Updated 12/15/2008 11:18 PM
Express Riders Get Reprieve In MTA Budget Talks
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Higher fares and fewer trains and buses, that's what riders can expect next year under the MTA's doomsday budget, which was approved Monday by the MTA board's finance committee.
Board members voiced their displeasure during the meeting, including rider representative Andrew Albert.
"I'm just very sorry that this is the only thing that we're left with here. It's not acceptable to me," said Albert.
"This is the best cut that this staff and board can do to reduce the pain to the least possible amount given the circumstances that we're faced," said MTA Chairman Dale Hemmerdinger.
One group did get a reprieve Monday -- riders of express buses, who would've been hit especially hard under the budget proposal first announced last month.
That move would have raised the express bus fare from $5 per ride to $7.50, a 50 percent hike.
The MTA is now proposing a $6.25 fare, a move pushed by Mayor Bloomberg's representatives on the board, who felt express bus riders were shouldering an unfair burden.
"We have to make priorities and the priority I think that this sets is, pain will be shared equally, however bad it may be," said MTA Board Member Jeffrey Kay.
MTA officials are hopeful the proposed fare hikes and service cuts can be scaled back across the board, if the state acts on the recommendations of the Ravitch Commission.
The panel, appointed by Governor Paterson, proposed a smaller fare hike, new tolls on the East River and Harlem River bridges and a new payroll tax to help plug the MTA's $1.2 billion deficit.
"Our fervent hope is that the legislature will adopt the Ravitch recommendations, that we will not have to do this. We share your outrage," said MTA Executive Director & CEO Elliot "Lee" Sander.
The MTA's doomsday budget is expected to be approved by the full MTA board at its meeting on Wednesday. But that still leaves the state legislature about three months to come to the rescue. That's because a final board vote on the increase won't happen until March, with the hikes taking effect in June.
Of course, by then, the MTA's finances could be in even worse shape, given that tax revenue in December came in $27 million short of projections made just last month.
"It does show how frightening this economy can be in terms of our sensitive taxes," said MTA Chief Financial Officer Gary Dellaverson.