By Mark Hallum
Transit advocates rallied in Albany Monday for Gov. Andrew Cuomo to restore $65 million in funds promised to the MTA as the state agency struggles to address widespread delays and overcrowding. According to Riders Alliance, the budget must still be negotiated with the state Senate and Assembly, which have the power to demand the funds be invested in transportation.
In 2011, Cuomo peeled back the Payroll Mobility Tax, which helps fund the MTA, but promised to replace those funds every year, Riders Alliance said.
For six years, Cuomo’s office kept with its commitment to replace the MTA funds each year by contributing between $307 million and $311 million every year. This year, however, Cuomo proposed to only reimburse the MTA with $244 million, a 21 percent reduction from last year’s $309 million, which will leave a $65 million gap.
State Assemblywoman Nily Rozic (D-Fresh Meadows) stood with the Riders Alliance to call for the state government to make up the $65 million difference.
“Longer wait times, overcrowding, and fare hikes have stranded transit riders all too often. If the MTA underinvests in its infrastructure and standard upkeep of the system, straphangers will feel it most. Now is not the time for the state budget to drive its transit system and economic driver off the rails,” Rozic said.
Riders Alliance Executive Director John Raskin said the reduction in funds threatens to make an already declining public transportation system worse.
“As subway delays rise and crowds get worse, now is not the time to yank promised funding away from transit riders,” Raskin said. “Riding transit is more popular than ever, but we haven’t invested in a subway system that can handle everyone who is trying to use it. Depriving the MTA of much-needed finds is pennywise and pound-foolish, because the entire regional economy depends on an effective and reliable MTA.”
Meanwhile, at City Hall Monday, the Riders Alliance held another rally with the Fair Fares coalition to call on Mayor Bill de Blasio to fund half-priced MetroCards for low-income New Yorkers during budget negotiations.
City Council members Rory Lancman (D-Hillcrest), Elizabeth Crowley (D-Maspeth), Barry Grodenchik (D-Oakland Gardens), Peter Koo (D-Flushing) and Karen Koslowitz (D-Forest Hills) offered statements in support of the Fair Fares.
“Millions of New Yorkers rely on mass transit every day to get to where they need to go – whether it is to travel to work, attend school, or see their doctor,” Lancman said “Too many low-income New Yorkers, however, struggle to afford the cost of a MetroCard, leaving them with the difficult choice of scaling back basic necessities or forgoing travel. We can and we must do better to break down travel barriers people experience across our city.”
The topic of subway fares has been in the public arena in recent months. According to State Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria), commuters have been through enough as it is..
“New Yorkers are already frustrated with the lack of good public transportation options, fare increases, and unreliable service,” Gianaris said. “A cut in MTA funding would make this situation even worse for our city’s subway and bus riders. The proposed budget must be improved and appropriate funds must be provided in order make needed improvements.”
With many in the city feeling the sting of transit costs and talks of fares being bumped up to $3 a swipe, the MTA board announced Jan. 25 it would keep the basic fare at $2.75.
Reach reporter Mark Hallum by e-mail at mhall