The week began with good news for transit riders in New York City, who can look forward to the return of the B37 bus, added G-train service and the extension of the M-train to Delancey Street on weekends.
Now the bad news: Someone’s got to come up with $1.3 billion to keep the system running.
On Wednesday, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority announced during its board meeting that it’s planning to find the savings by 2017 without instituting any service cuts. The burden is likely to be borne most heavily by riders and the unionized workforce that runs buses and trains, the presentation by MTA Chief Financial Officer Robert Foran indicated.
The MTA is sticking to its plan to roll out two fare and toll hikes over the next four years, totaling $424 million in 2015 and $520 million in 2017. What the price of a single ride or an unlimited Metrocard will be remains unclear.
While the grim financial news remained much the same as in the MTA’s last numbers presentation in February, one important input took a turn for the worse.
“Ridership wasn’t as great as we thought it would be,” said Foran.
MTA data shows that ridership for the first four months of 2013 was 554.2 million — more than this time last year, but short of the 560.2 million targeted by the authority. Board Chairman Thomas Prendergast in a Q&A after the public meeting said that superstorm Sandy and a slow-growing economy contributed to lower ridership numbers.
The MTA budget gap has mainly been fueled by the fast growth of the agency’s expenses, which include pension and health care costs for employees. The MTA still needs to come to an agreement with the Transport Workers Union, whose employees have been working on expired contracts for the past 18 months. Non-unionized workers at the MTA have been without a contract for the past four and a half years.
According to the MTA presentation, the agency is banking on “three years of ‘net zero’ union wage growth,” in which improvements in worker productivity will make up for any pay raise under the new contract. Negotiations are ongoing.
In the coming years, the MTA will also incur increased costs for some of its mega projects, such as the 7-train extension and the Second Avenue Subway. Overall economic uncertainty poses another risk to the proposed financial plans, Foran said.
The financial plan that was presented on Wednesday morning also reflects the return of about $18 million in service on bus and subway lines as well as $11 million for cleaning and other improvements, which were cut in 2010.
Those cuts are still being felt in different pockets of the city. Members of the public attending the meeting called for the restoration of the B37 in Brooklyn as well as more bus service to Co-op City in the Bronx.
Board member Allen Cappelli called MTA’s financial agenda a “prudent, sensible plan that continues the efforts we made last year.”
In yet another attempt to save money, the MTA will also be looking at its overtime costs, Foran said.
“Overtime has gotten distorted because of Hurricane Sandy,” he told reporters. Foran said the agency is looking to “normalize” overtime expenses.