Spreading the MTA Pain More in Some Places than Others

When Richard Ravitch (now lieutenant governor) unveiled his MTA bailout plan last December, he said he wanted to spread the pain equally. That's why he proposed tolls on the East River bridge. Car drivers benefit from mass transit too, he said, because without subways and buses, the roads would be even more crowded.

But the final legislation, passed in May, didn't work out that way. Democrats in the state Senate nixed the bridge tolls, and replaced them with a taxi surcharge (effective Sunday), a car rental fee, and modest increases in owning a car (enacted earlier this year).

Now that the 50-cent taxicab surcharge went into effect Sunday and the payroll tax is due today, we're looking at just how well the final bailout plan is spreading the pain.

Car owners get off quite easily, while those who take cabs to work fare (cough cough) the worst.

Each category of commuter, and how much more they pay a year:

TAXICAB COMMUTERS: $115 (.50 surcharge multiplied by 230 work days)

SUBWAY AND BUS RIDERS: $97.75 (.21 per ride, including MetroCard discount, multiplied by 230 round-trips)

CAR DRIVERS: $27 (additional $50 registration fee, good for two years; $16 more for licenses, good for eight years)

Plus, an extra 5 percent sales tax on car rentals will more likely be borne by people who don't have cars.

The biggest chunk of the bailout will be paid by employers in the region to the tune of 0.34 percent of their payroll. The total cost is $1.5 billion, which works out to about $238 for every worker in the 12-county MTA service area. Ravitch included that in his proposal too, saying all employers benefit from having a densely settled area that mass transit makes possible.

A spokesman for state Senator Carl Kruger, a chief opponent of the original Ravitch plan, said that if the bridge tolls had gone through, then those drivers would have borne the heaviest burden at all, more than $2,000 a year.

(The state Department of Labor provided total workforce numbers. Other figures come from the state Comptroller's June report (PDF) on the bailout.)