With no reply in hand to his January 26 letter to MTA Chairman Jay Walder, asking him to join with the Transport Workers Union to lobby Washington to include transit funding in the pending Obama jobs bill, Local 100 President John Samuelsen stepped up the pressure on the MTA, calling a press conference on February 4th to urge the Authority to re-allocate money to head off service cuts.
At the press event, held in the Broad Street station on the M Line during the morning rush hour in lower Manhattan, Samuelsen, City Council President Christine Quinn, Public Advocate Bill DiBlasio, Gene Russianoff of the Straphangers Campaign and others all made the same point: available federal stimulus dollars, already en route to the MTA, can be used to cover operating expenses, reversing planned service cuts and enabling the continuation of the free fare program for schoolchildren.
“We need the [money] flow to go in the other direction now,” Samuelsen said, referring to the Authority’s insistence on using the money for capital ‘mega projects,’ “but the MTA refuses to consider this and other achievable options to avert today’s operating budget crisis….Apply the $90 million in stimulus money available to you right now – today – as a first step to close the budget gap.”
City Council Speaker Christine Quinn added: “We have, this morning, a simple message for the MTA. We fully recognize that we are in tough budget times. But there is an immediate solution, and it is within the power of the MTA Board: take a portion of the stimulus funds and use that the fund the operating budget. Federal law explicitly provides for this.”
Margaret Chin, the City Councilwoman representing the district serviced by the M line, decried the cuts. “This is my subway station,” she said. “We have to protect mass transit.”
Budget cuts proposed by the MTA would force the shut-down of two subway lines, running of fewer trains on another seven lines, the elimination of 21 bus lines, and the ending of the student Metrocard program. The Union and advocates say that the cuts will adversely affect four million riders. It would also mean layoffs for between 500 and 1,000 transit workers.
Councilman James Vacca, Chair of the Transportation Committee, was blunt in his assessment: “Straphangers face an abyss – a mass transit system on the verge of no longer serving the masses. The hole the MTA finds itself in is growing deeper by the day,” he said, referring to today’s reports of greater budget shortfalls caused by lower projections of payroll tax revenues. “We at the Council stand ready to address these issues.”
District Council 37 Executive Director Lillian Roberts, who represents 125,000 municipal workers covering virtually every City agency, called for “a full blown investigation into MTA finances,” echoing a just-released Inspector General report that found widespread use of contractors who had defaulted on other projects. “We’re tired of hearing that we don’t have the money,” she added. “Stimulus funds should be used to cover operating expenses.
Straphangers Campaign Senior Attorney Gene Russianoff said he was urging the U.S. Congress to make additional transit funding available as part of a jobs bill now being considered on Capitol Hill. U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand has urged a $15 billion appropriation for transit. “I am an M train rider,” Russianoff said, “and if the plan goes forward, 16 trains that run during rush hour would cease to exist.”
Andrew Albert of the New York City Transit Riders Council, and a pending MTA Board Member, drew listeners attention to the sound of an M train pulling into the station, saying, “the sound you’re hearing now is something you may not be hearing for much longer. This transit system is what makes New York City able to recover from the recession. These service cuts are untenable.”
“Maintaining subway and bus service is critical to ensuring the sustainability of New York now and in the future,” said Rich Kassel, Senior Attorney and transportation expert at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), an environmental organization. “If we are serious about cutting pollution and reducing congestion in the city, we should be improving transit service, not cutting it. Other cities have used federal stimulus funds to maintain transit service, and the MTA should follow their lead.”
Public Advocate Bill DiBlasio said the budget cuts are “an example of the MTA not understanding what people are going through – a lack of understanding that people’s lives revolve around the transit system. Use the stimulus dollars. It makes total sense.”