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New York Post

 

Subway Stupidity

February 28, 2013

By Nicole Gelinas

Mayoral wannabes’ dim ideas

With subway fares and bridge tolls going up (again), mayoral candidates see an opportunity to bash rival Joe Lhota. Fair enough: Lhota was in charge of the MTA ’till last month. But it’s pandering unless someone suggests how the state-run MTA can cut costs instead.

Starting Sunday, New Yorkers will pay more. A monthly MetroCard will cost $112, up from $104. The round-trip toll on the Verrazano Narrows rise a buck to $10.60. People who live on Staten Island will pay $6.36, up 60 cents. (Fun fact: The MTA’s so eager to mitigate the toll-hike’s impact that it’s given out more Staten Island-resident E-Zpasses than there are cars on the island.)

The hike is good news for Democratic mayoral wannabes — and great news for John Catsimatidis.

The "Catsman" gleefully took his chance Monday. Standing at the Verrazzano Bridge, he slammed Lhota for raising tolls "on the way out the door." Catsimatidis proposed a 10-year freeze in bridge and tunnel prices.

It wouldn’t be smart for Catsimatidis to focus on cars for the general election — 89 percent of MTA trips are on subways and buses.

But the Catsman is fighting Lhota for the GOP ticket. Republicans live on Staten Island and in south Brooklyn — and they drive. (Ever try to take the F train home to Ocean Parkway after 10 pm?)

Yet calling for a toll freeze is just empty noise unless you’ve got a way to pay for it.

Of the $479 million a year that the MTA will get from its hikes, $111 million will come from bridges and tunnels — and all of it will go to mass transit. (Bridges make a profit; subways don’t.) Plus, the MTA will hike fares again in two years, raising another $122 million from bridges and tunnels alone.

If Catsimatidis wants to freeze tolls, he’s got to get the MTA to cut $233 million out of the budget in two years’ time — and deal with the MTA’s $333 million in other deficits.

As Lhota pointed out when he was at the MTA, toll and fare hikes cover only a third of the authority’s rising costs, which are largely driven by pension, health-care and debt bills.

There’s plenty to cut — but big savings have to come from the union side. Health-care costs for subway and bus workers alone are rising $197 million a year, to $1.2 billion annually by 2015.

You want to freeze bridge tolls? Freeze that.

Catsimatidis hasn’t said what he’d cut — or whether he’d raise money somewhere else.

Lhota says his opponent has raised a good point: The MTA relies too much on bridge and toll hikes to subsidize transit. "The system is broken," he says.

There will always be some subway subsidy from bridges and tunnels, and that’s fair — good subways keep the roads from being insanely congested, as the city saw after Sandy.

But there’s a limit. Higher tolls are already discouraging drivers. At some point, toll hikes will raise less money, as people just won’t go.

But the bickering over tolls, shallow as it is at the moment, is a huge improvement over what the Democrats are saying.

At a transit-union-sponsored mayoral debate last week, not one Democrat said the MTA should cut costs. Instead, they insisted, the MTA should get more cash — from fantasyland.

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and former city Comptroller Bill Thompson said the state should reinstate the commuter tax on people who live outside the city. (It was killed in the Pataki years thanks to Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, with the rest of Albany going along.)

Whatever your philosophical thoughts about the commuter tax, it’s not going to happen, as Independence Party Adolfo Carrion noted (and Lhota later agreed). Quinn can "wage a campaign" for the tax, but Gov. Cuomo isn’t going to sock Long Islanders for her.

Public Advocate Bill De Blasio wanted the feds to pay.

Comptroller John Liu wanted corrupt contractors to pay — but at least he said the city should rethink its budget from the first dollar up to pay for more transit, rather than give agencies more money every year.

Carrion was the only candidate who pointed out that any new money for the MTA —— fares or not — would come out of middle-class pockets.

There’s no magical font of money, to freeze tolls for Staten Island voters or please union voters. You’ve got to pick one or the other.

Original Source: http://www.nypost.com/p/news/opinion/opedcolumnists/subway_stupidity_R4IM1IaLWasJOcBq07yZLP

 

 
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