Ravitch Defends His MTA Plan
By Vladic Ravich
Richard Ravitch defended his MTA proposal at a town hall meeting in Jackson Heights on Tuesday. The plan was the unanimous recommendation of the Commission on MTA Financing, which Gov. David Paterson asked Ravitch to chair. It calls for tolls on the east river crossings, a “mobility” tax for businesses, and a fare increase of 8 percent.
“A shared burden,” said Ravitch, explaining that he would plug the MTA’s annual $800 million deficit by taxing “not just those who use the system, but those who benefit from its existence.”
The MTA is facing a $10 billion hole in its budget due to reduced revenues and old debt coming due. “The chicken’s coming home to roost,” as Ravitch put it.
He argued that his proposal was reached with a consensus of interested parties, including business leaders, politicians and commuter advocates. He warned against “instinctive reactions” against the proposed tolls because “we’re going to pay one way or another; whether its taxes or tolls or runaway inflation.”
The plan is an alternative to the cuts and fare increases being proposed by the so-called “draconian” MTA proposed budget, which includes cutting or eliminating service on 87 bus lines, 23 subway lines, and 196 station booths, according to a spokesman from City Comptroller Bill Thompson’s office.
Ravitch was joined by Assemblyman Jose Peralta (D-Jackson Heights) and State Sen. Hiram Monserrate (D-Corona), along with Wiley Norwell of Transportation Alternatives and Josh Nachowitz of the League of Conservative Voters, and they responded to questions from community leaders and residents of Jackson Heights.
A woman who said she worked for a non-profit in Queens and commuted daily into Manhattan was not buying it.
“Your plan will basically tax residents three times,” she said, citing the tolls for driving, the fare increase and the mobility tax, which employers may pass down to their employees.
Ravitch defended his plan vigorously, claiming that something had to be done to avoid the cuts that would hurt the long-term viability of the entire system. He said the fare increase would still keep the system below the prices of London’s ($5) or Paris’ ($6) rate, and any future increases would be tied to inflation.
He said his plan would take the toll money from the bridges to expand express bus service and reduce vehicle traffic in the city. He relayed a story of a man who asked him on live television why Ravitch wanted to make him pay $10 a day to drive to work. He asked the man if he would still drive should there be an express bus near his home and the man agreed. “Will [tolls] reduce the number of cars? No, but a better mass transit would.”
Will Sweeney, from the Jackson Heights Green Alliance, asked Ravitch if a gas tax could achieve many of the same goals of his proposal. “I couldn’t agree with you more,” Ravitch said, but after speaking to state politicians, “it was abundantly clear there was no will for that.”
“I’m not saying this is the only answer, but there has to be an answer – not just deferring,” Ravitch said.