M.T.A. Passes Wide Range of Service CutsBy MICHAEL M. GRYNBAUM
Nearly every bus, subway and commuter rail rider in New York stands to be affected by a punishing slate of service cuts that was approved on Wednesday by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which is struggling to fill a sudden financial shortfall of more than $400 million.
The plan, which does not include a fare increase in 2010, strips back some of the advances to New York City’s transit system in the past decade — eliciting outrage from the city’s top elected officials and community leaders, some of whom spoke against the plan at the board meeting on Wednesday before the vote was taken.
The cuts would create more crowding on subways and buses, reduce frequency during weekends, late nights and weekday afternoons, and wholly eliminate two minor subway lines, the W and the Z. Service on dozens of bus lines would be reduced or ended, and disabled riders would find it more difficult to get around.
But the most controversial proposal is a plan to phase out free fares for more than half a million students who currently receive free or discounted rides on the transit system. Half the discount would be erased in September 2010, with the rest swept away by September 2011 — an idea that Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has labeled “unconscionable.”
The vote was 12-0; one board member, Norman I. Seabrook, was not present, but indicated in a letter to the board that he would have voted against the plan.
Jay H. Walder, the authority’s recently appointed chairman, laid out a frank assessment of the authority’s shortcomings: “In the two months that I’ve been here, it’s apparent to me that we don’t operate in a way that ensures that every taxpayer dollar that we receive is being used as effectively as possible.”
He pledged to undertake a top-to-bottom review of the agency’s finances. “In short, we need to take the place apart,” he said, adding that he regretted that he could not avoid the cuts. “I wish there was a way to do it fast enough to take the things off the table that we’re talking about today; I don’t think we can.”
The elimination of the student discounts attracted a series of furious speeches on Wednesday morning in the fifth-floor boardroom at the authority’s headquarters on Madison Avenue. “You sit here and bring anxieties to young children,” City Councilman Charles Barron said. “What do you want them to do? Jump the turnstiles and turn them into criminals?”
His remarks were greeted by cheers from dozens of protesters attending the meeting.
The authority is attempting to plug a financial shortfall of nearly $400 million that appeared in startlingly quick fashion. Late last month, state legislators cut $143 million out of the authority’s budget; state accountants then determined that a payroll tax dedicated to mass transit financing would produce $100 million less revenue than initially thought. Finally, late last week, a court ruled that the authority must pay significant raises to transit workers, adding tens of millions of dollars in expenses.
Jeffrey A. Kay, a mayoral appointee to the board, denounced state legislators for “pulling out the rug” from the transportation authority.
“They were the ones who put together a deal and said you are fine for the next two years; it was their deal that fell apart,” Mr. Kay said in an angry speech. “The politics has to stop. The public and the riders have to go through this, and they’re caught in the middle of it.”
None of the cuts would take effect until June at the earliest. A fare increase of 7.5 percent is already scheduled for 2011.