Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Hard Times Hit Transit Riders With One-Two Punch

At the opening of his Oscar-winning film Annie Hall, Woody Allen tells a joke about two elderly women discussing their recent stay at a Catskills resort.
"The food taste like poison," complains one.

"Yeah, and such small portions," replies her friend.
That's what recessions are like, when it comes to transit services. Tax revenues fall short and government has to tighten its belt, holding back or reducing subsidies. When that happens, operating agencies like New York's Metropolitan Transportation Authority are forced to raise fares.

Then the other shoe drops: service cuts. Today's New York Daily News reports hard times are in store for New York City subway and bus riders. It says MTA plans to eliminate the W and Z subway lines, end express service on the J line and truncate the G and M lines. Other routes would see reduced frequencies during midday, overnight and weekend periods. The result would be more crowded trains and longer travel times for people who will now have to change trains as a result of elimination of direct service.

[Interestingly, the report only mentions lines serving Queens. What about the other boroughs, particularly the Bronx and Brooklyn? What about commuter rail?]

In subway-dependent New York, few passengers are likely to shift to driving. It's simply too impractical and too expensive for most. But, in how many other cities will the case be the same?

Over the coming year, fare hikes and service reductions are likely to be a recurring theme across the country. The question is whether they will cut into ridership, especially since gasoline prices currently are dropping about as fast as the value of your stock portfolio.

Transit managers will have to work creatively to hold onto the gains made over the past decade. It is not only good for their business model, but essential to a "green" economy.

TransitBlogger.com has a statement from MTA Deputy Director of Media Relations Jeremy Soffin stating:

"We will not comment on the specifics of gap closing measures until the budget is presented to the MTA Board on Thursday morning. As we have said previously, plummeting tax revenues have increased the MTA’s deficit to $1.2 billion. The MTA began belt tightening long before the current financial crisis, and budget cuts start with further significant administrative and managerial cuts.

The size of the deficit will also require a combination of fare/toll increases and service cuts, which will be presented on Thursday. We await the release of the Ravitch Commission recommendations in December and hope they will be implemented to restore financial stability to the MTA."
TransitBlogger adds that by keeping mum on the details, the MTA puts credence in the Daily News report.
"If this is the case, we are in deep trouble. I can only hope that when the official details come out during Thursday’s board meeting, our elected officials will wake up & realize that the MTA needs help & must get it one way or another."

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