In light of the MTA’s recent proposal to raise revenue by increasing mass transit fares by 23% while decreasing service by next June, the Ravitch Commission’s report seems to be gaining momentum. A group of transportation and finance experts, chaired by former MTA chairman Richard Ravitch and appointed by Governor Paterson, have met since this past June to come up with strategies to fund MTA projects and operations over the next 10 years. While I agree with most of the proposed strategies, the key to its success lies in the statement: “Our recommendations… are interdependent and only in combination do they chart a course that will both stabilize the MTA and begin to set the region on steady footing.”
The report is a comprehensive evaluation of the current state of the MTA. Included are recommendations to: fund operating and capital needs; mitigate the proposed 2009 fare increase and service reductions; improve mass transit region-wide; and foster changes in governance, transparency, and accountability. Along with expanding regional bus service and investing more in Bus Rapid Transit, the Commission suggests raising fares and tolls on a schedule-basis (and no more frequently than bi-annually). By increasing bridge tolls and adding tolls to East River bridge crossings, subway fares would only need to increase by 8%.
The Commission wants to return power to the MTA Chairman, an elected official, and eliminate the board-appointed Executive Director position to strengthen governance in the MTA. In an effort to improve transparency and accountability, the report calls for both the NYC Independent Budget Office and the NY State Office of the State Deputy Comptroller to routinely review and make public the MTA’s financial status. It recommends instituting a Mobility Tax, a deductible expense on employers, which will pay for new borrowing and direct expenses, as well as provide full costs for current expansion projects. This will lead to a separate operating budget from that for future projects.
“Straphangers and commuters must bear an equitable burden of the costs of operation of the transit system,” the report states. While there is plenty of opposition, especially from Brooklynites such as Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz who feel that their borough will bear the brunt of the costs, I feel that it is most important for the city to make it easier for people to commute via mass transit. Other recommendations not in the report — a gas tax on MTA-served counties, a scaled tax based on car size, Mayor Bloomberg’s congestion pricing proposal released earlier this year — should also be considered. Ultimately, I believe that by making mass transit the most accessible and affordable route to and from the city, NYC and the MTA may be able to sustain difficult economic times.