A whiff of celebration filled the air when the Metropolitan Transportation Authority announced last week that subway and bus fares would climb to $2.25, rather than the expected $2.50, and without the drastic service cuts that had been looming. While the State Legislature and Governor David Paterson deserve credit for reaching a deal to provide new financing for the M.T.A., this is no time to lapse into self-congratulation. There is still a serious need to raise revenues for the M.T.A.’s capital plan. The new payroll taxes and other fees will not be nearly sufficient to fund the equipment and transit system improvements essential for a 21st-century urban transit system.
Not to mention basic maintenance. The subways and commuter rails require a steady stream of capital to cover repairs, cleaning and on-time performance. There are several ways to raise capital funds: New York could raise the sales tax on gasoline in the metropolitan region, and use a share of the revenues for the M.T.A. and a share for highways and bridges. The proposed tolls on the East River bridges should be kept on the table, perhaps by limiting the tolls to peak hours on weekdays. The commuter tax—which quietly and painlessly brought in hundreds of millions in revenues a year before Albany cravenly killed it—should also be on the desk of any serious elected official.
The M.T.A.’s outgoing chief executive, Lee Sander, did a remarkable job, constrained as he was by politicians who often put politics before smart transportation policy. As one of the few who early on recognized the consequences of allowing the M.T.A. to flounder financially, Mr. Sander showed patience and grace under tremendous pressure.
There are no easy solutions to the capital requirements of the M.T.A., but that is why we elect political leaders. Albany must realize that the entire region benefits from a strong, healthy mass transit and commuter rail system. If we allow it to deteriorate, then the entire economic base of the region will be at risk.