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THE COMMUTE: MTA funding always seems to be in the news. Another fare hike is scheduled for January 2013. The MTA’s continuing money woes are primarily due to the large debt it has to repay on the money it borrows through its bonds. Repealing a portion of the payroll tax, reduced state funding, and the MTA’s own inefficiencies did not help either.

Last January, I wrote how the MTA has the opportunity to refinance a portion of its debt at lower interest rates. It was also revealed at that time that whenever the MTA takes on debt, it must also pay the state a fee of $8.40 for every $1,000 it borrows. The fees can be substantial considering how much the MTA needs to borrow. These fees may have once made sense to discourage unnecessary borrowing, but do not make sense today with very limited federal, state, and city aid. The Staten Island Advance has a well-written editorial on the subject.

The MTA has been granted a temporary reprieve. Governor Andrew Cuomo agreed to waive the bond fee on bonds issued in 2012 and 2013 to refinance old debt, but not for new debt. The MTA will save $54 million but will still have to pay the state approximately another $20 million as a fee for additional borrowing over the next two years. Since 2006, the MTA already paid the state $105 million in state bond fees. When the MTA repealed a portion of the payroll tax, the governor promised that he would find alternate funding to replenish the funding lost to the MTA by this act. It still remains to be seen if he will keep his promise.

Meanwhile, in 2010, the MTA made the largest service cutbacks in its history, saving the MTA $51.2 million annually in bus service cutbacks and another $16.6 million annually in subway service cutbacks. Due to poor publicity and inadequate media coverage, which primarily focused on the proposed cutbacks to student passes, the devastating effects of these cuts such as on the B4 and B64 bus routes were not immediately realized. Only now are some communities mobilizing to get these service cuts restored. The money saved by the MTA gives them the opportunity to restore some of these service cuts. But will they? I am not optimistic.

Save The Date

Bensonhurst and Sheepshead Bay are mounting campaigns for restoration of the B64, which had its service cut to Coney Island, and the B4, which lost evening and weekend service to Plumb Beach, respectively. The B64 campaign is being led by Assemblyman William Colton. The Plumb Beach Civic Association has already received more than 500 signatures in just a few weeks to have the B4 service fully restored to Plumb Beach. A similar petition is being circulated among former users of the B64. In conjunction with Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz, Transportation Alternatives, and Sheepshead Bites, a town hall meeting has been scheduled for Wednesday evening, May 17, to gather support to bring back the B4, and to discuss other transit issues. Details to follow.

Access-A-Ride News

Besides the MTA’s debt from borrowing, another money pit has been Access-a-Ride, the legally-mandated system required to transport those individuals not physically able to use the buses or trains. These trips cost the MTA upwards of $50 per trip, for which the individual pays $2.25. Since its start more than 20 years ago, the cost to provide this service has steadily increased. At first the MTA did not publicize this service, so few were aware of its existence. Once vehicles, which are subcontracted out to individual operators, were painted in MTA colors, ridership soared and costs increased as potential users heard about the system.

Years ago, the MTA switched from automobiles to accessible vans to reduce costs by combining trips for which one day of advance notice is required. However, most vans still carry single occupants and a caretaker. The system is plagued with many inefficiencies and problems; riders use it only as a last resort. The MTA now will pay for taxi rides to reduce Access-a-Ride usage; however, the fact that few taxis are wheelchair accessible is a major problem for some users.

In another attempt to reduce Access-a-Ride costs even further, the MTA decided this week that it will hand out free monthly MetroCards to Access-a-Ride users in the hopes that 15 percent of Access-a-Ride users will switch to the subways and buses saving them millions. Board Member Allen Cappelli can see no downside to offering free MetroCards. I can. First of all, if you cannot negotiate the subway stairs, a major reason for using Access-A-Ride since many trips cannot be made with a bus alone, a free trip will not change your mind.

Second, how stringent are the rules allowing someone to qualify for Access-a-Ride? Does a simple doctor’s note suffice? We are all aware of the widespread abuse regarding the use of handicapped parking placards. If it is too easy to qualify for Access-a-Ride, would scammers apply merely to receive free MetroCards? That is a possible downside. Although there is a potential to save money, this idea could also blow up in the MTA’s face.

B44 Select Bus Service

In other news, B44 Select Bus Service (SBS), originally scheduled for 2011, and postponed to December 2012 or January 2013 with construction scheduled to begin this summer, has been postponed yet again to either September or October 2013, according to MTA documents [PDF]. Page six shows the new schedule for B44 SBS implementation. No reason is given for the delay. Transparency anyone? Just like East Side Access, which had been postponed numerous times, B44 SBS always seems to be just one year away.

SBS, originally touted in 2003 as a “quick” alternative to new subway construction, is now taking twice as long to implement as it took to build the first subway from South Ferry to 145 Street in Manhattan in 1904.

The Commute is a weekly feature highlighting news and information about the city’s mass transit system and transportation infrastructure. It is written by Allan Rosen, a Manhattan Beach resident and former Director of MTA/NYC Transit Bus Planning (1981).

 

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  • nolastname

    The Access A Rides are ripping of the city. A four year old could better map out their days route.
    Working for a Doctors office I saw the incompetence riders had to deal with.
    I have seen patients waiting HOURS past the pick up time.
    I have seen patients dropped off and later told they have no one to pick them up.
    Calling the agency from the Doctors office rarely saw and better service.
    On many occasions the office sent them home and picked up the tab.
    Sometimes they tell the client take a cab and send us the bill (which is less than what they charge the city). One woman told them if she had money to lay out for a cab she would not be calling Access.
    I rarely see more than one person (if they were properly routed the van would have more than one person on board) making a trip.
    I have seen them taking groups shopping.
    Some people have appointments in other boroughs…..in this case Access would be cheaper.
    I believe Access -A-Ride also uses outside private companies sporting their Logo.
    Access is needed, no doubt, but poorly managed.

    • Allan Rosen

      As I briefly stated, there are many problems with access-a-ride. You’ve mentioned some. I’ve also read about what I consider abuses like someone who uses access-a-ride from Tottenville to get to Empire City Racetrack in Yonkers. I’m sure the system could be operated more efficiently. However, this article really was just about the decision to give away free MetroCards as it relates to MTA finances.

      • nolastname

        Sorry for going off track. You are right Access-A-Ride is an article all in itself.

  • Flatbush Depot

    I would have liked it if you had written something in this article about how encouraging Access-A-Ride users to switch to buses (they would mainly use those rather than trains) could increase bus delays if more wheelchair passengers used the buses and MTA continued to require bus operators to leave the seat to deal with the wheelchairs. See this please; it is a solution I cooked up: http://www.nyctransitforums.com/forums/index.php/topic/34668-giving-free-passes-to-the-disabled-will-save-the-mta-96-million-annually/#entry529397 

    My post is post #5. They need to do something about wheelchair passengers using buses. Even on low-floor units they cause way too much disruption to service when bus operators have to leave their cab to deal with the wheelchair restraints. When bus operators lift the seats so the wheelchair passengers can station themselves in the handicapped area it is not a big deal but they still should not have to leave their cab for any reason, including lifting the seat. It takes a few seconds for the operator to get re-acclimated when s/he sits back down in the cab, and this as well as the time spent dealing with restraints and/or the folding seats can make the difference between making a green signal and having to sit at several red signals.

    • Allan Rosen

      I did mention the point about more wheelchairs causing bus delays in a post on another forum. The point of this article was really only about the free MetroCards.

      • Midwoodman

        I’m a WHEELCHAIR user. People looking for metrocards after getting on the bus along with double parked cars and cars parked in bus stops cause many more delays. Stop beating (blaming) handicapped people. And yes, there’s more than just a doctors note required to qualify for access a ride. You have to go there and be fully evaluated. And furthermore I frequently use the subways. There are 88 stations that are currently accessible. Out of 468. But that’s much more than just a few years ago. So won’t you allow a wheelchair user a minute or so. I’m a human being too. Or would you rather I just disappear?

        • Allan Rosen

          Okay, now allow me a minute too.  Of course there are many other causes of delays and traffic is the main cause. However, a wheelchair on a high floor bus causes a 5 minute delay.  I don’t see much of a problem on the low floor buses. That doesn’t mean we should not allow wheelchairs, but rather that the MTA needs to allow extra time on all routes in their schedules to allow for wheelchairs which they do not do.  So if a route with high floor buses gets only two wheelchairs on a trip, that is already a ten minute delay for all users and can start a cycle of bus bunching. I applaud you for using the subway when you can rather than access-a-ride.

          Also, I thought all rebuilt stations had to have elevators.  I would like to knoiw how the  MTA got out of that requirement when rebuilding stations along the Brighton Line.  

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