Wednesday, October 14, 2009

CTA Budget Crisis: It's not just us

Posted By on 10.14.09 at 01:16 PM

The latest CTA "doomsday" budget has been revealed (read it here, PDF), and the Trib edit board had an immediate reaction... sure?: "It's not pretty, but it represents a thoughtful and responsible plan for dealing with a $300 million shortfall blamed mostly on a poor economy."

There are some interesting and reasonable-seeming caveats, though you should also read Ramsin Canon at Gapers Block on the CTA-union conflict, which will be an ongoing element. But I was curious how other metropolises with notable public transportation systems have been faring during the poor economy.

New York: In late 2008, the MTA started making, naturally, doomsday noises about 23% fare increases and systemwide cuts to close a $1.2b budget gap, while proposing taxes and bridge tolls to pay for it. This drumbeat continued into the spring, and the MTA stepped up the rhetoric: "I'm not sure the English language captures what goes beyond doomsday."

In May, the state legislature minded the gap with a passel of taxes - a 0.34% payroll tax, a $0.50 cab surcharge, a $25 surcharge on vehicle registrations, a $2 fee on drivers licenses, and an increased car-rental tax - combined with fare hikes of about 10% and service cuts, to prevent the 20%-30% fare hikes previously threatened.

This pissed off a lot of people, and MTA chief Lee Sandler was asked to resign by the governor, but it'll get the MTA through the year, even if in the long run the governor claims the MTA's capital plan is unaffordable.

London: They're about where we are now - facing a budget crisis with resistance from the union and no solutions yet. From August 2008 to August 2009 there was a 6.4% decline in riders. New York saw a 2% drop from January to January); both saw record highs in 2008. Transport for London is looking at a budget gap of "at least" one billion pounds, or about $1.5b.

It's still up in the air, but TfL is looking at a 6% fare increase, and given that a one-stop Tube ride in central London can cost a four pound cash fare, or $6.38, it's a bigger increase than it seems from the percentage.

Right now one of the big London controversies is whether mayor Boris Johnson will raise congestion fees from eight pounds ($12.76) to ten pounds ($15.95), and whether the congestion zone will be extended, both of which will piss off drivers but would bring in money for public transit.

Meanwhile, the transit union is threatening to strike, having rejected "wage increases equal to U.K. inflation plus 1.5 percent in the first year and inflation plus 0.5 percent in the second." (CTA union employees got a 3% raise last year, and are scheduled to get a 3.5% raise next year - not on top of inflation, so far as I can tell). That would be the second London transit union strike this year. They threaten to strike a lot.

Not to mention this is all happening with the 2012 Olympics coming down the pike.

San Francisco: Their Municipal Transportation Agency has a comparatively small operating deficit of $25m, but they're fighting it out too for the better part of a year. One idea was to extend parking meter hours, but mayor Gavin Newsom just nixed that because we're in a recession and stuff.

They've saved money by entering into controversial and possibly dangerous tax shelter deals in which the city leases rail cars to investors and then leases them back. SF Weekly explains.

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