NY transit officials: 15 percent increase for NYC subways, tolls unless pols fund capital plan



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NEW YORK — New Yorkers could face a 15 percent fare and toll increase if the state legislature doesn't fund the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's $15 billion budget hole, a transit official said Monday.

The MTA's $32 billion, five-year capital budget plan, which will fund critical improvements to the city's subways, buses and trains, is only half-funded. If the agency is forced to fund the gap by issuing more debt, it would have to raise fares and tolls by 15 percent, MTA Chief Financial Officer Robert Foran told board members at a finance committee meeting.

"I have to say if there is no resolution, if we do not receive adequate funding to carry us through at least ... two years, we don't have sufficient funds to keep the program going," Foran said.

Foran was quick to note that he wasn't suggesting that the board has discussed a fare increase, saying he was describing a hypothetical scenario. Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who controls the MTA, has described the capital plan as "bloated," which implies that he will expect significant cuts in order for it to pass muster in the state legislature this summer, but he has not offered any solutions for funding it.

Board members expressed frustration over the lack of action in Albany.

"This is a freight train coming at us," said one, Jeffrey Kay. "We have a $32 billion problem. We don't have a seat at the table. We have no choice but to then act on one thing only, which is by increasing the fares."

Experts say the city's aging trains and buses, which already lag far behind other global metropolises, will deteriorate considerably if the transit authority is unable to digitize a century-old subway signaling system, replace miles of subway tracks and cars and fix tunnel lighting, among many critical repairs. It also won't be able to forge ahead with major projects, such as the new subway line running along Second Avenue.

The general consensus among transportation experts is that the price tag isn't high enough to cover the massive amount of work that needs to be done.

For subway riders, perhaps the most important improvement included in the capital plan is the installation of communications-based train control systems on several subway lines, which will effectively digitize the trains. That means they'll be able to run much closer together and more efficiently, rather than stopping and waiting for other trains to pass ahead of them.

Cuomo announced last week that the MTA will receive a nearly $1 billion federal loan for safety improvements meant to avoid a repeat of a 2013 derailment that killed four people.

The $967 million in funding will be used to complete the installation of Positive-Train Control systems, which automatically slow the train if the operator — or some other malfunction — places it in jeopardy. The National Transportation Safety board has concluded the devices would have prevented the December 2013 crash of a Metro-North train, which was traveling 85 mph on a dangerous curve as it approached a station in the Bronx.

"The MTA received more than $1 billion from this year's budget to help with its capital needs, including funding to provide unprecedented public transportation access to Bronx residents," Cuomo spokeswoman Beth DeFalco said in an emailed statement. "Work on the MTA capital plan is continuing with all stakeholders."

But as MTA board member Polly Trottenberg, the city's transportation commissioner, pointed out during the committee meeting, a loan is not a grant: Eventually, it has to be paid back.

The finance committee also approved a resolution that would ban all political advertising, which is expected to be passed at the board meeting on Wednesday. The MTA is banning the ads after a judge ruled that a pro-Israel group was allowed to display an advertisement containing the phrase "Hamas Killing Jews" on city buses.

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