By Jonathan Sperling
Top MTA officials on Wednesday announced several cost-cutting measures, including staff layoffs, that they say will help the agency overcome its “significant financial distress” — but the agency and commuter advocates say congestion pricing is still necessary to fully fund the flailing public transit system.
In addition to layoffs, the MTA said it would implement a hiring freeze, reduce contractor costs and get tougher on fare evaders.
Officials said the agency would work with the state, city and district attorneys to fight fare evasion, which the MTA said costs the agency approximately $215 million per year. The MTA said it would redesign stations to prevent turnstile jumping and place more staff near platform entrances, but said specifically said the agency did not want to criminalize fare evasion. Though the total number of fare evasion arrests have decreased significantly in recent years, the vast majority of individuals arrested for fare evasion are black and Latino.
“In addition to the urgency of securing additional revenue, we recognize we must fundamentally reform the MTA,” MTA Acting Chair Fernando Ferrer said. “No more tinkering. No more nibbling around the edges. The MTA’s new leadership team will accept nothing less than large-scale, organizational reform. This work will build on the 10-point plan released by the governor and mayor yesterday, as well as the success we’ve seen through the Subway Action Plan.”
As part of the plan, MTA vendors and contractors will have their hourly rates reduced by 10 percent, which the agency said will save $75 million.
The MTA will also consolidate many office positions, including accounting, claims, communications, engineering, government relations, human resources, legal, marketing, planning and procurement.
On Wednesday, the MTA board voted to eliminate the bonuses on MetroCards that commuters receive when they refill their cards with $5.50 or more. Basic bus and subway fare will remain at $2.75, but 30-day unlimited ride MetroCards will now cost $127, up from $121, and 7-day unlimited ride MetroCards will cost $33, up from current cost of $32. The new prices take effect on April 21.
But regardless of the cost-cutting measures, the MTA said state legislators must include congestion pricing in this year’s state budget. Without congestion pricing, the MTA would be required to raise fares by nearly 30 percent, according to the agency.
Transit advocates seem to agree.
“The pressure is really on the legislature to really step and pass congestion pricing and modernize the subway,” Danny Pearlstein, a spokesperson for Riders Alliance told the Eagle. “In order to build the 21st Century accessible subway that commuters deserve, the pressure is really on the legislature. It needs to deliver, and do its job by passing congestion pricing.
Jaqi Cohen, a campaign coordinator with the Straphangers Campaign, told the Eagle that the cost-cutting initiatives are “moving things in the right direction, but I’m not sure we’re going to have this sort of overhaul we need without new funding to fund Fast Forward,’ referring to the MTA’s investment plan to modernize the subway via increasing capacity and accessibility.
“We are calling for congestion pricing to be included in this year’s state budget. What we do know is a tremendous amount of money is necessary to modernize the subway system,” Cohen continued.