New York, NY —
The board members of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority have approved service cuts to the city's train and bus systems. The changes, intended to trim the MTA's budget, include cuts to student metrocards, as well as eliminating the W and Z subway lines and two dozen bus routes.
MTA Chair Jay Walder says he understands today's budget proposal could cause "real pain" for New Yorkers. And he says his agency must take steps to improve how it uses taxpayers' dollars.
"We need to rethink every aspect of our operation. We need to permanently reduce the cost of what we're doing. In short, we need to take the place apart," Walder says.
The MTA is required by law to end the year with a balanced budget. It has said it couldn't have predicted how badly its finances would suffer during this year's financial downturn.Visit the WNYC News Blog to see how the MTA budget unraveled so quickly.
About two dozen people spoke at the public comment period before the MTA board meeting this morning. They wanted the agency board to call off the budget cuts.
Elected officials, led by City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, called for the MTA to hold off on a proposal to start charging students for their Metrocards. Quinn is urging the MTA to come up with alternative ways to address the agency's nearly $400 million budget gap. She says the agency should consider using capital funds to help pay for this year's operating expenses. She also says the agency's current plan, including cuts to service, is too last minute.
"There has been practically no opportunity for the public to understand these cuts and to comment on these cuts," Quinn says. "This has been a completely undemocratic process."
Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer also spoke against the changes. "You must not pass this budget proposal, which will only enhance the anxiety of our students, seniors, people with disabilities," he said. "You must put many more ideas on the table."
Currently New York City schoolchildren, most of whom are poor enough to qualify for free lunches, get free Metrocards to cover transportation to and from school. But state and city subsidies for the discounts have been declining or remained flat, while the MTA's burden has been growing.
MTA board member James Sedore says the issue over student Metrocards has been miscast to pit the MTA against families with school children. He says MTA should NOT be the one to bear the cost of school transportation.
"Is this not the responsibility of the NYC education system? This would be consistent with the Long Island and MetroNorth regions, where the parents pay the cost of school transportation in their school tax payments," Sedore says.
The changes won't go into effect for another six months and could be averted if the city and state restore funding.