UPDATE Subway riders should expect significant shut-downs of lines that use tubes to move in and out of Manhattan--but not as bad as the current 14-month closure of the R train tunnel under New York harbor. That's the warning from MTA chairman Tom Prendergast.
The head of the nation's largest transit system spent almost half an hour fielding questions on everything from subway countdown clocks to a rail link to LaGuardia to whether or not the MTA should be controlled by NYC's mayor.
The deficits looming at New York's MTA won't be quite as high as projections from a few months ago -- but the nation's largest transit agency says biannual fare hikes are still necessary. Translation: riders will pay more for a MetroCard in both 2015 and 2017.
(With reporting from Pat Bradley, WAMC) Earlier this week, New York MTA Chairman Joseph Lhota and NYC Transit President Tom Prendergast made a 300 mile pilgrimage north to a place of significance to city transit riders: the Bombardier manufacturing plant in Plattsburgh, New York.
"My understanding is two-thirds of all the equipment that's been made here has actually shown up at either the New York City Transit Authority, or the Long Island Rail Road, or Metro-North," said Lhota.
And that trend will continue: in June, the MTA signed a $600 million contract with Bombardier to build 300 new subway cars. Those cars are in the design phase and will be delivered to NYC in 2015.
Lhota told reporters that while he toured the facility, he paid attention to the little details. "When I was on the train that's being built for NJ Transit," he said, "I was noticing they put little coat racks behind each one of the chairs, where someone could put a coat or a sweater, or put their purse -- that's a great little feature."
He also took the opportunity to point out that what's good for downstate transit is good for upstate.
"Whenever I go to Albany, and I want to talk about the MTA -- for those folks who are not from the New York metropolitan area, they're going to say 'well, why should we care about the MTA?'" Lhota recounted. "Most of what we spend on our capital program -- the billions of dollars that we spend on new cars, on rails -- most, not all of it, but a huge majority of it, is made in New York State....we need the product, we help people up here get the jobs."
Fare evasion costs New York City $100 million a year. And it's worse on buses than subways.
Putting an exact number on the city's problem is difficult, officials said at Monday's New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority committee meeting. Thomas Prendergast, the president of New York City Transit, said "I believe the number is between $50 and $75 million (annually)."
But later that morning, an MTA official said internal estimates put that number closer to $100 million a year -- with fare evasion on buses alone accounting for over $50 million a year.
MTA head Joe Lhota said he met last month with NYPD commissioner Ray Kelly. The result: police are stepping up enforcement and spot checks on buses -- and the effort involves both uniform and undercover officers.
"This new effort has just started," said Lhota, "and I think we'll see the fruit of this relatively soon."
So far this year (as of 6/24), police have made 1,228 "theft of service" arrests on city buses. That's up 72% compared to the same period last year.
Thomas Prendergast said he found some of the fare evasion numbers surprising. "We have the higher end of the rates in Staten Island," he said, "where there's a lot of school service and a lot of the fare evasion may be students."
So far this year there have been 60 arrests for fare evasion in that borough.
Prendergast said he wanted to produce a thorough report on the problem, "rather than just making anecdotal comments."
One board member asked Prendergast why fare evasion occurs more often on buses. "At the front end of my career," said Prendergast, "I drove a bus for 30 days and qualified as a bus operator in Chicago. And let me tell you, it's one of the most difficult jobs."
He then painted a stark picture of a situation drivers could find themselves in. "If you want to work midnight to eight, by yourself on a bus, and challenge somebody for a fare -- we require people to challenge once for a fare -- versus sitting in a booth and calling someone if someone doesn't pay a fare -- it's a very, very complicated issue."
And not a financially insignificant one. "Every dollar we can save from fare evasion is a dollar we can spend for other things," he said.
To give that $100 million figure some context: in 2010, the MTA cut 38 bus lines -- and reduced service on 76 more -- to save $93 million a year.