Wednesday vote looms for MTA budget plan

December 15, 2009 5:54:05 PM PST
The MTA's round of doomsday service cuts are up for a critical vote Wednesday.Meanwhile, several protests were held Tuesday as people have their say about the drastic cuts to bus and subway service.

About half-a million students currently get free or discounted tickets through the MTA, but that could go up in smoke.

So they turned out to say no.

The MTA's planned cuts would end the W and Z subway lines, cut 21 bus routes, reduce frequency for off-peak trains and end discounts for students.

The plan, approved by the MTA Finance Committee on Monday, left riders fuming.

"We pay for them not managing things properly," one rider said.

The MTA is trying to close a nearly $400 million budget gap that seems to have appeared out of the blue. First, state lawmakers cut funding, then a state payroll tax was projected to raise $100 million less than previous estimates.

Finally, a court arbitration ruling gave transit workers 11.5 percent raises over the next three years.

"I wish I can tell you that losing this amount of money, in this amount of time, does not have painful consequences. Unfortunately, I can't," MTA Chairman Jay Walder said.

The MTA is also planning to end rides for New York City's students -- who now get metrocards at no charge.

"That's a lot of money -- $2.25 for one child, $2.25 for one child, $2.25 for one child, and to come back. That's a lot of money," mother-of-three Atoinette Coley said.

"It's going to cause a lot of kids to stop going to school, because they might not have money. A lot of families don't have it like that," student Donna Darlin said.

The MTA board is set to vote on the plan on Wednesday.

The plan would have to be approved again next year, and no cuts would happen before June of 2010.

Mayor Bloomberg calls the cuts to student rides "unconscionable," but the MTA points out that normally, city and state helps out to pay for these student rides.

More on the Planned Service Cuts:

Two subway lines and almost two dozen bus routes are on the chopping block.

The cuts would hit hardest for people like Cicely White, who religiously rides the B37, one of 21 bus routes which may simply vanish.

"A lot of people were talking about it at the bus stop in the past couple of weeks, how difficult it's gonna be. You have to walk over there to take the 63. It's gone be very hard," said White.

Saddled with $343 million in debt, the MTA Finance Committee is considering drastic cuts, particularly among bus service. On the chopping block are six routes in Manhattan, six in Brooklyn, five in Queens and four in the Bronx, along with the W and Z subway lines.

"To present a balanced budget despite losing hundreds of millions of dollars in State funding over the past two weeks requires measures that are painful to the MTA, our employees and our customers," said MTA Chief Financial Officer Gary J. Dellaverson, who presented the proposed budget to the committee. "Given the ongoing downturn in the broader economy and the resultant economic crisis facing the State, we have worked to balance the budget while maintaining our commitment to riders not to increase fares in 2010."

The proposal is so dramatic because the new MTA chairman has promised he won't raise fares.

A court ruling Friday forced the MTA to go ahead with an 11.5 percent wage increase, which it says would cost an additional $300 million.

But whatever the MTA's problems, Cicely White simply can't fathom how it spent itself into such a crisis.

"As far as I'm concerned, they make quite a lot of money," she said. "There are so many riders, millions of riders, how are they constantly deep? I don't understand. I really don't."

The budget passed in committee by a 6-1 vote. The only "no" vote came from committee member Allen Cappelli. The full MTA board will vote on Wednesday.