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Comptroller to audit MTA

Only two months after raising bus and subway fares, the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) has just proposed a new fare hike - and New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli is worried. That’s why late last week he announced plans to audit the MTA to see if there are any ways it can save money.
On July 23, the Authority proposed an increase of 8 percent in 2009 followed by an increase of 5 percent in 2011 for subway, bus and regional rail fare.
The reason is an increased budget deficit. Because of rising fuel costs and the drop in real estate tax revenue paid to the MTA, the $216 million deficit projected for 2009 in February has grown to over $900 million, according to the Authority.
“What the comptroller is concerned about is that the MTA is coming back again and asking for a fare hike,” said Robert Whalen, spokesperson for the comptroller.
The audit will start in September, after the comptroller’s office finishes its current analysis of the Authority’s preliminary 2009 revenue plan, which was released on July 23, explained Whalen.
How long the audit will take and what aspects of the Authority’s affairs it will cover will not be known until September, said Whalen.
Many agree that the Authority needs this, including the Straphangers Campaign, a project of the New York Public Interest Research Group.
“The MTA has only two ways of balancing its books internally - raising fares or cutting services. We’d like to see the state, the city and the MTA work together so that it doesn’t require the burden to be borne by the riders,” said Cate Contino, coordinator of the Straphangers Campaign.
Indeed, state and local contributions to the MTA’s preliminary 2009 budget of $10 million amount to only 9 percent, according to MTA figures. In previous years, the state and city share has been about the same, said Jeremy Soffin, MTA spokesperson.
The biggest share of MTA revenue comes from fare funds - projected to be 42 percent for 2009, according to MTA statistics.
Whether New Yorkers will pay more will be seen in December, when the MTA votes on its 2009 budget, said Soffin.
This is when the MTA will also know whether the city and the state have honored its request for increased funding from last week, Soffin added.
In response to the MTA’s ongoing financial troubles and independently of the fare hike proposal, New York State Governor David Paterson appointed a special commission a few weeks ago that is expected to suggest ways in which the MTA can raise more revenue. The commission will release a report in December, Soffin said.
At the time of the last fare increase in March, the $2 fare for single subway and bus rides didn’t change; however, monthly MetroCards for unlimited rides rose to $81 from $76 and weekly passes went up to $25 from $24.

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