Transit officials are planning for the worst, including cuts in subway, bus, and commuter rail service, as they deal with a nearly $900 million deficit.
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority's chief financial officer says he has told the heads of New York City Transit, Metro-North, and Long Island Rail Road to detail ways to cut four-and-a-half percent from their budgets in the event the economy deteriorates beyond the MTA's budget projections – or if the agency does not get enough funding from the state and city.
Agency heads are being told to target management- level expenses, but MTA officials acknowledge it would be tough to cut the budget any further without cutting service.
"Obviously we've got a big deficit," said Doreen Frasca, an MTA board member. "If our funding partners don't come through for us, everything's going to be on the table. But service cuts will be the last thing on the table."
The MTA has already proposed fare and toll increases that would go into effect in July.
Another controversial plan to bolster the MTA's finances appears headed for approval.
The MTA's finance committee narrowly approved a plan to charge the city for E-ZPasses used by police, fire, and other city agencies. The plan would require the agencies to get their own pre-paid E-ZPass accounts, just like all other users.
"There is no statutory provision that says that fire trucks don't pay tolls, just like there's no statutory provision that says fire trucks don't pay for gas or paint," said MTA Chief Financial Officer Gary Dellaverson.
The board voted 3-2 in favor of the plan, with Mayor Michael Bloomberg's appointees both voting against it.
"I just see this as not exactly the best way to work together with your funding partners, being namely the City of New York and the State of New York, by sending a bill," said Jeffrey Kay, director of the Mayor's Office of Operations.
The city says as a result of this move, agencies like the FDNY could be forced to make tough decisions.
"If they have to make a determination to pay $3 million to the MTA to cross a bridge on official business versus buying some new safety equipment that will help them in their day-to-day operations, I just think that's a travesty," said Kay.
The MTA's full board is expected to approve the measure tomorrow.