Get the M.T.A. Bailout Right

In an ideal world, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority wouldn’t require an emergency bailout. But in case you haven’t noticed, we’re not living in an ideal world these days.

The M.T.A. presides over New York City’s lifeblood: Our mass-transit system. As the commuter trains, subways and buses go, so goes the city—and, for that matter, the region. Without safe, reliable and efficient public transportation, city and suburb alike would become unbearably congested and downright unlivable.

So it behooves state legislators from both parties, representing not just the five boroughs but the suburbs as well, to stop playing politics and get onboard the rescue express. A bailout plan devised by former M.T.A. chairman Richard Ravitch faces an uncertain future in the State Senate, thanks in part to the opposition of three Democratic senators. If the new Senate majority leader, Malcolm Smith, cannot count on the support of Brooklyn Senator Carl Kruger and Bronx Senators Pedro Espada Jr. and Ruben Diaz Sr., he will have to reach out to Republicans in order to win passage of the plan.

Senate Republicans, however, seem as determined as their brethren in Washington to just say no to any government action in the face of the worst recession since the Great Depression. Suburban Republicans have long made political hay by opposing measures designed to help the city—even though millions of New Yorkers from Long Island and the Hudson Valley work in the five boroughs and use city services on a daily basis. But the Republican caucus includes three senators from the city—Martin Golden of Brooklyn, Andrew Lanza of Staten Island and Frank Padavan of Queens. They have to put partisan politicking aside and line up with their Democratic colleagues in support of the bailout.

Opposition from non-Manhattan legislators is not unexpected. The bailout plan calls for, at long last, actual installation of tolls on bridges spanning the East and Harlem rivers. Mr. Ravitch originally called for a $5 toll, but the revised bailout plan would reduce the toll to the price of a subway or bus ride, currently $2. Still, outer-borough legislators have long opposed the idea of placing tolls on the free bridges, arguing that their constituents will be paying most of the freight.

That may be so, but a small toll is not too much to ask in an emergency. The problem is that some M.T.A. critics are skeptical of the agency’s books. They don’t think the problem is as dire as the M.T.A. insists. The agency says it has a deficit of $1.2 billion this year, and even larger projected deficits in coming years.

The M.T.A., like many mega-public authorities, hasn’t always been a model of cooperation. It has made enemies, and some of them see a chance for revenge now that the agency has been forced to hold out a tin cup.

But this is hardly the time to settle political scores. If the bailout fails, the M.T.A. will be forced to implement drastic increases in subway, bus and commuter fares. That would only lead to more economic misery, not only in Manhattan, but throughout the region.

Mr. Smith needs to engage in a frank conversation with his Republican colleagues—and, for that matter, with the three Democratic dissidents as well. He has the power to make their lives miserable or pleasant. He needs to use that power.


Get the M.T.A. Bailout Right