the Bloomberg administration for creating the situation by refusing to factor transit needs into the rezoning of the Williamsburg waterfront, a situation that Ring blamed on the city.

Ring did provide some good news for L train riders at the meeting, revealing that the communication upgrades that caused two years of service changes and cancellations on the line were expected to pay off early next year.

The upgrades included a change to a completely automated communication-based system along the L line, but that the system could not go into effect until each and every L train was upgraded.

“We are now buying the last few cars we need to make the L train totally communication controlled,” said Ring. “We’ll be getting these new cars and putting them directly onto the L line. That’s when you’ll see an increase in service.”

Regarding the G train, Ring indicated that aside from cutting service between Court Square and Forest Hills, service would remain the same, with the same amount of trains running as before. The extension of G service to Church Avenue will also continue as planned.

One resident who attended the meeting asked Ring if the G service into Queens could be extended to Queens Plaza, thereby connecting with a far greater number of trains. Ring said that he would look into the matter, but that it was unlikely because of the arrangement of the tracks.

Another resident who said that he was a teacher and has had to deal with late and uncomfortable students because of the overcrowded L train asked why lines that service black and Hispanics are being cut while expansions to the 2nd Avenue subway and the Long Island Railroad continue as planned.

MTA representatives said that there was absolutely no bias involved in the decisions and that they felt that each department of the New York Transit Authority and each borough had made equal cuts.

At a meeting of Queens Community Board 1, Councilman Peter Vallone, Jr., spoke about his dissatisfaction with the MTA rather than the specific cuts, suggesting that the only way the MTA would become profitable is if they invested in capital expenditures to create a stronger economic base.

He also criticized the state, saying that New York City pays far more in taxes than it gets back, and said that if his proposal for the city to secede from New York State were enacted, there would be more accountable transit authority.

Ring suggested that, in order to prevent the expected cuts, New Yorkers should attend MTA hearings planned for January.

“This is not the budget we would like to see adopted,” said Ring.

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