It’s been a long, mean winter for the MTA. In 2010, the agency’s budget woes led to a 7.5 percent fare increase, 1,000 lost jobs, and draconian service cuts across the boroughs. In 2011, Governor Cuomo reached an agreement with unions to freeze wages, and 2012 got by, barely, without cuts or hikes.
But now for some good news: 2013 is looking way, way better. And as the Voice‘s John Surico mentioned last month, there’s even a little unexpected cash involved–the 2013-2014 budget passed in Albany surpassed the MTA’s expectations by some sweet $40 million. Now, the obvious question: How the hell do we spend it?
John Raskin, founder of grassroots organization Riders Alliance, is lobbying for a $40 millon fund to restore service and enhance public transit. On Sunday, Raskin, state Senator Daniel Squadron’s former chief of staff, joined MTA board members, state senators, and council members in front of the MTA building at 2 Broadway to argue for the cause.
When Raskin spoke to the Voice about what he fears might happen to those $40 million if it weren’t put toward, say, increasing frequency of the G train (how else is Hannah supposed to get home from those Bushwick parties?), the organizer said funds in a $13 billion agency could easily be absorbed into other projects. “This is an opportunity to put this aside for a greater purpose,” Raskin said.
Several politicians at the rally concurred. “With ridership soaring, it makes sense to direct unexpected operating funds to restore and/or improve service for riders,” Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney said.
“It is a fact that rising MTA fares are adding an additional burden on working families in New York,” Councilmember Letitia James added in a statement. “I would hope that the authority would invest excess funds into the restoration of troubled lines, and the increase of services in rapidly-developing neighborhoods.”
On Wednesday, Raskin’s MTA board member supporters plan to introduce a budget amendment to the MTA to increase service. Negotiating, however, could take a while.
In the meantime, Raskin says Riders Alliance, which consists of 450 dues-paying members, will continue its ground game by educating from the subway pulpit. “The biggest lesson that has come through transit politics in the last two years,” he says, “is that there are some things you have to do at the grassroots level. Our goal is to activate local riders.”
Much of the organization’s energy is devoted to two campaigns–expanding service on the G train, as well as bus service in Brooklyn’s Bay Ridge.”You might meet us on the G train platform,” Raskin told the Voice. “It’s person-to-person contact.”