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Morning Spew

It’s Thursday and the MTA Is Yet Again Staring Into the Abyss

Albany to NYC Subways, Drop Dead? And other links to start your day.

Subway riders at 59 St-Columbus Circle on the 1 train. (Marc A. Hermann / MTA)

The MTA, the state agency which runs our city's subways, buses, and some bridges and tunnels, collects a stunningly high amount of its operating revenue through fares. Just before the pandemic, in fact, it collected 42.1 percent of revenue from riders—more than systems in Chicago, Philadelphia, and D.C. But a funny thing can happen to a budget when ridership suddenly plunges, as it did during the pandemic, and then never fully recovers. Right now, fares only account for 24.5 percent of revenue. The MTA has been using federal COVID relief funds to patch that gap in funding, but those are beginning to run out, and the prospect of further federal aid appears grim. 

So for months now, the MTA has been searching for ways to fill that massive budget gap (a lot of the money the MTA eventually generates won't even actually go to improving or even maintaining service—it will go to pay interest on the authority's massive debt). The MTA's board, which is mostly composed of a motley collection of drivers who neither like mass transit nor are aware of which bridges the MTA controls, has known about this looming crisis for a while. Should they raise fares? Cut service? Kill other revenue-raising schemes? Send more cops to cut down on fare evasion, which is committed at the same rate in NYC as every other major transit system?

As of yesterday's meeting, the one thing the board kept referencing was raising fares—as much as 5.5 percent by next June. A $600 million budget gap looms next year, and without some solution, the MTA would have to start cutting service. (Congestion pricing, now slated to go on line sometime in 2024, or never, is only allowed to provide funding for new capital projects). 

For months, MTA head Janno Lieber has been sounding the alarm that a solution would most likely have to come from the state legislature—most likely in the form of new dedicated funding, which would put New York City much more in line with other major American cities. And it's not like we make residents of a burning building pay the FDNY "fare."

"We could definitely avoid a fare hike if there is a plan, an answer, coming from all of the decision makers, Washington, Albany, City Hall, and maybe others, that fills the $600 million gap," Lieber said.

Outgoing state budget chief (and MTA boardmember) Robert Mujica was not terribly sympathetic to this call for dedicated funding.

Governor Kathy Hochul has said she has some ideas for how to close the MTA's budget gap, and will be unleashing them this January. Here's hoping that all this talk of raising fares tees it up for her to save the day and avoid the dreaded death spiral.

Here're some links for you as you ride the train:

  • Brooklyn Congressperson Hakeem Jeffries has finally ascended to the leadership throne. Want to get a preview of his time as House Minority Leader? Read this.
  • In somewhat related news, here's yet another fuck-up by the Brooklyn Dems that will likely result in Governor Kathy Hochul calling a special election for a seat won by Republican Lester Chang, who appears to not have even lived in Brooklyn until very recently.
  • Here's more on the conference to combat antisemitism that our mayor is attending in Greece. Via the Forward: "The Combat Antisemitism Movement, which is sponsoring the Athens conference alongside the Center for Jewish Impact and the Jewish Federations of North America, was founded in 2019 and has close ties to Adam Beren, a Republican megadonor from Kansas. The organization is focused on building a coalition of Jewish and non-Jewish organizations to support its mission of promoting the IHRA definition of antisemitism, and it previously partnered with a nonprofit designated as an anti-Muslim hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center."
  • Meanwhile, NYPD officials told the Post that they were "blindsided" by Adams's plan to have cops involuntarily confine homeless people with mental health issues. “It’s kind of a hot mess,” one of the Post's sources said.
  • Adams appears to have also been surprised by the details.
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