NEW YORK CITY – Metropolitan Transportation Authority
officials have proposed a sweeping list of cutbacks and
fare and toll increases that would affect nearly everyone
who drives or takes mass transit in the region.
Ending months of speculation, the authority's executive
director, Katherine N. Lapp, outlined plans for drivers who
use the transportation authority's major bridges and
tunnels, such as the Queens-Midtown Tunnel, the Triborough,
Throgs Neck and Bronx-Whitestone Bridges, and the Brooklyn-
Battery Tunnel, who would see tolls jump 50 cents from the
current price of $4. Tolls on the authority's smaller
bridges, which are now $2, would rise 25 cents. Also, all E-
ZPass users would be assessed a $1 per month maintenance
Riders of Metro-North Railroad in New York and the Long
Island Rail Road would see ticket prices rise an average of
5 percent. The cost of riding express buses, mainly between
Staten Island and Manhattan, would rise from $4 to $6.
The measures are needed to close an anticipated $436
million deficit in 2005, Lapp said during a meeting of the
authority board. But the worst might be yet to come, she
said, hinting at what could be in store in 2006, when the
authority's deficit is projected to grow to over $1
billion, unless the state or city step in to help.
Riders could see the reduction of subway service during
evenings and weekends, elimination of overnight bus service
on many routes and abandonment of entire branch lines of
the Long Island Rail Road.
"Quantity will be sacrificed before quality will be
sacrificed," Lapp said. "We will not erode the quality of
service that we're providing our riders, that they deserve
and they've counted upon. If we have to make reductions,
they will be in the area of quantity, not quality."
The authority will hold public hearings on the proposed
budget in the fall, with a vote coming in December. The
changes would occur some time in 2005. Some of the mix of
proposed increases and cutbacks could change, though
officials say belt-tightening will be needed.
In previous years, officials predicted major deficits that
never materialized. But this time the situation appears to
be different, as some of the biggest costs facing the
authority are built into the authority's $8.4 billion
budget and are less prone to inaccurate projections.
The authority's problems are largely brought on by payments
coming due on debt the authority issued to pay for its most
recent five-year capital program, which paid for upgrading
and expanding the system. The authority had to borrow more
than it ever did before in part because the state, which
once contributed heavily to the capital program, offered
nothing the last time around.
The authority also unveiled a new $27.8 billion five-year
capital program, the most expensive it has proposed since
its rebuilding programs began in the 1980s. The program,
which would continue from 2005 to 2009, includes $17.4
billion for upgrading the authority's existing network to
good repair. Transit advocates are united in their support
for this investment, paying for projects including subway
cars and station renovations.
The new proposed capital program also includes $500 million
for security upgrades and for several major expansion
projects. These include a link that would carry Long Island
Rail Road riders to Grand Central Terminal, the first phase
of the long-awaited Second Avenue subway and a rail link
between Lower Manhattan and John F. Kennedy International
Airport and beyond. The program also includes the extension
of the No. 7 line to the far West Side, a plan pushed by
Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg.
Explaining the need for the new projects, Lapp said the
transit system has remained largely stagnant for decades,
even as the city had substantially changed. Many
politicians have argued that the projects are needed to
spur regional economic growth.
The proposals must now go to Albany for consideration by
state lawmakers. A crucial question looms, however, over
how the authority will pay for the program.