Statement of the Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee to the MTA
Before the MTA Board Meeting
March 25, 2009
I am William Henderson, Executive Director of the Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee to the MTA. The PCAC is composed of the members of three riders’ councils established by the State legislature in 1981 and addresses regional issues as well as coordinating the work of the councils.
We come to a point today where there aren’t many choices remaining. This Board has stated many times since releasing the fare, toll, and service proposals before you that it will act to implement these proposals if additional funding is not forthcoming. The law requires the Board to adopt and implement a budget that makes the MTA financially self sustaining, and fare and toll increases and service cuts are the tools that the Board has to accomplish this end. These service cuts and fare increases will result in substantial pain for riders, some of whom face monthly commuting cost increases of over $100 for diminished levels of service. We do not accept the fare increases and particularly do not accept the service cuts that will likely be approved today, but we recognize that the Board is doing what it sees as its duty.
The economic downturn brought these funding issues to a head much more quickly than might otherwise have been expected, but both the MTA and transit advocates have for several years warned of an approaching financial crisis created by excessive borrowing and unreliable revenues. The PCAC has consistently decried the borrowing that financed the 2000-2004 Capital Program and called for the establishment of a stable, reliable, and inflation sensitive funding base for public transportation in our region. The good news is that it is still not too late to pull back from the brink and set the MTA’s finances on the right path.
Now is the time for our State elected representatives to do what needs to be done. Transit is the lifeblood of our region. Both our economy and our way of life are dependent on keeping our public transportation system financially healthy and in good repair. We are dismayed that we have seen little movement on this issue in Albany and detect a seeming unwillingness in the State Senate to face the reality of the MTA’s funding needs. The PCAC recognizes that there is discomfort in Albany with some elements of the Ravitch Commission proposals, but these proposals cannot be rejected out of hand as a foundation for building a stable funding structure for the MTA. Moreover, it is incumbent on those who reject these proposals to offer better alternatives in addition to criticisms.
Unfortunately, we have seen few programs put forward that responsibly address the region’s transit needs for the long run. One point is clear. If no funding package is approved in Albany, great damage will be done to the riders, but also to the MTA and its operating agencies and to the City, region, and State. Decades have been invested in bringing the MTA system back from the brink, and we cannot afford to throw this progress away because we refuse to face reality and do what needs to be done.
We championed increased openness and efficiency at the MTA and its agencies and support efforts to make the MTA more transparent and cost effective. As in any large organization, there are elements of the MTA and its agencies that can be improved, but reforms and adequate funding must proceed hand in hand. For this arrangement to succeed, the MTA must take the actions necessary to assure legislators that public funds are being spent prudently. This arrangement must succeed because riders need the services that they rely upon to be available every day at a reasonable fare. They can’t afford to wait for the State to provide necessary funding to restore service. Riders are under stress from every direction; we must at least remove the burden of crippling fare increases and draconian service cuts from their backs.