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MTA should review its operations before enacting ‘doomsday budget’

The latest Metropolitan Transportation Authority budget proposal is currently being aired in public hearings across the five boroughs. I recently expressed my reservations about it.

The MTA owns and operates the finest mass transit system in the world. It is safe, efficient and reliable. Every day millions of people ride the subway and busses throughout the five boroughs and depend upon them for their transportation needs. During the last economic boom, we enjoyed a boost in mass transit. Both ridership and revenue increased and multiple new capital projects were begun.

Those times have changed.

As the Queens budget negotiator, I am aware of the dire straits we are in. Agencies everywhere are being forced to make difficult choices to meet these challenging times. But even by these standards, the recent “doomsday budget,” approved by the MTA in order to address its $1.2 billion budget gap, is drastic.

Fare increases of 23 percent, subway and bus service cuts and eliminating the W and Z trains are a few of the harsh proposals. Perhaps worst of all is the fare increase for Access−A−Ride service for disabled riders from $2 to $5. While the Ravitch Commission has made alternative proposals to reduce the fare increase, I cannot support the plans to put tolls on formerly toll−free East River bridges. Such a move would unfairly burden Queens by causing its residents to take up a disproportionate amount of the budget gap.

Some fare increases are unavoidable, but a nearly 25 percent increase is unnecessarily severe. We do not yet know whether the state will be able to aid the MTA in this time of crisis, but the MTA should re−examine ways in which it can close the gap without such draconian measures.

I urge it to take another look at their programs and projects and consider what can be deferred and what can be delayed. Another possible way to close the gap is through federal sources. Depending on the final form that the proposed stimulus bill will take, there will be funds made available through the states for infrastructure projects. We should work to secure money for the MTA’s “shovel ready projects” and use the savings to close the gap rather than fare increases.

These difficult times require difficult choices. As a member of the City Council, I am acquainted with the hard decisions we must make. As President Barack Obama said during his inauguration, even the federal government will be reviewing its own programs and those that do not work will be cut.

We in the city and state governments are currently undergoing this same review, and I would ask that the MTA join us in this. The times demand strong leadership and bold action. I believe that between us we can successfully navigate through this crisis and emerge a stronger city.

Helen Sears

City Councilwoman

Jackson Heights

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