Peter Kalikow

The Empire

For the MTA, current crisis is 30 years and a governor in the making

Thursday, August 25, 2011

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Jay Walder’s resignation as head of the MTA last month caught city and state officials totally by surprise. It also added another thing to sweat about during a brutal heat wave. The man that had guided the transit agency through the fiscal crisis fallout by implementing harsh but largely unavoidable cutbacks—fare hikes, and budget gouging—was leaving. He’s taking a gig in Hong Kong that pays three times as much, running a system that is posting sizable profits.

A few days later, Walder and the rest of the MTA board dropped the latest budget numberson riders. The agency’s five-year capital program—the money pool that pays for big projects, like construction on the 2nd Avenue subway line and the 7 train extension, as well as overall maintenance—was underfunded by $9 billion for the final three years. The agency is adding a fare hike in 2015, on top of the scheduled fare increase next year. It also wants to borrow $6.9 billion to help cover these costs.

This is a sorry song that straphangers have been listening to for years now. The public response was less of an outrage than an exhausted sigh. Given the perennial state of crises the MTA finds itself in, and the continued financial burdens being passed along to riders, it’s worth rememberingthe immortal words of David Byrne: “You may ask yourself, ‘Well, how did I get here?’”

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