Readers Write: MTA fare hikes needed

Readers Write: MTA fare hikes needed

Any Metropolitan Transportation Authority, Long Island Rail Road, New York City Transit bus, subway or MTA bus riders, elected official or transit advocate who opposes potential proposed fare hikes in 2017 missed the reason why fare hikes occur.  
Prior to 1965, the Long Island Rail Road derived almost 100 percent of its funding for both capital and operating expenses from fares.  
Chartered by the New York State Legislature in 1965 as the Metropolitan Commuter Transportation Authority, it was created to purchase and operate the bankrupt LIRR.  
The MCTA changed its name to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority in 1968 when it took over operations of the New York City Transit Authority. 
Over the past 52 years, billions of dollars in combined county city, state and federal taxpayers generated dollars have subsidized both the capital and operating costs for the LIRR. 
For decades, under numerous past MTA Five-Year Capital Plans starting in 1981, both the city and state collectively cut billions of their own respective financial contributions. 
They repeatedly had the MTA refinance or borrow funds to acquire scarce capital funding formerly made up by hard cash from both City Hall and Albany.  
On a bipartisan basis, this included past New York State governors Mario Cuomo, George Pataki, Elliot Spitzer and David Patterson.  
Gov. Cuomo has only made available $1 billion of the $8.3 billion leaving a balance of $7.3 billion he promised toward funding the $27 billion MTA 2015 – 2019 capital program plan. 
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio still owes his pledge of $2.5 billion toward the same program. 
Billions more are still needed from both the state and city to make up for past cuts over previous decades.  
Everyone insisted that the MTA continue financing more and more of the capital program by borrowing.  
As a result, 17 percent of the annual MTA budget goes for covering the costs of debt service payments.  
By the next MTA 2020-2024 capital program plan, it would not surprise anyone if this continues growing closer to 20 percent.  
This means less money is available for operations to provide more frequent service to riders.  
It also means there is less money just to maintain the state of good repair and safety. 
At the end of the day, the cupboard may be bare for any system expansion.
Contrast City Hall and Albany with Washington.  
Federal support for transportation has remained consistent and growing over past decades.  
When a crises occurred be it 9-11 in 2001 or Hurricane Sandy in 2012 — Washington was there for us.  
Additional billions in assistance above and beyond yearly formula allocations from the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Transit Administration was provided. 
In 2009, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act provided billions more.
Most federal transportation grants require a 20 percent hard-cash local share.  
In many cases, United States Department of Transportation and Federal Transit Administration accepted toll credits instead of hard cash local share.  
This saved the MTA $1 billion in the previous 2010-2014 five year capital program.  
The same will be true with the 2015-2019 five year capital program.
Fare hikes are periodically required if the MTA and operating agencies such as the LIRR are to provide the services millions of New Yorkers on a daily basis count on. 
They are inevitable due to inflation along with increasing costs of labor, power, fuel, supplies, materials, routine safety, state of good repair, replacement of worn out rolling stock, upgrades to stations, yards and shops along with system expansion projects necessary to run any transit system.
For those public officials and others who oppose any fare increases and will be quick to demagogue on this issue, for political purposes to win upcoming elections, just how would you assist the MTA in balancing financial shortfalls? 
Which capital improvement projects would you propose the MTA cancel to help balance the budget and avoid fare increases? 
Which route(s) would you support service reductions to save operating dollars? 
Would you volunteer to reduce service, cancel or delay any capital projects benefiting constituents in your district?
MTA services continue to be one of the best bargains in town. 
Since the 1950s, the average cost of riding either the bus, subway or commuter rail has gone up at a lower rate than either the consumer price index or inflation. 
The Metro Card introduced in 1996 affords a free transfer between bus and subway. 
Prior to this, riders had to pay two full fares.
A majority of residents purchase either a weekly or monthly LIRR pass and or New York City Transit bus/subway metro card to further reduces the cost per ride. 
Many employers offer transit checks, which pay even more of your costs.  
Regular daily commuters can also save money by having employers joining the Transit Cheks program.  
This helps pay for a significant portion of a weekly or monthly LIRR commutation ticket. Transit Chek allows employees to save monthly on their commute to work.  Commuters can use pre-tax dollars to pay for commutes up to $255 per month for bus, subway, ferry or commuter rail and save on taxes. Employers save money by reduction in payroll taxes with every dollar an employee deducts.
In the end, quality and frequency of service is dependent upon secure revenue streams. 
We all will have to contribute — be it at the fare box or tax revenues generated by different levels of government redistributed back to the MTA. 
TANSTAFFL or “There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch” or in this case a free ride. 
Larry Penner
Larry Penner is a transportation historian and advocate who previously worked 31 years for the United States Department of Transportation Federal Transit Administration Region 2 NY Office

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