The Drum Major Institute’s John Petro has a piece in today’s Daily News calling for New York to implement congestion pricing to fix New York’s transit problem. “We need a long-term solution that … creates a permanent, steady source of revenue,” he says, to raise at least $400 million annually after collection costs. Such a solution would finally address the “root cause” of MTA dis-investment, purportedly not enough money.
But the MTA should have no revenue problem right now.
The master plan that former MTA chairman Dick Ravitch unveiled in December 2008 was supposed to raise $2.1 billion annually for the MTA, not including fare hikes. The revenue-raising had two sources: a $1.5 billion payroll tax and a $600 million plan to toll free bridges.
Ravitch also directed the MTA to start raising fares in line with inflation to cover future operating gaps.
The plan the legislature enacted last May met that goal, in a different way.
We got the payroll tax, which the MTA expected to raise $1.54 billion annually by 2010 (slide #3). We didn’t get the bridge tolls. But Albany made up for that part of it, with taxes and fees on things like cab rides and auto rentals, supposed to raise $329 million annually (same slide).
Albany also directed the MTA to impose two fare and toll hikes well above inflation, which should have given the MTA nearly $500 million this year alone (p15, 17). That’s nearly $215 million this year more than it would have had if it had kept fares and tolls in line with the nearly 5.7 percent inflation that will have taken place by the end of 2010 since its previous fare hike in early 2008 (inflation was flat in ’09).
The total of those three things — payroll tax, sundry taxes, and the above-inflation balance of the first fare-hike yield — comes to nearly $2.1 billion.
Even if the Ravitch plan were expected to raise $2.15 billion annually by 2010 to keep up with the city’s expected 2.2 percent inflation rate for this year, only a $50 million or so gap would remain — small potatoes in public budgeting, and more than compensated for with the next above-inflation fare hike for January 2011, anyway.
The revenue people would say that this isn’t a fair analysis, because payroll-tax money is falling far short of what the state and the MTA expected, and ridership is down, too.
What makes them think that congestion-pricing tolls wouldn’t fall short, as well?
We really don’t know how many people want to pay $8 or more to enter Manhattan during a historic recession — or afterward — on top of the bridges tolls that they already pay on many major crossings. Nor do we know how the congestion toll would affect the MTA’s existing tolled-bridge revenues by cutting traffic, or how the congestion toll would effect things like sales-tax collection in Manhattan (which also would affect the MTA’s pre-existing take from that tax — oh, what a tangled web we weave).
Wild card: it may turn out that we need congestion-pricing revenues to subsidize lost money at the MTA’s bridges as traffic falls — so that money from the bridges can continue to subsidize the MTA’s transit system, too.
Then there is Albany’s new habit of simply snatching the MTA’s money away for its own deficits. What makes the revenue people think that Albany won’t do the same with the MTA’s new congestion-pricing revenues?
Meanwhile, Petro never mentions the MTA’s other “root causes” — skyrocketing labor costs at the MTA and skyrocketing costs throughout the rest of the state and city budget, mostly in education and healthcare, that continue to squeeze the transit authority, too.