Wednesday, May 06, 2009

M.T.A. Bill Gets Green Light From Legislative Leadership

Richard Ravitch is happy, Gene Russianoff is happy and the three men in the room are ecstatic over the fact they got something passed to help out the struggling M.T.A. Although Ravitch and Russianoff would have preferred something better, perhaps a little more comprehensive, they realize that in Albany, simply passing a bill, whether it does the job or not is a success. So with all this cheering, what can straphangers expect to find come June?

From The NY Times:

Under the deal, the base fare for a single bus or subway ride would rise to $2.25 from $2. The cost of a monthly MetroCard would probably rise to about $89 from $81, according to officials in the Legislature. Other fares and tolls, including tickets on the Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North Railroad, would go up about 10 percent.[...]

The legislative leaders also agreed to set a single rate for the payroll tax in all 12 counties served by the authority — a tax of 34 cents for every $100 of payroll. An earlier Senate version of the plan called for a lower rate in three outlying counties.

The payroll tax is expected to raise $1.53 billion a year.

The plan also includes a series of charges on vehicles and drivers in the 12- county region: a 50-cent surcharge on taxi rides, a $25 increase in vehicle registration fees, a 25 to 30 percent rise in drivers’ license fees and a 5 percent increase in a tax on car rentals. Those fees are expected to generate a total of $270 million a year.

So there you have it, the damage, so to speak is spread out amongst straphangers, drivers and employers, though more so on the employers. For a last minute maneuver, Silver, Smith and Paterson did a decent job. The only problem is that the M.T.A. is still going to consider another increase in a few months, so we'll see what the Legislature can do when the next deadline looms.

For now though, subway riders will have to pay a little more instead of a lot, drivers won't be tolled on East River bridges, taxi cab riders are only looking at a 50 cent surcharge instead of a dollar and service cuts will be avoided. For the next few months at least, doomsday has been averted.

Yet for some reason I can't get the thought out of my head that this was all some sort of psychological game played out before us. Drivers are still getting higher tolls where tolls exist and their fees are going up. Mass transit riders still have to pay more after an increase in the fare last year (those of us that buy weekly or monthly cards, which is for most New Yorkers), making the increase on a monthly between 2007 and now roughly 18%. Tolls have also risen at an astronomical rate. Then in 2011 and 2013 the fares will go up another 7.5% each time. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that these costs beat the rate of inflation, and at the same time we have a state government that passes bloated budgets every year.

Next year, instead of acting like pigs at a trough, perhaps our represenatives could get together and revamp the way the M.T.A. is funded, so that we do not have to face a crisis over fares whenever the economy sours. Relying on real estate and sales taxes is simply an unstable solution. When the Republicans were in charge, they probably realized this, but instead of remeding the situation, they tacked on more than a billion dollars in debt to the M.T.A. and magnified the problem. Instead of patting each other's backs over this quick fix, Smith, Silver and Paterson would do right by attacking the core of the problem and ensure that we continue to have the best mass transit system in the country for decades to come.