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Mr. Linsky
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PostPosted: Wed Nov 19, 2008 3:02 am    Post subject: 'MTA PLANS INCREASES IN FARES AND TOLLS' Reply with quote

M.T.A. Said to Plan 23% Increase in Fare and Toll Revenue

Published: November 18, 2008 The New York Times

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority will seek to increase fare and toll revenues by 23 percent next year to plug a yawning budget gap, according to a person briefed on the plan.

To Plug Gap, M.T.A. Ponders Deep Service Cuts
but the increase will not be enough on its own. Faced with its worst financial problems in more than two decades, the authority has also drafted proposals for deep budget cuts, including reductions in service that call for the elimination of two subway lines and cutbacks on bus routes and commuter trains.

The result is straightforward and grim: Many riders will have to pay more to wait longer for trains and buses that are more crowded.

The fare and toll increase is intended to raise about $600 million next year, about half of the $1.2 billion deficit projected for next year. The increase would go into effect in June or July.

The authority will outline the budget proposals at a meeting of its board on Thursday, but officials said they had not yet worked out details of how the changes would affect different types of MetroCard fares on subways and buses, as well as fares on the commuter railroads.

It appears likely, however, that the base subway and bus fare would increase to at least $2.50, from $2, and that a monthly unlimited-ride MetroCard could rise to about $100.

The authority must enact a balanced budget in December, and any fare and toll increases or service cuts would have to be approved by a vote of its board.

The steep fare increases will undoubtedly add to the debate surrounding the authority’s finances and add to pressure on public officials to craft a rescue package.

In the meantime, the authority’s deficit projections continue to go up.

Just last week, the authority forecast that next year’s budget shortfall had jumped by $300 million, to $1.2 billion. This week, as officials prepared to unveil the fare increases and service cuts, they revised that forecast again.

Plummeting taxes on real estate transactions will take another $26 million out of the authority’s budget for this year. That will add to next year’s shortfall by further draining the authority’s cash reserves. Rising labor costs could also add tens of millions of dollars to next year’s shortfall, authority board members say.

The proposed service cuts are expected to include eliminating the Z and W subway lines and truncating two others: the M line would end at Broad Street in Manhattan and not run to Brooklyn, and the G line would end at Court Square in Queens and not run to Forest Hills.

Riders on the M reacted with a combination of despair and resignation to the proposal, parts of which were first reported in The Daily News on Tuesday.

“I’ll probably get home later each day,” said Ben Nazario, 59. “I’m going to have to get up at least 20 minutes earlier each morning.” Mr. Nazario, an employment counselor, lives in Dyker Heights, Brooklyn, and rides the M train each day to work at Borough of Manhattan Community College in Lower Manhattan.

He said that if Brooklyn service on the M were eliminated, he would have to alter his commute by taking a bus from his house to an R station about 20 minutes away.

Along the J and Z lines, riders bemoaned the prospect of losing the Z, which operates skip-stop service with the J during peak hours. When the Z is gone, the J will make all stops on the line.

“It’s going to be fewer trains but the fare’s going up?” said Hattie S. Parnell, 42, a social worker who rides the J.

She said people were already jammed onto the trains during the rush. “It will be overcrowded,” she said.

In other planned cuts in service, fewer subway trains would run during off-peak hours, increasing riders’ waits. Nighttime trains would run only once every half hour, an increase of 10 minutes.

Off-peak bus service would also be reduced, with cuts focused primarily on areas that are also served by the subway. One example: The X27 and X28 express buses, which run from Brooklyn to Manhattan, would not run on weekends.

Many subway station booths would also be closed and the station agents’ jobs will be cut.

Service cuts on the Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North Railroad are also expected. Cuts on Metro-North are expected to include running trains with fewer cars at times when ridership is lower, an official said.

The new proposal for a 23 percent increase in fare and toll revenue replaces an earlier plan for an 8 percent increase next year. The authority was forced to consider the larger figure because of its growing deficit projections.

The tax collection report that arrived late last week was $15 million below the authority’s forecast. Officials said they also expected December real estate tax receipts to come in $11 million below expectations, for a total decline of $26 million in the last two months of the year.

The change raised questions about the authority’s real estate tax estimates for next year, but Jeremy Soffin, a spokesman for the authority, said officials did not plan to revise their projections further.

Some board members have also questioned the authority’s estimates of what it will spend next year in labor costs after it negotiates new contracts with several unions, including the Transport Workers Union, whose contract expires in mid-January.

While the authority has estimated that its new contracts will increase labor costs by about 3 percent, it has also predicted that it will recoup half of those increases through concessions and productivity gains from the unions. As a result, it has budgeted labor cost increases relating to new contracts at just 1.5 percent next year. And it has valued the union concessions at $53 million.

Some board members, including the chairman, H. Dale Hemmerdinger, have expressed skepticism that the authority can achieve that much in savings, particularly in light of recent contracts signed by the city with municipal unions calling for a 4 percent salary increase next year.

Colin Moynihan and Rebecca White contributed reporting.

Mr. Linsky - Green Bus Lines, Inc., Jamaica, NY
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