Volume 22, Number 32 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | December 18 - 24, 2009
Bus & subway budget axe would cut deep Downtown
By Julie Shapiro and Josh Rogers
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority unanimously approved massive service cuts Wednesday to fill a sudden $400 million shortfall.
The cuts are still subject to public hearings and political negotiating, which could reduce their severity, and they would not take effect until the middle of next year. But for now, they paint a dismal picture of the M.T.A.’s financial situation.
In Lower Manhattan, straphangers will lose the W and Z subway lines and the M6 and M8 buses. Other bus routes will close at night or on the weekend, and all subways will run less frequently. The M.T.A. also plans to phase out free MetroCards for students and reduce Access-A-Ride service for the handicapped and the elderly.
“I’ve been here less than a year and we’ve had to stave off doomsday twice,” State Sen. Daniel Squadron said Tuesday. “There’s something wrong with this picture.”
Squadron said the M.T.A.’s constant wavering on a financial cliff shows the need for a steady revenue stream, which could come from congestion pricing or tolls on the East River and Harlem River bridges, plans that failed to pass the state Legislature this year and last.
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver told Downtown Express Tuesday that “everything is on the table” to avoid the cuts, including congestion pricing and bridge tolls. However, Silver said those plans would only work if the M.T.A. improved its credibility and spent the toll money on improvements like express buses for the outer boroughs
The M.T.A. needs “to use the funds that are raised to enhance — to enhance— mass transit,” Silver said, “not to buy back a doomsday budget, so you’re buying back the same thing over and over and over again. That’s unacceptable.”
While Silver said he could support congestion pricing, he scoffed at Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s mention of it during an interview with CNBC at a climate conference in Copenhagen Tuesday. Silver said Bloomberg would have to fight more effectively for congestion pricing in order for it to have a chance to pass. The mayor said he thought Albany would have no choice but to consider some form of traffic pricing, but it’ll be up to the Legislature.
Silver was more supportive of a plan floated earlier this week by Gene Russianoff, from the Straphangers Campaign, and Council Speaker Christine Quinn. They proposed using $90 million in federal stimulus funds to help fill the M.T.A.’s operating budget gap. Silver said it made sense to use stimulus funds because the economic downturn is partly responsible for the M.T.A.’s problems, though he also wanted the agency to make additional administrative cuts. The Russianoff-Quinn plan also calls for the M.T.A. to transfer $50 million from its capital budget to its operating budget. Together with the stimulus money, that would prevent the bus and subway cuts.
The M.T.A.’s financial trouble only surfaced recently, when several things happened almost simultaneously: The state cut the M.T.A.’s budget by $143 million; the revenue from the payroll tax fell $100 million short of the state’s projections; and the M.T.A. lost a $91 million dispute with a union.
Earlier this year, when the state Legislature put together a package including the payroll tax to avoid the M.T.A.’s previous doomsday budget, the M.T.A. promised not to make any service cuts and not to raise fares in 2010, though increases are coming in 2011 and 2012.
The M.T.A. is keeping its promise on no fare increase next year, but service cuts are a different matter. Bus riders will notice some of the biggest changes Downtown: In addition to axing the M6, which runs along Broadway, Church St. and Sixth Ave., and the M8, which runs on Eighth St., the M.T.A. would end weekend service on the M21 (Houston St. to Bellevue Hospital) and M22 (Battery Park City to the Lower East Side). The M22 would also stop running overnight, as would the M1, which goes along Broadway. Other lines that will see cutbacks include the M11 (Harlem to the Village) and the M20 (B.P.C. to Lincoln Center).
Subways won’t fare much better. The W will stop running down Broadway, but its route will be covered by the R and the N, which will begin running local in Manhattan. The M.T.A.’s previous doomsday plan would have closed R/W stations below Canal St. late at night, but all stations will stay open under this new plan.
The M.T.A. is also cutting the Z train, which runs from the Chambers St. to Brooklyn, and is discontinuing rush-hour service on the M train from Lower Manhattan to Bay Parkway.
The Downtown Alliance said in a press release that the M.T.A. cuts “could do a disproportionate amount of harm” in Lower Manhattan, since 90 percent of the people who work Downtown take mass transit or walk. Many businesses locate Downtown because it is so transit-friendly, but the M.T.A. cuts could change that, the Alliance said.
Community Board 1 also opposed the cuts in a unanimous resolution Tuesday night.
Pat Moore, chairperson of C.B. 1’s Quality of Life Committee, said the service cuts would be even more difficult to take on top of the regular subway outages related to construction. All subway lines serving Lower Manhattan will see weekend closures over the next couple years because of the World Trade Center and Fulton Transit Center work.
Three women visiting Caring Community’s senior center at Independence Plaza Wednesday said the cuts would affect them, but said they were most concerned about the families who would have to pay to send their children to school. The M.T.A. plans to eliminate half of the student MetroCards next fall and the rest in fall 2011. Lenore, who like one of her friends declined to give her last name and age, said her grandchildren live with her in Tribeca and take the subway to school.
In the warmer months, Joyce Perciaccanto takes three buses to get to her doctor on the Upper East Side including the M20, which will have reduced hours.
“I don’t mind standing for a bus in the summer — I don’t,” she said. “But you can die in the dead of winter.”
She takes Access-A-Ride when it’s cold and said she didn’t want to be driven to cold bus stops or handicapped-accessible subways, as the M.T.A. is planning. She said she couldn’t imagine waiting any longer for the M20. “It’s bad enough as it is,” she said.
The women weren’t sure who was to blame.
“Let Bloomberg pay for it, he’s got plenty of billions,” said Pat, who uses the M6 and M20. But Perciaccanto was skeptical the cuts would really happen.
“They’re always saying they’re out of money and then in the end they come through,” she said. “They like scaring us.”