2009-01-01 / From The Mayor...

From The Mayor's Desk ...

Protecting Transit Riders In These Tough Times

Transit riders with the fewest op-tions often get hurt the most at times like these, when service cuts and fare increases are on the horizon. We've done something to prevent that, by taking steps to protect the more than 360,000 New Yorkers who rely on the express buses operated by the State-controlled Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

When the MTA management recently proposed its 2009 budget, it included a fare increase for express bus riders that was out of all proportion to the increases that other transit riders may face. Currently, a seat on an express bus costs $5 each way. MTA management had proposed raising that fare to $7.50, a 50% jump.

But for many riders in Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx, express buses are their only sensible choice for getting to Manhattan to work or shop. Ex-press buses serve communities where using other existing mass transit op-tions is impractical if not downright impossible. And we certainly don't want express bus riders to commute by car instead. Not only would that be expen-sive, aggravating, and time-consuming for them; it also would increase congestion, parking problems, and pollution for everyone else.

For those reasons, the City's representatives on the MTA board objected strenuously to this inequitable fare increase for riding express buses — and by getting it taken off the table, we chalked one up for both evenhandedness and common sense.

We all recognize that like every other government agency, the MTA is being hammered by the continuing economic downturn. Its proposed budget for 2009 includes both significant cuts in transit service and also an overall in-crease of 23% in what it takes in from fares and tolls, all of which could go into effect next spring.

I believe that going ahead with this plan would be a big mistake. Instead, state leaders need to help balance the MTA's operating budget without resort-ing to these draconian steps, and also create a funding stream that will allow the MTA to keep the existing system in good repair while expanding transit service for our growing city. That's essential if we're going to avoid the kind of near-collapse of transit service that New Yorkers suffered during the 1970s.

If state leaders act promptly and wisely, I'm hoping that the MTA can keep fares and tolls reasonable enough so that they won't bust family budgets. We've also got to ensure that transit fares are fair, especially for New York-ers whose transportation choices are limited. So we'll keep doing everything we can to make sure that express bus riders - the daily commuters with the worst transit options in the city - are the last ones to see their costs go up.

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