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MTA Budget Plan Includes "Drastic" Fare Hikes, Service Cuts

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TWC News: MTA Budget Plan Includes "Drastic" Fare Hikes, Service Cuts
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The Metropolitan Transportation Authority unveiled its 2009 budget at a board meeting Thursday in Midtown, following a period of public comment.

The so-called "Doomsday Budget" will sock riders with a steep fare hike and major service cuts.

MTA Executive Director and Chief Executive Officer Elliot "Lee Sander" said the agency is considering increasing fare and toll revenue by 23 percent to help close a $1.2 billion budget gap projected for next year. The gap is predicted to swell to $3 billion by 2012.

The agency could completely scrap bus and subway routes, including the M8 crosstown bus and the W and Z trains and several express bus routes.

Twenty-one local bus routes could also be eliminated during weekday hours. In Manhattan, the routes that would be eliminated would be the M6, M8, M10, M18, M27, and M30.

Queens will receive the most bus service cuts, with five local lines and two express lines to be completely eliminated. The MTA said those lines are either close to other bus and subway lines or have low ridership.

"The service cuts I'm proposing today are guided by two principles that we believe are essential: first, that we continue to insure safety, security, and reliability," said Sander. "And second, that we maintain our fundamental mission – getting people where they need to go."

According to the MTA, the routes proposed for elimination have "practical bus and or subway alternatives for customers along the entire length of the route."

Pay-per-ride and unlimited-ride MetroCards, along with fares for express buses and Access-a-Ride service could all be increased.

Also proposed were New York City Transit and MetroNorth job cuts.

The MTA proposed eliminating 2,500 positions in the subway and bus system alone – saving $300 million a year.

"These cuts and the hike are anathema to us," said Sander. I used the word draconian when we had the meeting November 10. It is not what we want to do."

Following Sander's presentation of the budget cuts necessary, board members spoke about what other taxes could be implemented.

Board member Norman Seabrook proposed a sin tax that would raise the taxes on cigarettes.

During a press conference after the meeting, Sander says many of the proposals could be scaled back if the state Legislature acts by February or March to forestall the fare increases and service cuts. The state could act if the Ravitch Commission, which is investigating new ways of funding the MTA, comes up with viable alternative funding solutions that could alleviate some of the pain.

"What we are hopeful is that the recommendations of the Ravitch Commission are endorsed by the governor, which I am highly optimistic will occur, as well as the legislature, so that we can prevent this," said Sander.

Among the dozen who testified ahead of the budget announcement were Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, Gene Russianoff of the Straphangers Campaign, an MTA station agent, and several transit union representatives.

All implored the agency to find other methods of gaining funding beside a fare increase and service cuts.

"This is not just about putting the burden of the MTA on the backs of hardworking New Yorkers," said Stringer. "We cannot simply announce proposals today that say to people barely making it that 'we're going to sink you.'"

Sander later appeared on Thursday's "Inside City Hall" on NY1, where he said the MTA needs more federal and state help to fund capital projects, to prevent the system from reverting to its lowest point since the 1970s.

"We have about $6 billion from the feds. If we get a better federal bill next year, maybe $10- to $12 billion. But you still have roughly a $15-20 billion gap on the capital program side," he said. "If we don't get the money to buy new subway cars, new buses, maintain the track, we're going back there."

Dozens gathered outside the meeting early Thursday morning to protest the proposed cuts. Later, many testified before the MTA board.

"The riders are not happy about being asked to pay a lot more for a lot less," said Gene Russianoff of the Straphangers Campaign. "Our hope is that the MTA and the legislative leaders will hear the cry of the riding public and come up with a fare solution to evenly spread the cost of transit."

"We're basically here today to say that the banks, and not the riders, should be the ones to bail out the MTA," said Tony Murphy of advocacy group Bail Out the People.

A series of public hearing on the proposed fare hike are scheduled for January.

Any changes would take effect in June.

Complete List Of Bus Routes To Be Affected

Local Routes That Face Elimination: B23, B25, B37, B39, B51, B75; Bx4, Bx14, Bx20, Bx34; M6, M8, M10, M18, M27, M30; Q26, Q56, Q74, Q75, Q84
Express Routes That Face Elimination: X25, X32, QM22, QM23 and BxM7B
Local Routes That Will Lose Both Weekend And Overnight Service:
B7, B48, B57, B65, M22 and M50

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